RS#750: Jerry Maguire

The Jerry Maguire Journal

Fast Times on the set of the new Tom Cruise movie from the man who wrote and directed it.

Tom Cruise handed me the telephone. “Cameron Crowe,” he said. “Stanley Kubrick.”

I took the receiver. Standing on the stage of a Los Angeles recording studio, I was now unexpectedly on the phone with the reigning recluse of international cinema, Cruise’s next director. They had been conversing about details on his next movie. It was the fall of 1996, and the exhausting experience of making Jerry Maguire was almost over.

“So,” asked Kubrick in a flat voice from his London home, “what is your movie about?”

The real answer would come to me days later, long after I mumbled to Kubrick that it was just a movie about a sports agent and his quest for meaning in a brutal world, or something like that. Jerry Maguire began four years earlier, in the quiet after Singles, a movie I had written and directed to loosely resemble an album. The end result had been educational for me, but not quite nourishing. This time I wanted to write a movie with a real story, the kind that shows up on TV late at night, usually in black and white. For months after Singles, I had gorged on the great storytellers and character geniuses of cinema, stalking the video shelves. Anyone on a quest like this must surely careen through the character-rich work of Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir and Truffaut, of course, all of them hall of famers, but inevitable this road winds up on the doorstep of the greatest modern writer and director of them all, the incomparable Billy Wilder.

For weeks I watched Billy Wilder movies. There is one for almost every mood: frivolous and hysterical (Some Like It Hot), brutal and funny (One, Two, Three), achingly romantic (Love in the Afternoon), maudlin and great (The Lost Weekend) – on and on the list goes. I love them all for various reasons, but the one that reached me the most was his 1960 film, The Apartment. In the odd months after Singles, it spoke to me very loudly. I had never been that big of a Jack Lemmon fan, but there was something about the biting and yet touchingly hilarious portrait of then-contemporary workingman and his bittersweet love affair with an elevator operator. I can’t lie to you: I just got chills even typing the name of the movie. It is my favorite film, and it was the one that inspired me to begin writing my own portrait of the contemporary man, that faceless guy who puts on a suit and tie every day, Jerry Maguire.

After about a year of research, talking to businessmen, visiting big offices, interviewing working stiffs with briefcases, a friend showed me a picture from the Los Angeles Times. It was an odd photo of a sports agent and his client. Two stern-looking men in loud shirts and sunglasses. I was never one of the jocks in school – in fact, they’d always stolen my girlfriends and had cars when I was still riding the bus – but somehow the money-driven world of sports agenting beckoned as the backdrop for my script. During the next few years, with the help of sports attorney Leigh Steinberg, I met and traveled with athletes and owners and sports agents of all kinds, and I began to develop the character of Jerry Maguire. The story that emerged was of a man trapped in a cynical world who, at age 35, after writing an idealistic manifesto for his company, loses his power and is forced to search for real success. Throughout the story, Jerry hears the voice of the original sports agent, his mentor, a fictional character named Dicky Fox. From the earliest moment, I knew whom I wanted to play Dicky Fox. It had to be Billy Wilder.

For almost a year, I attempted to meet with Wilder, then 89. Wilder, who hasn’t made a film in 15 years, still lives a quietly structured life in Beverly Hills. Every day or so, he walks from his home to a tiny-wood-paneled office, located off a nondescript side street that looks a little like the Paris of Love in the Afternoon. He answers a call or two, lunches with an old friend and then goes home again. One day in 1995, the lucky news arrived from a cigar-smoking buddy of the master: Wilder would meet me on the following Tuesday morning at 10:30.

I arrived early, which didn’t matter, because Wilder did not. I knocked on the office door. Nothing. In an envelope, I carried a vintage poster of The Apartment, complete with Sharpie for easy signing. I waited on his steps until 12:30 and finally rose to leave, and it was then that I spotted Wilder rounding the corner of a nearby alley, heading my way and wearing a snappy-looking beanie.

“Mr. Wilder,” I said, “I’m Cameron Crowe.”

