Tom Cruise in DreamWorks' Collateral.
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Risky business: Will moviegoers accept Tom Cruise as a bad guy in `Collateral'?
By Stephen Schaefer
Wednesday, August 4, 2004

In the thriller ``Collateral'' (opening Friday), Tom Cruise scores with one of his strongest performances.
     He does it the way Denzel Washington won his Oscar for ``Training Day'' and the way Charlize Theron won hers for ``Monster'': by taking a turn to the dark side and upsetting, if not capsizing, his image as Tom Terrific.
     In writer-director Michael Mann's film, Cruise plays a hit man who takes cabbie Jamie Foxx on the scariest ride of his life.
     ``I play a character who is the antithesis of who I am,'' Cruise said. ``Everybody has a different moral code, and the things that concern him are not the things that concern a social personality, and this guy is an antisocial personality.''
     ``The idea of doing Tom playing a bad man, not the G-rated, genre-derived villain, but somebody who really resonates with the real world - this was a really good idea,'' Mann said.
     Cruise credits Mann with helping him craft the look of Vincent - a prematurely aged killer - and perhaps more crucially, with helping him focus on the psychology of his character, a man who manipulates everyone he meets.
     ``The idea for me of Tom playing Vincent is to go where he's not been before, both for his audience and as a filmmaker,'' Mann said. ``You're reaching for the most total Vincent-ness and you want to acquire a character in its most extreme form, and Tom is one of the most recognizable people on the planet. So I imagined Vincent with steel-dyed hair.''
     Mann required his cast do some research to prepare for shooting. He sent Foxx out with L.A. cabbies to observe their routines. He dressed Cruise in disguises, such as a UPS delivery guy, as Vincent would do to get close to his mark, and sent him out into the public.
     ``I would do the things this character would do, except I didn't kill anyone,'' Cruise said, then laughing.
     ``Tom is fearless,'' Mann said.
     In ``Collateral,'' Cruise proves himself a more than able action actor. In one startling sequence performed without a double, he manages to outgun, outshoot and outmaneuver a gang in a dark alley.
     ``I had to learn weapons and had to fire live rounds, which I've never done before,'' Cruise said. ``I worked with an ex-Special Forces British guy, Mick Gould, who trained me.''
     The world may see Cruise as a control freak, someone who minutely plans his every career move the way Jerry Maguire might. But he didn't arrange this leap into the sewer pit to contrast with his last role, the alcoholic Civil War veteran turned hero in ``The Last Samurai.'' Nor was it meant to demonstrate that he doesn't need to be a larger-than-life hero in every movie.
     ``There is no great plan; there really isn't,'' he said. ``Michael sent (the script) to me, and I thought this was great. I asked him, `Do you think this will work?' It's just I read something and I'm interested in it - and I like it. I like taking on challenges and this is a great character.
     ``It's always exciting for an actor and a director to do something they haven't done before,'' Mann said.
     ``The real passion is making the movie and you dream about having a creative process like this,'' Cruise said. ``There's a line in `Heat' I love, `The action is the juice.' That's what I love about Michael.''
     The question on Friday will be: Do moviegoers love Bad Tom as much as Mann?

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