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FROM THE NEWS ARCHIVES OF CINEMA CONFIDENTIAL

INTERVIEW: Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg on "War of the Worlds"
POSTED ON 06/28/05 AT 9:00 A.M.
BY ETHAN AAMES

By Thomas Chau

If there was any doubt that two high power members of Hollywood could never form a bond due to clashing egos, then a skeptic would not need to look further than Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg to be turned into a believer.

I remember meeting the dynamic duo at a small “Minority Report” press conference they did in the summer of 2002 with a small group of internet and radio press. Tom would not stop expressing his excitement that after meeting on the set of “Risky Business” in 1983, the two were finally able to collaborate on a project that they both felt passionate and excited about.

Flash forward three years, and the two continue to demonstrate a tenacity that solidifies their legendary status.

Originally slated a 2007 project, Cruise and Spielberg decided to do an unheard of speedy, seven-week pre-production work after work on “Mission: Impossible 3” and “Indiana Jones 4” both stalled. Cruise and Spielberg initially had discussed doing a modern, grander “War of the Worlds” after talking about it on the set of “Catch Me If You Can.”

At a press conference in New York, Cruise and Spielberg talk about their latest blockbuster collaboration, as well as a little about Spielberg’s legacy, mythology, and passion for the science-fiction genre.

Q: You were originally going to do a more violent alien movie before “E.T.” called “Night Skies.” Did you revert back to that project and why did you decide to go with a more family friendly alien movie?

STEVEN: There wasn't anything huge that changed in my life that made me do a scary alien movie; maybe the idea that people would say, “Here’s a guy that only does scary alien movies” went to me a bit. No, there was nothing really conscious. I thought, well why can't I try my hand at the kind of film that Ridley Scott made when he did the first "Alien" - which is one of my favorite scary science fiction movies of all time. It’s just something I had always wanted to do. We talked about this for a couple years - looking for a project to do together, and I told him Tom that I wanted to do “War of the Worlds” ever since I read the book in college before I became a filmmaker. I wanted to do some version of it at some point. It was a great story and a great piece of 19th-century classic literature. It began the entire revolution in science fiction and fantasy, in my opinion - Jules Verne and HG Wells - and it was a film that was something that I really respected when it was first made by George Pal in 1953. I just thought that we could make a version a little closer and darker toward the original novel.

TOM: You always wanted to do “E.T. Phone Home” and then you did “E.T. gone gangster”!

Q: What is your fascination with the science fiction genre?

STEVEN: I think that science fiction is not a subconscious thing at all. Science fiction, to me, is a vacation. It’s a vacation away from all the rules of narrative logic. It’s a vacation away from basic physics and physical science. It just lets you leave all the rules behind and just kind of fly. We, as a human race, we don’t fly. We envy the birds. I envy Tom because he actually flies jet planes, and I don’t do that because I’m too afraid to fly.

But for those of us who don’t fly; science fiction gives a chance to really soar, and this is why I keep coming back to science fiction. There are absolutely no limits to where the imagination can go. Now, the challenge of science fiction is to tell a credible story. All that being said, you have to impose certain limits. And I’ve imposed limits on myself. There are a lot of directors that could have taken this story and didn’t, because they would have made it almost too fantastic. This could have been much more like “Independence Day” or “Earth vs. Flying Saucers” or it could have been much more about the army vs. the extraterrestrials. I didn’t want to go there. I wanted this, in a strange way, to be a little more of a cousin to “Saving Private Ryan” in the genre of science fiction. It’s more of a story told in a first person point of view. So I did impose limits, and David Koepp imposed limits, on how we shaped the screenplay and how we caused all the characters to seem as realistic and normal as we are; that was very important to me. But science fiction, as a genre, is the great escape for moviemakers.

TOM: I just dig going to science fiction movies. Always have. You look at science fiction and the role that science fiction has actually played in our culture. It was the science fiction writers during that ‘pulp fiction’ era that were writing about space, and said, ‘Let’s get the race going.’ I find it fascinating when we were preparing “Minority Report,” the research that Steven had done. Now, the scrubbing the image [concept], actually Steven came up with that idea. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but now, they’re doing that. They’ve created that.

Q: For Tom, you got to play a father while for Steven, this was a chance to explore a different outcome then that of “Close Encounters,” where a father abandons his family. Was this intentional?

TOM: First of all, I have to say that I love how Steven Spielberg deals with families in his movies. I find them to be very real, unique like that scene in "Close Encounters" with the son in the bathtub. I've always wanted to be a father growing up, and when we started talking about the story and we started talking about it being about a father and a family. I couldn't wait to play this character. David Koepp wrote this great character and how Steven directed me in that role. He called me and said we were going to have the engines in the kitchen. He has such impeccable notes and that’s why I always show up early in the morning and I just hang out, because I just feed off of [him]. It happens very creatively, with Steven. His ideas and he discovers things really quickly. We’re always working on the film but it happens very fast. But I couldn't wait to be a father in this movie.

STEVEN: Well, I was never really conscious of that. I know that “Close Encounters,” because I wrote the script, it was about a man whose insatiable curiosity and a developing obsession and a kind of psychic implantation drew him away from his family and with only looking back once, walked onto the mother ship. Now, that was before I had kids. That was 1977. So I wrote that blithely. Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and going on the mother ship. I would have the guy doing everything he could to protect his children, so in a sense, “War of the Worlds” does reflect my own maturity, in my own life, growing up and now having seven children.

Q: Do the scenes of American refugees reflect themes that reflect on what’s going on in a post-9/11 era?