“What have you got for me?” he said brusquely in his heavy Viennese accent. He looked for paperwork to sign. So much for my polished air of authority. He thought I was a messenger. I explained that we had an appointment. Wilder was then very embarrassed, almost flustered, and although he wasn’t aware that he had a meeting scheduled, he invited me into his office. I followed Wilder up the stairs and into the musty room that contained a few art pieces and no artifacts from his many great movies, just a sign above the door that read, in homage to his mentor Ernst Lubitsch: HOW WOULD LUBITSCH DO IT?

The great Wilder sat in a small chair and looked at me through thick glasses. He fumbled with an old-style ink pen as I told him I was a writer and director heading into my third movie. I mentioned The Apartment.

“Good picture,” he said.

“My favorite,” I responded proudly.

He thought for a moment. “Mine, too.” I gave him my poster to sign. He looked at it. “Jack Lemmon,” he said simply, importantly. I nodded with the deepest of understanding. I felt our silence communicated much to each other. To any fan of The Apartment, nothing more need be said. “We wrote it for Lemmon,” said Billy Wilder, referencing the other half of his most fruitful writing partnership, I.A.L. Diamond. “And Shirley MacLaine,” he added wistfully. “She was a nobody then.” He held the pen right and regarded the poster. “We had the right actors,” he said. “It worked.”

“I can’t imagine anyone else in the part but Shirley MacLaine,” I said with reverence.

“No,” snapped the old man. “And I can’t think of anything funny to write on your poster, either.” He asked me my name again and signed the poster carefully, dating it. It was time for me to leave.

“There is a part I want you to play in my movie,” I announced.

“I don’t act,” he said quickly. “I won’t do it.”

“It’s just a small part.”

“Then I definitely won’t do it,” he fired back. In a flash, there it was, a strong reminder of the mind and the pen that had produced some of the world’s greatest dialogue. Seeing daylight, I continued to pitch him on the part, and after a few minutes, Wilder shrugged. “Let me read it. I might do it.”

I left on a cloud and returned later to gift him with two rare cigars. He had already left, so I wrote a note – “To your acting debut.” Several months later, as I completed the final script, Wilder’s own agent indeed confirmed that they had discussed the acting project, and Wilder was very positive about the acting job, his first ever. With Wilder as Dicky Fox, the soul of the movie was golden. Jerry Maguire felt blessed already. Now there was just the simple matter of casting the man who was in every scene: Jerry Maguire.

“I like your script,” said Tom Cruise, on the phone from Europe, where he was living with his wife, Nicole Kidman, as she filmed The Portrait of a Lady. “I relate to this character and … ” He sounded surprised as he told me, “I cried when I read it.”

We spoke for an hour, and he had read every word of Jerry Maguire. He was big sports fan, he said, but it was the relationship between the characters that interested him the most. And, Cruise added, there was something about Jerry Maguire that reminded him of the more character-driven movies he made earlier in his career like Risky Business and Rain Man. He seemed most impressed that I had taken three and a half years to write the script. All my writer friends have long chastised me for being too methodical, too slow in turning out scripts. Suddenly I was able to wear my slowness like a badge of honor.

“Hey,” I told Cruise cooly, like I had planned it, “I wanted to be right.”

I had met Tom Cruise in the early 1980s, during the filming of my first script, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Cruise and Sean Penn were friends from Taps. After the film, Penn had joined our ensemble and Cruise went on to his first starring part, in Risky Business. At the time, there were several unruly parties where the two camps collided. I remember the baby-faced Cruise, unknown but still charged with obvious charisma. In the years that followed, most of those young actors would go on to experience success, but none of them would experience it like Cruise, who would come to define global stardom in all of its hugeness.

Fifteen years after that first meeting, Cruise enters the room to discuss Jerry Maguire. He wears razor-thin shades and an explosive smile, which he blasts generously and often. It takes a few minutes to adjust. He exists largely on the big screen, doing big things on a large, flat, glowing surface. Cruise knows this and works hard to set people at ease. He does this rather quickly, but in subsequent months, I would come to recognize the looks on the faces of people meeting him for the first time. Basically, it’s this: Wow, he’s three-dimensional. He sits down quickly with my producer, James L. Brooks, himself a writer-director hero of mine, and me. There is a brief chat about children. Cruise has two, Brooks, has four. I have none, except for the well-thumbed script sitting in front of Cruise. Agents of other actors called regularly, saying all kinds of things to promote their clients, from, “Be realistic, you’ll never get Cruise,” to, “Cruise will never play a loser.”

