Has there ever been an actor more devoted to being a movie star than Tom Cruise?
Forget the stories of his reported strangeness, his devotion to Scientology, his allegedly contrived marriages and relationships; this guy is all about entertainment and giving good movie.
From his debut in 1981 to his status now, arguably still the world’s number one box office attraction, Cruise has enjoyed a straight run with barely any bumps in the road.
Unlike his contemporaries there have been no cast iron turkeys, no holes below the waterline, no plummeting grosses. Cracks in the public carapace? Certainly. But he’s weathered them all. Old-school charisma and that trademark grin have helped.
That and his clever trick of tramping the red carpet for hours at premieres providing autographs, selfies and exclusive phone chats with pals and parents listening in from home. That persona was present last weekend at the London premiere of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Once again Cruise hit the red carpet. The fans expected it. And they loved him for it.
He’s come a long way from the inarticulate kid who drove himself via ambition and sheer self-will to become a success. Hard work and industry have been Cruise’s watchwords. And it’s all there in his movies.
The trick with Cruise is not to delve too deep. He’s not an intellectual. In answering questions he is focused and considered even if his answers give little away. Latterly he has seemed to loosen up, particularly when teamed with Simon Pegg, his M:I co-star and someone who appears to bring out the teenager in the megastar.
Prior to the premiere screening Cruise, Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie sat down for a question-and-answer session. It was a light-hearted affair – a welcome change to some of the previous Q&As during which the 53-year-old star would sound off about his values and beliefs.
This time it was all about the movie, and the questions were gentle and non-probing. When it comes to entertaining his audience Cruise is a master. Hence reacting to his fans is what he does best. First question: how does he keep his movies – and his personal franchise – fresh and relevant?
“We just go for it,” responds the star. “Obviously [there is] work on the story. Locations are very important – it’s a hallmark of a Mission movie but every time we just look at what do we wanna do. This is the second one that Chris has worked on. He wrote Ghost Protocol and wrote and directed this one. It’s what we love about the series and what we feel inspires us. Each time it just evolves.”
Nothing earth-shattering there, then. Clearly these $200 million dollar behemoths with their epic stunts, chases and gunplay just evolve naturally. It falls to McQuarrie, co-creator of The Usual Suspects, to put it all in context.
“It all comes down to character and story first,” he points out. “It gives it the heart and soul of the movie and that really has to take the front seat. Then the action... you just put Tom in the movie. He will bring it.
“The trickiest part is getting the camera into a place where it’s not gonna get damaged or damage Tom.”
Cruise grins at this. Pegg and Ferguson join in. It’s been 20 years since Cruise first stepped up as star and producer for the first Mission: Impossible movie, directed by Brian De Palma. Two decades. Five films. Who could have known?
Maybe a franchise was always on the cards. Certainly the ensemble has changed. Characters have come and gone but Cruise as Ethan Hunt has been the central driving force. What’s more Cruise has made it his raison d’être to be at the heart of the set pieces. They represent another hallmark of the Mission: Impossible series. Topping each successive film has become a mission in itself.
“We kind of go back and forth,” explains Cruise.
“[Chris and I] sit down and we talk about whether there’s stuff that we wanna do. It’s our fifth movie together. We talk about stories in general and cool stuff. We’ve travelled the world together and sometimes we just look at something and think, ‘Oh, that’s cool. That’d be fun. Where are we gonna put that?’”
“Tom Cruise is the most different from Ethan Hunt in one specific way,” adds McQuarrie. “Ethan Hunt does not want to do any of the things that he has to do. He’s always forced into doing it; he would rather do it any other way. Tom Cruise loves every single one of the things that he does. The best acting that you’ve ever seen in your life is him not laughing during everything that he’s doing. Any time you yell ‘Cut!’ he’s like a 12-year-old kid making his first movie.” Cruise grins. “It’s true.”
The movie begins with Cruise as Hunt chasing a taxiing cargo plane down a runway. Aboard is something he needs. To secure it he jumps onto the plane’s wing and then clings to the fuselage as the aircraft takes off. Much has been made of this stunt. Cruise did it for real. What’s more he did it eight times. His co-stars refer to it in tones of awe. Cruise shrugs it off. It’s part of the job.
It falls to Simon Pegg to relate a tale that hints at the joker that Cruise has become.
“We were doing this train station sequence. Me and Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames were background artists for that day.
“I didn’t mind it – I’m not a man of great ego but I was a bit bored. In a moment of boredness Jeremy sent me a picture of his middle bits, which I received on the set. It wasn’t the full arrangement; it was one of the items that come in a pair. It became very difficult to keep a straight face to the point that Tom was saying ‘Who’s doing that?’ because he could hear laughing and then we felt like naughty schoolboys. Jeremy Renner is a very unprofessional actor. I did keep the picture. But seriously: we had a ball.”
Cruise laughs again.