How Tom Cruise lost his mojo

From 'Top Gun' to 'Top Gear': what now for Hollywood's golden boy?

Telegraph, UK/July 26, 2010

At the March premiere of the crude, unashamedly silly, Eighties-set time travel comedy Hot Tub Time Machine, in Los Angeles, an unlikely guest quietly entered the auditorium just before the film started, having bypassed the red carpet.

Tom Cruise, who had arrived with his wife Katie Holmes, wasn't on the guest list. Even the film's John Cusack expressed surprise at their presence. Rob Corddry, who also stars in the film, said later that Cruise was constantly texting him during the movie saying how funny he thought it was.

At the March premiere of the crude, unashamedly silly, Eighties-set time travel comedy Hot Tub Time Machine, in Los Angeles, an unlikely guest quietly entered the auditorium just before the film started, having bypassed the red carpet.

Tom Cruise, who had arrived with his wife Katie Holmes, wasn't on the guest list. Even the film's John Cusack expressed surprise at their presence. Rob Corddry, who also stars in the film, said later that Cruise was constantly texting him during the movie saying how funny he thought it was.

It is highly unusual - almost unprecedented - for Cruise to attend a premiere that he has no connection with. But then these are unusual times for Tom Cruise. He could have been forgiven, while watching the film's flashbacks, for wishing that he himself could travel back in time to the summer of 2005 and modify his public behaviour. For it was then that Cruise's image as Hollywood's most consistently commercial star was shattered.

Cruise had for two decades been Hollywood's byword for bankability, a leading man who divided critics but almost always delivered audiences. But his reputation for being guarded, hyper-focused and never putting a foot wrong publicly was derailed by a string of bizarre incidents.

While promoting War of the Worlds, Steven Spielberg's sci-fi blockbuster, Cruise made an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's couch that has become famous for all the wrong reasons. Proclaiming his love for new girlfriend Katie Holmes, Cruise jumped on the sofa in such an odd fashion that Oprah exclaimed: 'We've never seen you behave this way before… you're gone!'

Cruise's allegiance to the Church of Scientology prompted another embarrassing mishap. On morning television's The Today Show, he clashed with host Matt Lauer over the history of psychiatric medicine, which Scientology is opposed to. Cruise exclaimed: 'Matt, you're glib… you should be a little more responsible' and - the phrase that became Cruise's unofficial catchphrase for a while - 'You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do.'

The issue had arisen because Cruise had become embroiled in a war of words with the actress Brooke Shields over her use of antidepressants to combat postnatal depression. He said that the drugs Shields had taken were dangerous and added: 'I care about Brooke Shields because she is an incredibly talented woman - where has her career gone?'

Shields, then performing in Chicago in the West End, described Cruise's attack as a 'ridiculous rant' and in a swipe at the 16-year age gap between him and his then new girlfriend Katie Holmes, quipped: 'If he wants to see Chicago, I've left him two tickets - one adult, one child.'

Cruise has subsequently gone out of his way to atone for each of these undignified episodes. He went back on Oprah's couch and stayed calm; he apologised to Lauer for his 'arrogance'; he mended fences with Shields to the extent that she attended his wedding to Holmes in 2006.

But building bridges with his disaffected fan base - especially his female audience - has not been so easy. According to the E-poll Market Research agency, his favourability percentage has dropped among the American public to 37 per cent from 64 per cent in 2004.

On top of this, his new action comedy, Knight and Day, has performed disappointingly at the US box office, opening in only third place. Twentieth Century Fox, who bankrolled the $117 million film, has discovered to its cost that if the actor, who memorably exclaimed: 'I feel the need, the need for speed' in Top Gun, is ever to reclaim his pre-2005 audience, then he's taking his time doing it.

In Knight and Day, a slick action comedy, Cruise plays Roy Miller, a secret agent. Oozing adrenalin, intensity and charm, Miller doesn't seem a million miles away from Cruise himself. 'I'm pretty good at what I do,' he reminds June Havens, an everywoman he's taken under his wing, played by Cameron Diaz; later on she accuses Miller of freaking her out. It's hard not to equate the high-wire protagonist with the Cruise that unravelled in the summer of 2005.