STEVEN: It's an unfamiliar theme to all of us because we don't often see images of American refugees, except after local and national disasters like hurricanes and people fleeing AND approaching hurricanes in the Florida keys. We see many images of that. Of course, the image that stands out in my mind the most was the image of everybody in Manhattan fleeing across the George Washington Bridge in the shadow of 9/11, which is something that was a searing image that I haven't been able to get out of my head. This is partially about the American refugee experience because it's certainly about Americans fleeing for their lives after being attacked for no reason, having no idea why they're being attacked and who is attacking them.

TOM: One of the things [we talked about] when we first started talking about this story was his choices of it being a subjective experience, and the choice to never go over that hill and see what's happening over that hill.

STEVEN: That was a huge temptation, by the way. I pre-visualized that sequenced going over that hill and seeing the “war of the worlds” and I had to pull back and not commit to that, because I thought it was much more personal to the point of view of this family, not to be able to see everything that Hollywood gets to see in most science fiction movies.

TOM: I'm giving you the actor/fan experience, because I'm always a fan of Steven's films, first, and then I’m his actor. When I'm working with different filmmakers, I'll always go back to Steven's pictures and study his editing, see how he's telling that story, because he gives you the environment but it's kept from the character point of view and story. It's always on that story line, so I often go back and study his stuff again, and look at those sequences and to see him develop that sequence.

Q: Did you feel the need to do a happy ending to give a sense of hope for the future?

STEVEN: I have hope for the future, which is probably why I'm not the best person to tell a story that leaves you with nothing to hope for. I just felt that this movie is a reflection and there are all sorts of metaphors that you can certainly divine from this story. I was hoping for a prism; everybody could see in a facet of the prism what they choose to take from the experience of seeing "War of the Worlds," so I tried to make it as open for interpretation as possible, without having anybody coming out with a huge political polemic in the second act of the movie. I think there are politics certainly underneath some of the scares and some of the adventure and some of the fear, but I really wanted to make it suggested and not that everybody could have their own opinion.

Q: Does it get easier for you two to work together now that it’s your second project?

TOM: I have to tell you personally that it just gets better - the experience working with Steven.

STEVEN: This was 100% character. "Minority Report" was 50% character and 50% very complicated storytelling with layers and layers of murder mystery plotting, where if any of the actors or Tom even gave a suggestion that he knew what was going to happen next, you the audience would have picked it up like that because audiences are so smart today, because they pick up things so far out of left field that we, the filmmakers, can’t believe that audiences had picked up on a tiny clue. We were always concerned about giving away too much of a plot on Minority Report while we were working together. We were working like writers on a script in our director-actor relationship, making sure that the story has been told well. This was more "explorential". This was a character journey and this was everything we talked about was about Tom's character, Dakota's character, Justin Chatwin's character, Tim Robbins’ character…it was all about who these people were, and in a sense, that freed us up to explore behavior more that we didn't get a chance to explore in "Minority Report".

TOM: I had a lot of fun on "Minority Report". I had even more fun on this one. And the next one is going to be even more fun.

Q: What happens when you two disagree on something?

STEVEN: We’ve never had a disagreement. What usually happens in the whole process is that I’ll give Tom an idea, and to Tom, an idea is a gift. When he hears an idea, it’s a total surprise, and he’ll cover thousands of acres and figure out a way to take that idea and make it his own, and I’m the same way. Movies - they evolve. You start with a screenplay and then you evolve from there. And so every single day, there are 15, 20 moments of discovery. That makes the movie come to life.

TOM: Those are the fun moments. That’s why I do show up early. I like to hang out and to let Steven see me on the set. It gives you ideas, and it gives him that time and that room for ideas.

STEVEN: One of the biggest problems in making movies - I’m sure other filmmakers have told you this at press conferences - is that directors tend to lose their objectivity. You get halfway through a film, and you forget why you’re making it, what the story’s all about, and you’ve got to read the script again. So sometimes those little moments of taking a break from the picture is a great way to clear the air.

Q: Do you believe that there is life on other planets? Do you think we’ve been visited by other beings?

TOM: I think it's supreme arrogance to think that we're the only beings in all the universe. I'm a very practical person unless I meet them one day. It was fun, because when we were on the set, we'd all see these aliens and be very intense in between the takes and Steven, Dakota and I and Tim would all look at each other and go "Aliens? Ooooooh".

STEVEN: I think we all know that we're not alone in the universe. I can't imagine that anyone believes that we're the only intelligent biological life form in the entire universe. I certainly can't imagine living without the belief that the universe is teaming with life. I’m a little less sure in my 50s then I was in my late 20s whether we actually have ever been visited. I used to answer this question back in the days of “Close Encounters” in the ‘70s. You know why I’m not as convinced right now? Because of the millions of video cameras that are out there today that are picking up less photographs videos of UFOs, alleged UFOs, than [compared to] the‘60s and 70s and 80s. Why is it that there’s 150% more video cameras on the face of the planet today, but we see less UFOs? Maybe we’re in a cold spell, a UFO drought. [Laughter]

Q: The director of “Fantastic Four” has a bold prediction; he says they’re going to beat this movie. Your thoughts?

TOM: I'd like to see that picture do really well, and I want all the movies to do well. It doesn't matter to me. I'm going to go see that picture. I can't wait.

STEVEN: I’m in line to see that with my kids.

Q: Tom, you had a romantic proposal with Katie in France. How are you going to top the wedding?

TOM: [Laughs] I didn’t know there are rules to top that! We haven’t discussed it yet.

Q: Are you concerned that all this publicity about your love life as well as your thoughts on Scientology will affect the movie?

TOM: No. I really don’t pay attention to it. It doesn’t bother me. I just really don’t pay attention to it. I do my work. I live my life. It’s never affected anything before. It doesn’t matter. I make my movies and I live my life the best way that I can. I can’t control what people are going to say or do. They can say or do what they want. But it’s not going to change the way I live my life.




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