Cruise opens my script. “Look,” he says jauntily, “who knows if I’m the right guy for this part? How about if I just read it for you?”

Brooks and I look at each other. Many actors refuse to audition as soon as they become successful, believing that you must hire them on trust and belief, and their body of work.

“Jerry Maguire,” begins Cruise. He started reading the voice-over that opens the movie. “So this is the world, and there are 5 billion people on it….”

The sound of his voice, quietly setting up the movie, is a powerful thing. We listen as he proceeds to read through the first scenes of my script. There is a swagger and depth to his characterization. And more than a little vulnerability. Now all I want in the world is for Tom Cruise to be Jerry Maguire. But it will take another two months of discussion and continued shaping of the character so that the movie is truly a younger man’s story. Throughout all this, Cruise’s interest in the part is voracious. Back in Europe with his wife and kids, he calls regularly. He has already studied agents on both coasts, preparing for the part he might do. He studies videotapes I send him of sports agents. But still he does not commit officially to the part. Finally he returns to Los Angeles and ask to see Brooks and me privately. He enters gravely, briefly mentioning a situation in which a family member has been heckled by the tabloid press. It is the only time I have seen him less than exuberant, and Brooks and I are sure that his dark mood is a prelude to bad news.

“Anyway,” he says abruptly, “this is a very special project. I’ve always felt it, and I’m going to do the movie.”

And then Tom Cruise grins, famously, teeth flaring, and pumps both our hands. My first reaction is, “Hurray!” My second, more private, reaction is, “Oh, shit!” Suddenly, I feel the golden egg in my hands, and I can envision is dropping it. I work hard to dispel this horrible image, and it soon disappears. Standing in front of me is Cruise, clapping his own hands together, rubbing them furiously, delightedly, like a kid on Christmas morning. He loves to work, and he loves to produce work – he even loves saying the word work. And although I used to be more of a hang-loose guy before working with Cruise, this hand gesture is one that I will become familiar with. In fact, before long, it will spread to me. The Tom Cruise rubbing-hands thing” It means, let’s rock.

There are two other main parts in Jerry Maguire. One is Jerry’s love interest, the 26-year-old single mother and accountant Dorothy Boyd. The other is the only client who sticks with him when things go bad, the second-tier loudmouthed wide receiver Rod Tidwell. I had wanted to cast fresh faces around Cruise in the movie. This is easier said than done. Many newcomers are not yet fully ready to step up into the spotlight, and inevitably, as time runs out, many filmmakers go with the tried and true.

Before Cruise committed to the part, Cuba Gooding Jr., best known for Boyz n the Hood, had read for Rod, and his performance went through the roof.

I’ll be honest: As electric as Gooding was that day, there were other actors I had planned to audition, too. The character was written as much taller than Gooding, who is taller than average. I auditioned tall actors of all types, including athletes. Several even read with Cruise, and while there were contenders, Gooding stayed the front-runner. I called Gooding at his home one night and asked him to audition with Cruse the next day. Gooding’s wife, Sarah, went to get him in the next room. I heard shouting and yelling. His voice was getting closer. Finally the phone rose to his mouth. “Here I come!” he was bellowing happily. “Here I come!” He had been waiting for this call for weeks, working out, adding muscle tone, waiting for his shot at the part. “I’m going to do it for you!” His voice was echoing off the walls of his home. I told him about reading with Cruise and how I needed him to bring all his fire to the audition.

Don’t worry about me!” Gooding shouted. “I’m gonna pee all over this part!

Telling Cruise this story the next morning, he began rubbing his hands together and laughing. Cruise, who had worked briefly with Gooding in A Few Good Men, could barely wait to act with him. Later that morning, the door burst open to the office, and in walked Gooding, ready to rumble, shouting, “Let’s do it! … Let’s read this motherfucker!

I announced that we would read the locker-room scene in which a bitter Rod Tidwell has just emerged from the shower, dripping wet, to browbeat his agent over the disappointing details of a contract negotiation.