Attempting to woo a younger crowd, Fox switched the film's US release date to avoid clashing with Twilight: Eclipse. What the studio did not foresee was that Grown Ups, an Adam Sandler comedy that opened the same weekend as Knight and Day and which received some of the worst reviews of the year, would make twice as much as the Cruise/Diaz movie.

At the film's Brazilian premiere in July, Cruise tried to capitalise on World Cup fever when he wore a Brazilian football shirt emblazoned with the name 'Tomzinho' - 'Little Tom'. It's a reference to his diminutive height (he is reputed to be 5ft 7in) but for someone whose films have made over $2.6 billion worldwide, the grosses are getting significantly smaller, too.

Knight and Day represented something of a gamble in the 21st-century summer blockbuster stakes since it's an old-fashioned star-driven vehicle, not a remake or sequel. But the inquest over its underwhelming performance has resulted in the uncommon spectacle of an individual publicly claiming responsibility for its commercial failure - in this case Fox's marketing supremo Tony Sella. (The poster featured two silhouette cut-outs of Cruise and Diaz instead of a photo of the pair, which unkind observers suggested was deliberately created so as not to deter punters from seeing the film.)

Sella issued a public mea culpa to the Los Angeles Times. 'Blame me, don't blame Tom Cruise,' he said. 'We did lots of focus groups for this film and no one ever said there was a star problem. Never. Tom Cruise was not the issue. I take full responsibility.' Sella's confession was greeted with scepticism. 'I find it a little convenient for everybody who isn't the marketing chief,' says Kim Masters of the Hollywood Reporter and a veteran Cruise chronicler.

It's hard not to see how Cruise himself isn't heavily culpable. There's the perception problem that Knight and Day director James Mangold (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) seemingly alludes to in the film's press notes: 'One of the things I've missed about Tom's movies in the last several years and what I really wanted to see again in Knight and Day was Tom in a role that is both human and funny.' Quite.

Cruise also devised much of the film's content. A motorcycle obsessive, he dreamt up the climactic chase on a speeding bike. And although the script is credited to first-time scribe Patrick O'Neill, many writers doctored the dialogue, foremost among them Cruise. He conceived much of the verbal repartee with Diaz including an exchange that revolves around his character proclaiming: 'I'm the guy'.

From his breakthrough performance in 1983's Risky Business onwards, Cruise certainly was 'the guy'. His achievements were all the more impressive given his turbulent upbringing. He was born Thomas Cruise Mapother in 1962; his mother raised him and his three sisters with little income after divorcing his father. Always on the move, Cruise attended 15 schools and battled dyslexia.

Evidently, his difficult childhood supplied the drive not only to break through but prevail as a leading force in Hollywood. Whether Cruise was acting cocky (Top Gun, Rain Man), disillusioned (Born on the Fourth of July) or charmingly chastened (Jerry Maguire), he was always seen. Punters even flocked to his misfires (The Last Samurai, Vanilla Sky).

His business acumen became the stuff of legend; Cruise worked with directors Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Ron Howard and Ridley Scott before he hit 30. He also became renowned as a nice guy in a nasty business. Acting as de facto father to his sisters imbued a nurturing instinct in him and his stardom was burnished with stories such as the time in 1996 he stopped to help a hit and run victim, later paying her hospital bills.

Cruise exuded the magical aura that any A-list movie star must possess. Actress Thandie Newton, who starred with Cruise in Mission: Impossible 2 and Interview with the Vampire, said recently: 'You could practically feel Tom's glow before he arrived on set.'

She added: 'Tom is amazingly focused. Everything he does is for the betterment of himself and the work. It's kind of exhausting because I'm not like that and Brad [Pitt] was very much not like that. Tom's really committed to success; it's not a dirty word in his book.' But Cruise is now 48 in a youth-obsessed business at a time when every established Hollywood star's wattage appears to be fading.

