Newly single Tom Cruise finds new challenges
By Ann Oldenburg
He offers a "Top Gun" grin to prove it.
In a quiet, softly lighted hotel suite far above the holiday bustle of the streets outside, the 39-year-old superstar reflects on the anything-but-relaxing events that have brought him to today.
The past year has been an emotional one for him, mostly because of his painful and high-profile parting from Nicole Kidman, his glamorous sidekick of 10 years. Seen glued together at premieres and fancy awards events, the couple shocked Hollywood by announcing their divorce, and the media were on it for months.
Cruise claimed Kidman knew "exactly" why they were splitting. Kidman, 34, miscarried right at the time of the split. While she was said to be having an affair with "Moulin Rouge" co-star Ewan McGregor, which she denied, he was linked with 27-year-old "Vanilla Sky" co-star Penelope Cruz, which he, eventually, confirmed.
On top of all that, there were the terrorist attacks that shook him and his family, as they did everyone.
And there was his work. He was completing his job as producer of "The Others" while also starting "Sky," the psychological thriller/romance that opens today, and a movie he says is one of the most challenging roles he has faced.
"It was a very difficult time," he says.
But he isn't about to complain. "I don't complain about anything. I don't like making my problems anyone else's problems."
What sounded like animosity between him and Kidman wasn't the bitter battle it seemed, he says, as stories quoted "friends" saying he looked bad, she looked good, that she seemed to be handling it better than he was, that they were using intermediaries to hand off their two children, Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6.
"I think a lot of that stuff was pumped up in the press. That's the way it is. What're you going to do? 'Friends of'? I've never had so many friends."
Then he laughs. "Her friends? They're not."
Now he has nothing but praise for his ex.
"She's enormously talented and delightful. I hope she gets recognized this year. She deserves it."
An Oscar for "The Others"?
"I know they're pushing for 'Moulin Rouge,' but I produced 'The Others' so I'm pushing for that." He leans back and laughs, adding, "I love 'Moulin Rouge.'"
He's here now, his first visit to New York since the terrorist attacks, to celebrate OK, hype his new movie. It was strange not to see the World Trade Center still standing, he says. "Then I was really happy to see how vibrant the city is, how alive the city is, the Christmas spirit. And, I think people are more friendly. Have you found that?"
Cruise is polite that way. He asks questions. He makes it a conversation. He talks to people. In walking from the hotel lobby to the elevator, he thanks everyone. The elevator man. The publicist who procured the key and let us in. Not just a "thanks" and he's on his way. He stops, looks them in the eye and says, personally, "Thank you." Outside, after the interview, he'll happily stop to sign autographs. And he'll make sure to wish everyone a happy holiday. Santa Cruise.
Part of it is a Sept. 11 awakening. He says the events made him want to "do more" for others, and it made him take stock. "Taking time to look at Nic and I, and the kids, and our families and society, the world at large and seeing what things we can do to help out." And part of it is that this is a guy who once was a Franciscan seminary student. It's not a Scientology thing, he says. He was positive about life "before Scientology," which he found when he was about 20. But he quickly adds, "Scientology is great, because you've got a lot of tools with which you can help people."
Whether it's his personality or his religion that makes him so chipper about everything, Cruise and Kidman seem to have settled nicely into separate lives, he says. "We're in a beautiful place right now." He won't say in what beautiful place he'll be for the holidays, however. "Nic and I agreed not to discuss this, because everyone's going to speculate."
Nor does he like speculation about new girlfriend and co-star Cruz.
Is he madly in love with her? What should we say?
"You should say that it's part of my personal life, and I'm not going to discuss that," he says, laughing again.
Very funny. Now answer the question.
"I'm very happy."
He'd much rather talk about their movie than their relationship. "Vanilla Sky" is a futuristic pop-culture tale that requires People's Sexiest Man Alive of 1990 to spend half the movie walking around with a limp and gruesomely disfigured face. Cruz is the woman he falls in love with who must cope with the change.
It was, Cruise says, a challenge. "Just getting the makeup so that it was real and working on the mannerisms."
But the facial wounds are really only an element of the complex story line, Cruise points out. "It's also about a guy who's searching for the truth."
Cruise went from "Sky" to Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report," due out in summer, with Cruise as a futuristic cop. "We see Tom in a new way in every movie he makes," Spielberg says. "That's what he's so good at. He subtly changes and adjusts with each film he takes on."
After that, he was said to be starring in "Cold Mountain," the best-selling story of a wounded Civil War soldier. But he says that's not true. "No," he says. "I haven't decided what to do next."
He's still basking in the here and now, with "Sky"-related TV appearances lined up for next week and his shirtless Vanity Fair cover just hitting newsstands.
It is one of those covers that probably will appeal to women and men; rumors have long circulated that Cruise is gay. Cruise recently dropped a $100 million lawsuit against a publisher and gay porn star who claimed to have a video of Cruise having gay sex. They admitted no such tape existed.
"It's people trying to make a name off doing this," he says. "It's ridiculous. I have nothing against homosexuality. Whatsoever. Just don't say I'm in the mud ring on videotape. " He adds, "I don't think it represents the gay community very well for a guy to do that."