L.A. Magazine, October 1993
No More Mr. Nice Guy
by Rod Lurie
There is a story that Steve Tisch, producer of the 1983 coming-of-age
classic Risky Business, the film that would eventually vault Tom
Cruise into the warm aerie of megastardom, likes to tell.
After a tough day of shooting, Cruise approached Tisch, his partner
Jon Avnet and the film's director, Paul Brickman. It seemed Cruise
was concerned: He felt that his costar, Rebecca DeMornay, a newcomer
who had snatched the part of sexy hooker Lana from Michelle Pfeiffer,
was miscast. Things just weren't "working" between them.
"We explained to Tom that, from our point of view, she was not going
to be replaced and that she was doing a terrific job," says Tisch.
"We told him that as production went on, they were going to have to
play a number of scenes together and there had to be this illusion
these two characters were falling in love."
In other words, Tisch and Avnet told Cruise to find a way to make it
work. The then 20-year-old actor, whom Tisch describes as the "most
sincere and authentic guy I know," nodded seriously and marched out to
give it his best shot. Two days later, he informed Tisch he would no
longer be needing his location hotel room -- he and DeMornay were now
sharing a suite.
It's a cute story. And though some might see in it, even way back
then, the first signs of a penchant for "tinkering," it's a charming
tale of perhaps an overeager and naive young actor -- certainly
nothing anyone would construe as character assassination.
Which made it all the more surprising when I called Cruise's
publicist, famed celeb flack Pat Kingsley of PMK, to verify the story.
"I was on the set," Kingsley blasted me, "and I can assure you that
that never happened. Tom was very, very grateful to be in this movie,
which was his first lead role. He never would have asked for the lead
actress to be replaced."
I tried to explain that we didn't see this as a dump on Tom -- it was
simply a funny anecdote. But Kingsley and her client were having none
of that. An hour later, Kingsley called me back and said I should
call Brickman and get the "truth" on the story.
"I don't really remember," Brickman says. "It was 11 years ago. But
I remember there were some problems in the beginning, and everybody
was getting testy. We just had to cool it for that day."
Within the next few days, I would get calls from Tisch and others I
had interviewed, asking if their stories could be altered or discluded
from the piece. It had been made clear to them that Cruise would not
appreciate seeing their names in this article.
And that was just the beginning. Later, as the deadline for this
story approached, I was granted a fact-checking-only "interview" with
Cruise. It went like this: I had to submit my questions in writing to
Kingsley -- 21 of them -- to which the star responded through written
answers that were then read to me over the phone by Kingsley, who said
she was "in touch with Tom."
Meantime, Kingsley herself was conducting her own "interview" with me,
calling from Los Angeles, from Paris. No matter how far she went, she
was never far from a phone, questioning and, in some cases, even
screaming that certain areas we were looking into were none of
anyone's business. (More on that later.)
It was a kind of damage control you would not come up against if you
were trying to talk to the President. I could only ask, what kind of
damage are they so anxious to control?
He's bigger than Jack, bigger than Pacino, bigger even than -- this
summer, at least -- Arnold or Kevin. Arguably, Tom Cruise is the
biggest movie star in the world. His last two films, A Few Good Men
(in which he played a recent Harvard grad) and The Firm (in which he
played a recent Harvard grad), garnered an international gross of
close to half a billion dollars. In fact, though some Cruise films
could be termed disappointments, it would be a stretch to call any
failures. The closest was Ron Howard's Irish epic dud, Far and Away
-- and it raked in more than $100 million. You'd think the guy would
be happy, loosen up a bit. That was my first mistake.
For years, the public has seen Cruise as a fresh-faced wonder boy, the
all-American quarterback -- "The guy all women want to date and who
doesn't threaten any guy," Tisch says. Like Schwarzenegger, he has
been careful to maintain a public image of the quintessential
innocent, the good-looking comer who's just enjoying the ride of a
lifetime. And as with Schwarzenegger, any hints of a deeper, more
fearfully controlling ego -- like the time last year when the press
discovered "good guy" Schwarzenegger was dunning a poor widow for the
small amount her husband owed him -- have been blamed on overzealous
publicists or other staff.
For many who know Cruise -- and work with him -- the boy-next-door
image is far from accurate. Increasingly, there are indications that
he is petulant and demanding, something of a control freak who shows
flashes of a prodigious ego. Indeed, many journalists are coming to
believe they've been bought with an engaging smile.