The presence of high-profile actors is no longer guaranteed to make a film successful; the movie has become the star. Cruise can't control the cult of the A-list celebrity being on the wane in Hollywood box office terms, but the same can't be said for his devotion to the cult of Scientology.

Cruise was introduced to Scientology, the controversial movement founded by L Ron Hubbard, by his first wife Mimi Rogers in the late Eighties. Scientology supplied the direction he was seeking as a young actor navigating Hollywood's perilous waters and he credited it for helping him cure his dyslexia. And the church frequently bent over backwards to please its most prominent member.

Jesse Prince, a former high-level Scientologist, outlined in a 1998 interview how when Cruise married second wife Nicole Kidman in 1990, he had 'a fantasy of just running through a field of tall grass' with his new wife at Gold Base, Scientology's international headquarters located in California. According to Prince, Gold Base workers were 'staying up overnight, just extended schedules, de-rocking, ploughing a field, planting tall wheat grass, and when Nicole Kidman came - here's a field. Now they're running through the damn field of grass. It took weeks.'

As Scientologists move up within the hierarchy, they are encouraged to more vigorously promote its virtues to the outside world. But Pat Kingsley, Cruise's notoriously fearsome publicist for the first two decades of his career, discouraged Cruise from talking about the subject.

Nevertheless, Cruise was a tireless promoter of Scientology behind the scenes. Sources say that when promoting a film in Paris, he would spend the morning at the US Embassy lobbying diplomats to persuade the French government to relax its hardline stance towards Scientology. When he split from Kingsley in 2004, replacing her with his sister Lee Anne DeVette, Cruise increasingly brought Scientology into the public domain and woe betide anyone who fell foul of its philosophies, as Brooke Shields and Matt Lauer discovered.

Hollywood observers commonly link Cruise's public downfall with the disastrous decision to let go of his gatekeeper Kingsley. His zealousness in regards to Scientology placed relations with collaborators under strain. Take Steven Spielberg. The director and actor developed a close friendship while making 2002's Minority Report ('working with Tom was one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given by this business' Spielberg once said).

But while Spielberg agreed to the installation of a Scientology tent on the set of War of the Worlds, he became disenchanted at how Cruise's aggressive promotion of Scientology overshadowed the film's release. Marvin Levy, Spielberg's spokesman, admitted at the time that Cruise's rants against prescription drugs 'certainly took some of the emphasis away from where we would have liked it'.

Scientology remains integral to Cruise's life but, on the advice of his handlers, he has once again stopped discussing Scientology in the public eye. One fixture from 2005 that has remained constant in his life is the doe-eyed actress Katie Holmes.

The pair married in 2006, six years after Cruise's divorce from Nicole Kidman. They live with their four-year-old daughter Suri in Beverly Hills with homes in New York and Colorado. They are also believed to have spent £2.5 million on a six-bedroom house in Dormans Park, a private residential park near East Grinstead, close to the 18th-century sandstone mansion that serves as the British headquarters of Scientology.

Holmes, 31, appeared in Simon McBurney's 2008 version of Arthur Miller's All My Sons on Broadway and has aspirations to perform on stage rather than in film. So a repeat of an experience along the lines of Eyes Wide Shut - the 1999 Stanley Kubrick erotic thriller that Cruise co-starred in with Kidman and which is widely thought to have harmed their marriage - seems highly unlikely. Cruise and Holmes have also confounded initial suspicions that their union was a publicity stunt.

It's how to address the fading power of his once phenomenally popular persona, rather than his private life, which is currently giving Cruise most cause for concern. 'He's done some incredibly good work within the framework of reconstructing his image and making fun of himself,' Kim Masters says. 'But he needs to think about a different level of stardom and see if he can live with it. That blockbuster star persona may not exist right now in Hollywood.'

According to sources at Cruise's PR representatives, 42 West, the actor is determined to lighten his act. He showed astute comic timing as repressed teenager Joel Goodsen in Risky Business (1983) and in Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire (1996). Cruise has become intrigued by the faux-nostalgic flipness that has marked pop culture's recent forays into the Eighties, hence his impromptu trip to Hot Tub Time Machine. 'Tom knows some people are laughing at him,' says the source. 'So he's now intent on having the last laugh.'