“Am I naked in this scene?” he asked.

“Yes.”

Gooding snapped down his pants and stood naked. “Come on, let’s go,” he said. Stunned and laughing, we watched as Gooding beckoned with his hands, as in, “Bring it on.” “Come on, let’s read the scene,” he shouted joyously. “I’m gonna get this part. I ain’t afraid of nothing. I’m gonna knock this motherfucker out of the park!

Within a week he had the part of Rod Tidwell. A quick rewrite turned the character into a player who some felt was “too short for the NFL.” In the end, it helped add to the plight of the character.

By the time I called Gooding to tell him he had the part, he had heard the news from the other actors who auditioned. “They called me already,” he said. “I told them, ‘Now it’s my turn.’” He was quite moved. Quietly, he added, “There aren’t that many big parts for a black actor in Hollywood.”

I knew then what I had suspected earlier: The bravado, the shouting, the controlled mayhem, the pants incident – they were all part of his dead-on interpretation of the character. The serious and thoughtful man on the phone was now Cuba Gooding Jr. “This is my shot,” he said. “This is my shot.”

She’s not quite right for the part,” said casting director Gail Levin, “but I wanted you to meet Renee Zellweger.”

In walked Zellweger, then 26, a veteran of several small, independent movies and fresh off her first dramatic role, in Dan Ireland’s The Whole Wide World. With no makeup, she loped into the room, wearing ripped Levi’s and cowboy boots, her Texas twang in full bloom. She was an odd combination of goofy and ethereal, and her laugh was uncomfortably loud, but her audition as Dorothy had the ring of a real person. We were clearly a long way from Hollywood, a good place to be with a character meant to melt the professional steel of Jerry.

For her second reading, this time with Jim Brooks in the room, Zellweger returned in a much different state. Her dog had been sick, she was rattled, the spark of the previous day was missing, and the scenes suddenly felt different. The depth of character was missing. Not much was said after she left.

Dorothy Boyd was one of the hardest characters in the script to cast, and I knew one thing from writing it: To play into the self-pity of a single mother who was also a widow would skew the whole movie toward melodrama. John Cusack once told me while making Say Anything that my writing is not easy to act. The key is to play it as if it is real life, said Cusack, and real life is not easy to act because real life is mostly boring. So the sparks come from the little moments, the detail, and as weeks went on, I found myself sitting through many auditions from many fine actresses, none of whom seemed to capture the effortless, quirky detail of Zellweger’s first reading.

Time was running out. Cruise came back into town from Europe. He carried the script in a black notebook with multicolored page markers for easy access. Layer by layer, Cruise began to strip down to the part that many had told me he would never play – a loveable, lost loser on the rebound. As he mentioned to me one day, “I have a piece of paper near the mirror, and I see it every day. It says, ‘Relax.’ If I’m loose, I can go places I’ve never been before as an actor. Any time you want, just tell me to relax. It’ll help.” I would have to tell him to relax only a couple of times. Each time he tried something wild and loony. Those takes are not in the movie, but the next ones are.

Cruise’s process of deconstructing was entertaining to watch. If the scene required him to be out of breath, he would jump rope furiously just before a take and then quickly say, “Let’s go.” If the take required him to cry, he would take as long as necessary, sitting alone, sometimes listening to music on a Walkman, reaching into places that clearly wrenched him to visit. The level of his commitment to the part was constantly surprising to me as a director. As a writer, I was often floored.

“Your words, man,” he said, “You spent three and a half years on this script.”

But this was all to come. It was now January, filming was scheduled to begin in March, and still we had no Dorothy Boyd. Once again, the road led back to Billy Wilder and The Apartment. I was looking for a young Shirley MacLaine, or more accurately, I was looking for Fran Kubelik, the spunky, looking-life-in-the-eyes-without-self pity character MacLaine played opposite Jack Lemmon. At the end of a long day of auditions, I was surprised to hear a familiar name.

“I invited Renee Zellweger back,” said Gail Levin. “Just because you liked her so much on her first audition.”

The Texas tornado launched into the room, read a few scenes with Cruise, and made each now-familiar sentence sound fresh again. The difference between the two actors made for genuine chemistry, sexual and emotional.

