New York - Andrew Morton looks like the sort of fellow who can take care of himself. Imposingly tall and sleek, he answered the door to his suite on a high floor of the London NYC Hotel yesterday morning with a cautious smile and an offer of coffee. He needed the caffeine: Having just arrived from London the day before to promote his unauthorized biography of Tom Cruise, he was still working off his jet lag and the previous night's alcohol. An old Fleet Street man who looks younger than his 54 years, he's well versed in the ways of the U.S. press, having encountered them during publicity for a pair of biographies of Diana, Princess of Wales, written with her co-operation, as well as an authorized 1999 Monica Lewinsky biography and unauthorized tomes on Madonna, and David and Victoria Beckham. But signs of nastiness were emerging.
In a post last week, NBC gossip Courtney Hazlett carried water for Cruise's camp when she published their responses to the book. "At best, Morton's book is a best-of collection of Cruise rumours, most of which (if not all) have been refuted time and again. At worst, the book appears to be a personal attack on Cruise and his family," she wrote. On the weekend, a gossip at the New York Daily News wrote, "Publishing sources say the one-time Princess Diana biographer fabricated a lot of the book just to sell copies," though she provided no specifics.
Morton's portrait of Cruise can be sharp and damning - he depicts him as cold, calculating, manipulative and one who easily cuts off people after they have outlived their usefulness - but he begins sympathetically, noting that the movie star's childhood was a rough-and-tumble one. Morton tracks the Cruise family to Ottawa, where they lived for three years until they fled in the dead of night from Cruise's father and relocated in Kentucky. Morton also speeds through Cruise's chain of famous girlfriends, from Melissa Gilbert to Rebecca De Mornay, Cher, Patti Scialfa, Penelope Cruz, and Sofia Vergara, as well as the wives: Mimi Rogers, who introduced him to Scientology and the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes.
The book, for which Morton received an advance of $200,000 ("It cost me that much in research," he said) hits stores today with a print run of 225,000. The following is an edited version of yesterday's conversation:
Q: The book has already been attacked by Cruise's lawyers and surrogates, and now it seems to be the target of gossip columnists too. Last week, MSNBC seemed to be trying to discredit the book when it mistakenly reported that you allege Suri Cruise was conceived using the frozen sperm of the dead Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
A: I've found this very interesting. Normally, you do a book on the British Royal Family and the British press go all sniffy. And now I've done a book on American royalty and the American press have gone all sniffy. There is a kind of knee-jerk deference amongst media towards people that they consider royalty.
I had a pre-interview with The Today Show (Morton will appear live on NBC this morning), which was pretty hostile. You know, "Why do you call Scientology a cult? Shouldn't Tom be allowed to hold these views?"
Q: You're staying in this hotel in New York under an assumed name, apparently for security reasons.
A: Rather than have a whole bunch of Scientologists knocking on the door at 3 in the morning, when I want some much-needed beauty sleep, then I do that.
Q: Have you been harassed?
A: No, I've just had lots of hostile letters from Bert Fields, Tom Cruise's lawyer, and also latterly from Scientology.
Q: You weren't granted an interview with either Tom Cruise or the leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, but representatives at the Church of Scientology did respond to some of your allegations.
A: Yeah, they obviously always respond [by denying the allegations]. The problem is, you don't know if they're telling the truth or not.
Q: The book has been pulled from publication back home in England.
A: Banned in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and in fact there's a whole campaign of free speech just starting up in Australia and New Zealand as a result. I mean, it is terribly disappointing that this is a man who has a specific agenda, supporting a faith which has a specific agenda and wants to expand into these countries, Australia, Great Britain, and yet you cannot have any kind of discussion of that, for fear of legal retribution.
Q: Not really "banned," though.
A: Sorry, "banned" is probably the wrong phrase. It's not been published because the [British] publishers, Pan-Macmillan, felt the costs of defending any action outweighed any kind of freedom of expression.
Q: Or the potential upside of sales.
A: Yes, and sales, absolutely. Yeah, sorry. And also because Britain is known for libel tourism, that people who may not have a case in America take their case to Britain, because Britain's got very tough libel laws. Obviously, it limits freedom of expression.
Q: Do you think Cruise is a good actor?
A: I think he inhabits the screen in a way that very few people do, and the very fact that he can hold an audience and has held an audience for 25 years in a fickle world is a testament to his abilities as an actor.
Q: You spent two years on the book. Why should we care about Cruise's life to this extent?
A: I think it's perfectly legitimate to look at one of the world's biggest stars, who provoked national debate as he did in 2005-2006, with his attacks on Brooke Shields and psychiatry and so on, and just ask yourself: Why does he get the space, why does he have that platform, how does he get where he is? For me, the starting point was: Why does a 43-year-old man, who's been married twice, jump up on a couch on national TV, about a woman he's known for a few days, and why does he go from soap opera to soapbox to then proselytize?
In fact, you oughta' try jumping onto a couch backwards. It's bloody difficult. I just about did my leg in.
Q: Scientology may not like the way it's portrayed, but it seems to me that Cruise should be pleased at least that you knock down the persistent rumour that he's gay.
A: Bert Fields, in his many letters, went on and on about that: "If you say he's gay, we're going to sue." Well, actually, Bert, we know he's not gay, we're not interested. But, I mean, it's like an obsession on their side. Quite frankly, Tom Cruise has become something of a laughingstock over the last couple of years, and I have actually done him the service of treating him as a character seriously and treating his faith seriously, and trying to get a sensible book about an important character.
Q: You do treat his faith seriously. Certainly, without Scientology you don't have a book.
A: Well, without Scientology we don't have Tom Cruise. That's the point, that Tom Cruise and Scientology are inextricably linked. His trajectory as a film actor is quite remarkable - the fact that he's been able to stay at the top for, what, 25 years?
But what I find more interesting is that he's morphed from being one of the more outstanding film actors of his generation to this kind of celebrity advocate on behalf of his faith. It seems to me it's a meshing of new celebrity and new faith, and we live in an age of celebrity, whether we like it or not, and he somehow represents the spirit of the times.