It was for this reason that just before Knight and Day's release, Cruise performed a skit at the MTV Movie Awards as Les Grossman, the foul-mouthed studio boss he played in Ben Stiller's 2008 comedy Tropic Thunder. His dirty dancing act with Jennifer Lopez was warmly received and led to an official announcement from Paramount that a Grossman feature-length film was in the works. (It's unlikely to happen. The announcement was good publicity for Paramount and MTV and an even better story for Viacom which owns both companies.)

Jeffrey Wells, who writes the blog Hollywood Elsewhere, says that Cruise has 'in effect become the new William Shatner, albeit in a higher pay bracket - he's the guy whose routine is slightly crazy. Whether people think it's the most glorious thing they've ever seen or not, that's what he is doing. Nobody gets to be the superhero all their life.'

This was spelt out to Cruise when Columbia Pictures opted to recast Salt, a spy thriller he had long been hoping to make. Angelina Jolie replaced him and the eponymous CIA spy operative's name was changed from Edwin Salt to Evelyn Salt. Plans for Cruise to play the US president in a thriller entitled The 28th Amendment also fell by the wayside.

Cruise toyed with going into business with Working Title, Britain's most successful film company. One comedy he considered making with them was Lost for Words, originally written for Hugh Grant, about a shallow actor in a love triangle. Another was Food Fight in which he would have played a superstar chef reduced to cooking school dinners. Both never got off the ground.

Some think Cruise, who has a net worth of around $320 million, should scale down his salary demands when looking for the right comeback movie. He received over $20 million for Knight and Day but not every studio is willing to give him his asking price and that's slowed down his film schedule.

Officially, he is soon set to begin work on Mission: Impossible 4 for Paramount but rumours are rife that the film's fate depends on the international performance of Knight and Day (Cruise's films now do best outside the US, and for proof of how well Cruise wants this one to do watch this week's Top Gear, in which he is the Star in the Reasonably Priced Car).

But the fact he's even been provisionally chosen to accept another Mission is no mean feat after Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone terminated the star's contract with Paramount in 2006 in the wake of Mission: Impossible 3. Redstone said then by way of damning explanation: 'He's a terrific actor. But we don't think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot.'

The Mission: Impossible franchise has been highly lucrative for Cruise. He made $162 million from the first two movies as actor-producer - more than Paramount. When I talked to Mission: Impossible director Brian De Palma during the release of his last movie, he mentioned the reported conflicts with Paramount while making the blockbuster.

'The studio wasn't so much of a problem as convincing Tom of certain things,' he said, then added: 'When they asked me to do the next one I said: “Are you kidding? Why would you ever want to do this again?”' Cruise's status as a mogul has suffered from a recent ill-fated stint running troubled studio United Artists along with his producing partner Paula Wagner. Despite securing $500 million in financing through Merrill Lynch, their reign produced little else other than Cruise's Hitler drama Valkyrie.

Many think Cruise's smartest bet lies in reminding people that he can act. 'Unless Cruise can find the role of a vampire's father, he's now best off becoming a character actor,' says his biographer Wensley Clarkson, author of Cruise Control. Veteran director James Toback believes Cruise should embrace his eccentric persona: 'The more off-centre he is, the better he is, like in Magnolia or Tropic Thunder. He's obviously a complicated guy so he's got to play complicated roles - anything that lets him play his humorous or psychotic side.'

Others reckon Cruise is getting a raw deal. 'The fault is not with Tom Cruise, but with the material he is being offered,' says Heywood Gould, who wrote both the book and film of Cocktail, the 1988 movie that showed Cruise had attained a stellar level of public stardom. Cruise is now understood to be looking for future projects that combine 'humour with humility'.

Anyone who thinks Cruise won't be concerned about losing his audience has never seen a Tom Cruise movie. He is fond of telling the story that when his mother left his abusive father, when he was 12 years old, he thought: 'I gotta figure this out.' Thirty-five years later Tom Cruise once more has to figure it out.

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