“There’s your Shirley MacLaine,” said Jim Brooks.

Grinning, Tom Cruise rubbed his hands together furiously. Let’s Rock.

Rehearsals for Jerry Maguire began at the end of February. Cruise entered on time every day, excruciating punctual, which I, sadly, am not, and arrived blazingly prepared, which I, luckily, am. Preparation is a big deal to him. He knows all of his lines and everybody else’s, too. I used to think, true to legend, that James Brown was probably the hardest-working man in show business. Today, I wonder. James Brown almost certainly sleeps, and while he is sleeping, you can bet that Tom Cruise is still up, drinking coffee, preparing for tomorrow.

For good luck I wanted my first shot to be Billy Wilder’s scene as Dicky Fox. Cruise and I had spent many a moment congratulating ourselves on this casting coup. I couldn’t wait to film it. I began calling Wilder, leaving messages. Wilder did not answer the phone. I collared a production assistant, gave him the address of Wilder’s office, and told him to stake out the place and report in when Wilder arrived.

The next day, the PA called to say that Wilder had entered his office. I dialed the number, and Wilder picked up the phone with a grunt.

“Why are you doing this to me? I said, ‘No.’ I’m too old. Leave me alone.” The great man hung up on me.

I decided to get in the car, go to Wilder’s office and talk to him.

“Let’s go,” Cruise said.

Suddenly, it was Hawaii Five-O, and we were both Jack Lord. We screamed through the rainy streets into Beverly Hills and pulled up to Wilder’s. Cruise and I bounded up the steps, filled with purpose. After a beat, the door swung open. Wilder stood there, dapper as always, blinking behind his glasses.

“I called you earlier,” I said. “Tom Cruise and I wanted to discuss our movie with you in person.”

The greatest living writer and director looked at me and then at Cruise. “Well, I guess I can’t throw you out,” he muttered. He beckoned us inside. We sat on two small wooden chairs like two earnest schoolboys. “You won’t change my mind, but go ahead.”

I went first, mentioning The Apartment and how I had been lucky enough to find the perfect actor, Cruise, and now I couldn’t settle for less than the perfect Dicky Fox.

“What is the story of your movie?” he asked.

Wilder himself listened to the Wilder-esque setup of my movie. He had only one comment.

“And why do we care about this sports agent to begin with?” he asked.

I took a breath and looked over at Cruise, who was fidgeting nervously. Great, I thought. Three and a half years writing the script, and it takes 89-year-old Billy Wilder two minutes to dismantle the whole fucking thing. I began talking about Dicky Fox, Jerry’s mentor, who is the voice of reason.

“Hire an actor,” said Wilder firmly, ending my rambling pitch. “Even if it’s a cabdriver in a scene where the cabdriver says nothing, hire an actor. I am not an actor. I will just fuck up your movie.”

Then Cruise leaned forward and took his shot. It was a sight to behold. Directly and passionately, he began to speak to Wilder about the performance that was so important to both of us. Suddenly the chemistry of the room shifted, and Wilder knew it. He snapped back to attention. The cloudiness of eyes disappeared. Earnestly, the globe’s best-known male actor explained that it was not so much an acting job as a documentary-style appearance. The room was suddenly filled with hope. From the small, wired window behind Wilder, sunlight fell on his cluttered desk. Wilder stared at Cruise thoughtfully for a long moment.

“No,” said Wilder. “I am too old to be in front of the camera.” His answer felt definitive, but he clearly enjoyed it more when Cruise asked.

And then, in classic Wilder form, he asked Cruise, who was wearing black jeans and a dress shirt, if this was how he dresses in public. Cruise said, “Yes.” Wilder then explained that in his day, stars dressed up, even if they were going to the grocery store. This is what the fans want, said Wilder. Cruise look wounded, staring down at his shirt. It occurred to me that I would never be in this office again.

“Mr. Wilder,” I blurted, “I want to tell you this: You know that sign above your door: WHAT WOULD LUBITSCH DO? Here’s what I think when I’m writing: ‘What would Wilder do?’ And Wilder would put Wilder in this movie.”

Wilder looked at me as if I either was speaking Zulu or had just broken the world record for brown-nosing. “Is this your first picture?” He asked me.