The first chinks in the armor began appearing during the filming of
Far and Away, with reports that crew members were given a memorandum
explaining what could be done and said in front of the actor. It was
only an omen of what was to come a few months later, just before the
Though Cruise was never in love with the press, when it came time to
hawk his earlier movies, he showed at least a willingness to meet and
greet. And while he was never a killer interview, he did turn on the
charm. All that changed with the press junket for Far and Away in
1992. Typically, print, radio and TV people are flown to a hotel,
usually at the film company's expense, where they meet with stars at
tables of about 10 reporters, answering innocuous questions like "How
was it to work with your wife?"
This time out, Cruise -- and wife-costar Nicole Kidman -- demanded
that reporters sign contracts stipulating which publications the
stories would appear in and when they would run. Further, the
contract stated that anything Cruise said could only be used in
conjunction with Far and Away and could not be mentioned in regard to
any other Cruise article or project. In other words, the content of
the interviews would be the sole property of Cruise.
Not that Cruise's fears were totally unfounded. In one case, despite
the contracts, a writer bought a transcript from a radio reporter,
then sold it to a foreign newspaper under a false name.
When a junket for A Few Good Men was scheduled last November, Cruise
again insisted on signed contracts. Kingsley approached Columbia
about having the contract put on studio letterhead. When the studio
refused, Kingsley put the word out via PMK. But this time, the day
the press arrived -- some flying in from as far away as northeastern
Canada -- there was no Cruise in sight. Instead, each journalist
found a letter awaiting him or her at their seats, explaining that he
had to leave town early to be on the set of The Firm. Cruise ended:
"I look forward to the opportunity to speak with you again in the
That "opportunity" did not come with The Firm, either. After
promising dozens of out-of-town journalists last June that Cruise
would be in attendance, Paramount had to inform them he'd opted to go
to Australia to show off his baby daughter to his in-laws.
A month earlier, Cruise had met with the television press. Before he
did, however, he asked Today, CBS News, E! network, Entertainment
Tonight and CNN's Showbiz Today to sign an agreement stipulating,
among other things, that the interview be used only during the
theatrical run of The Firm, that Cruise be given the videotape after
the interview aired and that, in the case of CNN, he would get to
review tapes of the interviewer before agreeing to talk. Eventually,
all signed, though there were alterations in the contracts,
particularly about giving up videotapes. Says a Today producer: "I
don't want to talk about it. Each time we interview this guy, we get
dozens of calls on signing contracts with him."
Kingsley insists the contracts are justified. "Many people at a
junket are freelance and not staff reporters," she says. "We feel
obligated to try and prevent articles written for tabloids as though
they have 'exclusive' interviews." All well and good. But the
question then becomes, Why does Kingsley not make similar demands for
her other clients? Why is Cruise the only actor in Hollywood to whom
these rules apply?
And it is not just the press that seems to be paying the price for
Cruise's increasingly inflated ego. Take the filming of the climactic
courtroom scene in A Few Good Men, in which Jack Nicholson's character
lunges at Cruise from the witness stand and has to be restrained by
two marine guards. While being made up between takes, a real marine,
who had been cast as one of the guards, joked to the makeup artist to
take it easy -- he didn't want to be "prettier" than Cruise.
Overhearing the remark, Cruise barked angrily at the young marine,
"What do you mean by that?"
"I don't want to be a pretty boy like you," the marine joked.
"Yeah, then you'd have to get a real job," Cruise told the
Meanwhile, studio execs complain that Cruise is an expensive star to
keep happy -- even more than other stars of his stratospheric stature.
He has, for example, insisted on perks like flying in his own private
jet for film-related travel -- as opposed to flying first-class like
his peers. And then, last July, Paramount bestowed upon him a new
$104,000 Mercedes -- a "reward" for his work on The Firm, for which he
reportedly received $12 million. Similar to Clinton's famous $200
haircut at LAX, Cruise was slammed for accepting the ostentatious gift
in the midst of a recession.
He also came under fire recently when it was announced he would play
Lestat in the film version of Interview with the Vampire. The book's
author, Anne Rice, blasted the choice, describing it as something akin
to Edward G. Robinson playing Rhett Butler. And for several weeks,
the Los Angeles Times "Calendar" section ran passionately argued
letters from fans of both Cruise and the book supporting their side of
Then there's the case of the new high-tech sound-recording machine --
something called Clearsound. Cruise has become enamored of the
device, developed by a fellow named Steve Marlowe, and has been
pushing -- hard -- to get it used on all his films.
The problem is, filmmakers who have used Clearsound claim that while
they are often impressed with the results, it still has enough kinks
to make its use untenable. Plus, where standard recording rigs cost
about $5,000, Clearsound runs $120,000.
