He's Hollywood's hottest actor but will Scientology destroy him?
THE MONDAY INTERVIEW
THERE IS A change in the Tom Cruise who arrives for interviews to promote his latest film, Collateral. He still looks the part - a youthful 43, flashing that megawatt smile - but, accompanied by new publicist, his sister, Lee Anne DeVette, the actor appears less ebullient than usual. He appears bored when asked inevitable questions about his love life - he remains tight-lipped about his split this year from Penelope Cruz - and dodges enquiries about his children; but he springs to life when he starts talking about his devotion to the Church of Scientology.
Since parting company in May with his long-time personal publicist Pat Kingsley, Cruise is talking openly about the religion he adopted in 1989. Indeed, some speculate he fired Kingsley because she was advising him to tone down the Scientology talk in public.
There is no doubt Kingsley, a control freak who brilliantly steered Cruise’s public persona for 14 years, kept a tight grip on her client’s relationship with the press. Throughout the Nineties, she demanded advance approval on all questions, journalists and photographers, as well as copy approval before publication. It was a technique designed to reveal as little of Cruise’s private life as possible, while creating the most positive exposure.
But now she has gone, Cruise runs the risk of, at best, confusing and, at worst, turning his fans off with his love of Scientology.
He has impressed American critics with his performance as the ruthless hitman Vincent in Michael Mann’s stylish thriller, Collateral, due to be released in the UK next month. But when he talks about the role, and how it demanded a lot of research into what he terms "anti-socials", he begins to sound uncomfortably intense and earnest.
"I’ve studied anti-social behaviour and personalities," he says, "and in Scientology, there is a large body of knowledge about anti-socials. So I worked hard to create Vincent’s moral code from that."
The Church of Scientology has deep connections in Hollywood - John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Juliette Lewis and Priscilla Presley are among its high-profile members. The rules, laid down by founder L Ron Hubbard, are intended to spiritually "enable" followers, leading them to happiness and all-round human decency.
One of the church’s key principles is the denigration of psychiatry, the very mention of which sends Cruise into a fury. As the Scientology website explains at length, it is the duty of all members to "expose and help abolish any and all physically damaging practices in the field of mental health".
"The last thing I would ever do is talk to a psychiatrist," confirms Cruise, who starts to get heated the moment the subject arises. "Look at the history of psychiatry, it’s based on opinions it’s not based on any facts. There’s no science to it," he says. "Now science is an organised body of knowledge based on specific axioms, and these axioms are invariable, the physics of the universe. Psychiatry itself is not a science, there’s no science behind it - it’s called junk science."
Cruise continues for several minutes, railing against The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, which gives diagnoses of the most common mental health illnesses and advocates prescribing drugs to children to control chemical imbalances. "It’s someone’s opinion that says you have a chemical imbalance," Cruise argues forcefully. "There’s no blood test that can show there’s a chemical imbalance. They can test for serotonin levels, but only on a cadaver. These people have set themselves up as authorities, and, basically, it is just an esoteric cult, and it’s disgusting."
Steady on, Tom. Many, after all, regard Scientology itself as an "esoteric cult". I start to feel nervous. No amount of examples from me of friends who have benefited from therapy or Prozac will be allowed in discussion here, I can tell. I realise, when I see him on a CNN talk show with Larry King the following night, giving the psychiatry rant all over again, that it is not just for my benefit.
IF CRUISE CAN’T SAY enough about Scientology, when it comes to his business affairs he retreats into frustrating generalisations. This is the Tom Cruise whose producing partnership with former talent agent Paula Wagner has yielded hits such as The Others, Shattered Glass and the Mission: Impossible films, in which he also stars. They have made him one of the richest men in Hollywood.
The stories of discontent on the long Australian shoot of MI:2 in 2000 are well documented, along with the film’s year-long delay. Now MI:3 has hit the same choppy waters before filming has even begun. Cruise and Wagner hired young director Joe Carnahan to make the movie for a summer 2005 release. But six weeks before filming was due to start, Carnahan was out, with both sides citing that old chestnut of "creative differences". A new director - JJ Abrams, creator of the cult television series Alias - has been hired, but filming has been postponed until next summer. Cruise has opted instead to team up with Steven Spielberg on a new version of HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds, leaving crews in Berlin who were working on pre-production on MI:3 out of work and the cast, including Scarlett Johansson and Kenneth Branagh, with a big hole in their schedules. "It’s not Mission: Difficult, you know," Cruise laughs, fobbing off questions about the halted production.
He appears keen not to display any signs of business acumen. Cruise, ahead of all his peers, has mastered the art of promoting his films outside the US. He stands for more than an hour in Leicester Square before premieres signing autographs and he travels tirelessly to open his movies in every major territory, appearing on chat shows, granting interviews. Anyone in Hollywood will vouch for his professionalism.
These personal appearances help the films exponentially. His most recent film, The Last Samurai, grossed $111 million (just over £60 million) in North America, but more than $350 million (£191 million) across the rest of the world, an unheard of ratio. Usually it’s a 50/50 split.
IT’S IN HIS INTEREST. When you are earning a $20 million (nearly £11 million) salary plus a hefty percentage of a film’s gross takings, you want to be out there pounding the pavement. But when I ask Cruise about it, his disingenuous answer is that he likes to travel. "I just like going, it’s as basic as that. I used to look at these postcards and go to the library, and I was always an amateur history buff, so I always wanted to go to these places and meet these people and learn about how they live." Collateral director Michael Mann is more forthright about his star: "He’s streetwise and worldwise. He’s smarter about marketing motion pictures than most people working in the studios. He’s nobody’s fool, he’s not naïve."
Mann’s testimony adds to the puzzle. It’s an awkward new persona that Cruise is crafting. On the one hand, he is still presenting a manufactured, image with no insight into his business life or marketing savvy. On the other, he is unstoppable as a spokesman for Scientology. "In earlier years, he didn’t talk about Scientology," DeVette, 46, who has worked with Cruise for more than a decade in publicity and marketing, told the New York Daily News, "and everybody said he was keeping it a big mystery. Now he talks about it and it’s wrong. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t." Maybe she has a point.
Collateral opens on 17 September.