Cruise did succeed in getting director Ron Howard to use Clearsound on
Far and Away, and a spokesman for Howard's Imagine Films concedes it
was used to "appease Tom." On A Few Good Men, apparently trying to
keep Cruise happy, Rob Reiner elected to use both Clearsound and a
standard sound machine. And Lindsay Doran, the producer of The Firm,
admits, "All I know is we sound-recorded two different ways. I was
told one of the ways was a brand-new process and the wave of the
So why all the fuss? Certainly, Cruise isn't the first Actor with
Clout to insist on perfection in every aspect of his work.
Streisand's been doing it for decades. But in this case, there is
another factor, and it's a big one. As it turns out, Cruise
apparently became hooked on Clearsound while watching several in-house
films made for the Church of Scientology, of which he is an ardent
member. According to Marlowe, Cruise came to him and said, "How do
you get that level of sound quality?" Also, according to Marlowe, the
church built a duplicate of the machine for Cruise at cost, and he has
been trying to get the device on his films ever since.
It's not clear exactly when Tom Cruise began to call himself a
Scientologist. In 1989, a Church of Scientology publication included
Cruise (using his real name, Thomas Mapother) and his cousin on a list
of those who'd just completed a basic Scientology course. It's
probable that his entrance to the church occurred while he was married
to actress Mimi Rogers. The daughter of two former hard-core
Scientology members, Rogers is a lifelong follower. Recruiting family
members into the church is commonplace. According to a close relative
of Rogers, Cruise started his involvement with Scientology while he
and Rogers were going through some marriage-counseling sessions at the
Whatever the case, Cruise was a big fish. The church is not shy about
the usefulness of such a celebrity. Though L.A. church president
Shirley Young denies Scientology pursues celebs, an internal memo
dated January 26, 1992, describes them as "resources to forward the
expansion of Scientology through the arts." And this is not just any
celebrity. "Tom is pretty much seen as the messiah," says a former
Through religious choice -- as an icily indignant Kingsley informed me
over the phone -- is a personal matter, the influence of the star's
faith is becoming more and more apparent both on location and in his
The engine that drives Scientology is the concept of "getting clear,"
exorcising "the painful experiences of your life" that interfere with
rational thought. It's achieved through a process called auditing,
which is done with an "auditor" and a device called an "E-meter," more
or less a kind of primitive polygraph. In essence, Scientology is all
about gaining control of one's self and one's environment. It's the
control facet that seems to appeal to Cruise.
On the set of A Few Good Men, for example, crew members thought it
amusing when Cruise insisted his assistant, Michael Doven, be called
his "communicator." A "Tom look-alike," according to one of the crew,
Doven wore the star's "bat utility belt," complete with cellular phone
and water bottle. According to the Basic Dictionary of Dianetics and
Scientology, a communicator is "the person who keeps an executive's
communication lines (body, dispatch, intercom and phone) moving or
controlled. The communicator helps an executive free his or her time
for essential income-earning actions, rest or recreation and prolongs
the term of appointment of the executive by safeguarding against
Other ex-Scientologists, too, claim Cruise routinely encouraged people
who worked for him to take the church's courses. His secretary has
been listed in Celebrity magazine, another church publication, as
having successfully completed at least one.
When asked if any of his staff were church members, Cruise (through
Kingsley) rifled back, "I don't ask any employee or prospective
employee what his or her religion is. Isn't that against the law? If
now, why not?" Cruise, however, did say Kidman "learned Scientology
from me and then investigated for herself."
The Scientology connection could also be part of an apparent conflict
between Cruise and Don Simpson. Simpson, who produced Cruise's Top
Gun and Days of Thunder with partner Jerry Bruckheimer, had a
falling-out years ago with the Church of Scientology. According to
Leisa Goodman, a church representative in L.A., Simpson left because
"he couldn't live up to the ethical standards of the church."
In a recent Premiere article, Simpson referred to the church as "a
con" and went on to say, "I'm chagrined to say I almost went clear --
did the E-meter, the whole thing."
Certainly, Simpson was not doing the E-meter during the filming of
Days of Thunder. When he balked at using Clearsound on that project,
according to a production exec, Scientology head David Miscavige
actually came on the set to lobby for use of the machine. According
to one source, "Simpson told them to fuck off," and then the producer
pulled Cruise aside and told him church representatives were not
According to ex-members, Simpson's comments would normally qualify him
as an "SP," a "suppressive person," one who "actively seeks to
suppress or damage Scientology." Many ex-members who join groups like
the Cult Awareness Network or speak to the press are branded as such.
But in order to be labeled a suppressive, the person must first be
"declared," or officially designated, by the church. Goodman,
although openly disdainful of Simpson, insists he has not been
Even so, he's not on anybody's Top 10 list. The only question of mine
Cruise refused to answer dealt with his feelings toward Simpson. "Don
Simpson's relationship to Scientology is his business," he said, "just
as my relationship to Scientology is my business."
What is clear is that Cruise is not going to be making Top Gun II with
him. Simpson conceived the original Top Gun in 1986, after reading a
piece about the elite fighter-pilot school in the now defunct
California. It was he who elected to hire the young actor and who
brought him from Star on the Brink to Icon. When Simpson left
Paramount in 1990 for Disney, he took certain rights to the movie --
chief among them the right of first refusal to produce any sequel for
According to a source close to Simpson and Bruckheimer, a few months
ago, Paramount honcho Sherry Lansing called to discuss a sequel.
However, the source says, it was supposedly presented to the
production pair as a "cheapo knockoff," and it was "insinuated" that
the star would be Val Kilmer, not Cruise. Since the offer was
$750,000 to produce -- Simpson and Bruckheimer were guaranteed
$500,000 from the sequel no matter what -- they felt it was not worth
the extra $250,000 to produce a Kilmer film. Simpson wanted $2
million and wouldn't budge.
A few weeks after Simpson turned down the deal, a Nevada newspaper
broke the story that locations were being scouted for the sequel. It
would be about the first female pilot in the program -- and Cruise,
with CW Productions, the company Cruise heads with former agent Paula
Wagner, was not only going to produce the picture, it was a near
certainty he would star in it as well.
Simpson was not amused. A Paramount spokesman says, "Really, the
words Val Kilmer were never uttered," and he insists the negotiations
with Simpson and Bruckheimer are "very well documented" and "I'm sorry
we couldn't make a deal with them. They have made millions for the
company." Cruise, however, isn't talking. Kingsley says, "This is
between Paramount and Simpson."
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Cruise's aversion to the media also
seems to reflect what numerous ex-Scientologists contend is the
church's basic mistrust of the press. According to former members,
the church's top managers view the media with contempt, and reporters
are known as suppressive persons.
Former Scientologists insist, too, that high-level members of the
church, including Cruise, have been given "reporter training
regimens," outlining ways they should handle themselves with
reporters. One confidential memo instructs members on "fending a
suppressive TV interviewer," how to be "knowingly covertly hostile"
and "stalling for time." Finally, there's a section on "bullbaiting,"
or "training the student to outflow false data effectively."
While Scientology spokespersons scoff at the notion of the church
training its members to handle interviews, members do concede there is
a great deal of cynicism toward the Fourth Estate. Founder L. Ron
Hubbard's Code of Honor states: "Do not give or receive communication
unless you yourself desire it."
Stephanie Mansfield, who interviewed Cruise for a profile in GQ,
wrote: "He has turned petulant. Steely. Behavior so far from his
good-natured screen persona that I am temporarily stunned into
silence. Being chewed out by Tom Cruise is not a pleasant
And what was Mansfield's crime? In researching her piece, she spoke
to a number of friends from Cruise's childhood. "He blew up,"
Mansfield said. "He kept saying, 'Who did you talk to? Who did you
talk to?'" Later, he referred to the article as a "covert operation,"
a popular term with the Church of Scientology.
Maybe the hardest question to answer is how much Cruise's growing
involvement with the Church of Scientology is affecting his movies.
His high-water performances -- Born on the Fourth of July, Rain Man
and The Color of Money -- were all done with directors who were at
least as powerful as Cruise himself, who had the prestige to keep
Cruise focused. They were also done before his church involvement hit
its stride. Ever since Days of Thunder, Cruise has had to contend
with "suppressive persons," Scientology sound machines, a divorce from
a church member and a "covert" press.
"I have found -- and I suspect that it is still the case 11 years
later -- that Tom really listens," says Tisch. "If he respects the
people he is working with, then he really solicits a lot of
attention." Still, one could make a good case that even while A Few
Good Men and The Firm were blockbusters, his work in these films was
rather pedestrian. Unlike, say, Rain Man or Fourth of July, it was
just Cruise playing Cruise.
Which brings us to the issue of Interview with the Vampire, to be
directed by The Crying Game's Neil Jordan and over which Cruise's
casting as Lestat has cause such a mini furor. "I'm in a state of
shock," Rice said at the time. "This casting is so bizarre. The
movie could be one of the biggest disasters of all time."
"I don't care about Anne Rice's comments!" says the film's producer,
David Geffen. "She's only concerned with the sycophants who write to
her. Tom certainly has the capacity to play any part he wants. He is
smart enough to play characters that are not right up his alley. He's
the biggest star in the world. The fact that he wants to play a dark
and complicated role is a tribute to him."
Geffen, of course, is right. Tom Cruise does have the capacity to
pull it off. He has an Oscar nomination for Born on the Fourth of
July -- the one film nobody though he could pull off.
It's just a matter of whether he's clear, whether there are
suppressives on the set and whether Jordan will put up with it.