“Third.”

“Do you ever think about giving up?”

“Yes,” I told him quite honestly.

“It’s normal,” he said. But instantly I knew this was the wrong answer. I was now invisible to the great Wilder. He looked back over to Tom Cruise as if to say, “You belong with a real director. You belong with me. Now animated, even showing off a little, Wilder talked with Cruise for a few more minutes. I realized sitting there that this profession, directing, was a lifelong pursuit and that even at 89, Wilder was romancing one of the world’s few bankable stars with an idea toward his own future. He asked to visit the set but again dismissed the idea of acting in Jerry Maguire. We rose to leave.

“Nice to meet you,” he said crisply, his eyes grazing my face. “And nice to meet you,” he said to Cruise. Then, with a Wilder-esque wink, he leaned forward and added to Cruise, “Especially you.”

We trudged down the steps and out to the car. As we prepared for the drive back to the studio, I tried like hell to mask my own intense disappointment. “OK, he turned us down,” I said in full Pollyanna mode. “But we argued with Billy fucking Wilder for 45 minutes – at least we can tell our grandchildren about that.” Finally I sneaked a look over at Cruise, who had an odd, bewildered expression on his face. It was not a hard look to identify. Not every day does Tom Cruise get turned down so definitively. Perhaps it had been years since he had heard the word no so often and so powerfully in such a short period of time. I really hadn’t hoped to be the one to remind Tom Cruise of this feeling, at least not this early in the rehearsal period. “Failure, the look on his face read, “I am not a big fan of failure.”

“So I guess that would be a no from Wilder,” I said.

“Yeah,” Cruise shrugged, “and he didn’t like my shirt, either.”

Finally he smiled as we splashed through the rainy streets back to rehearsals. A week later, I hired a real-life lawyer from the Sony Pictures lot. He wasn’t an actor, but his performance as Dicky Fox is one of my favorites.

Every picture of me directing Jerry Maguire looks pretty much the same: I am holding pages from the script in hand, and the pages are mostly filled with scribbled notes about how each line could be played. My intense devotion to the script was matched, sometimes outdistanced, by Cruise’s. The mirror in his hair and makeup trailer was plastered with photos from each of his previous movies. The idea was to look different, to be different, in Jerry Maguire. A real turning point came early, while we were filming the scene where Jerry has been fired and he rushes back to the office to make phone calls, attempting to win back his clients.

The scene as scripted called for him to charge down the center aisle of the huge office as more than 100 co-workers watched, including Maguire’s boss, Scully, played by Jann Wenner is his triumphant return to the big screen. Then came the flicker of a new idea. Instead of moving importantly to his office, what if this hard-charging superagent tripped and fell in front of all his fellow workers? Carefully, I approached Cruise with the suggestion that he fall on his face, “Let’s do it,” he said immediately.

I called action. Cruise strode down the aisle, more powerful and heroic than ever. Suddenly, as the whole office watched, he tripped on a car and fell face first onto the floor with a loud thud. The reaction among the 100-plus extras was palpable: one big, fat gasp, as if they had just heard Princess Diana fart. I happily yelled, “Cut,” and finally, Cruise stood. As the extras watched him dust himself off, one began to clap, then another … then the whole place. They were not sure they should, but they hailed him for failing. As Tom Cruise took a Chaplin-esque bow, I could feel the whole movie sail into uncharted waters. I was watching an actor take his super-icon persona and turn it inside out. I was on a high for days after that fall.

In terms of the pressure of making my first big-budget studio movie, I was mostly too busy to wallow in the anxiety. I often found myself relating most strongly to Renee Zellweger, whose previous movies had a combined budget of roughly half of Jerry Maguire’s. Some nights after Cruise had rushed off to join his wife and kids, and the huge equipment trucks were pulling out, I would sit on the steps with Zellweger and reflect on how we had come to be in this position. We often discussed Cruise, the depth of his dedication and what it meant to each of us.

Cruise tirelessly collects the details and behavior of his character, observing and interviewing like a journalist. Once he is there, he asks only for quiet. Then he can stay there as long as it takes, with the world’s most sophisticated cameras whirring one inch from his face. Often, I would say to him, “Do you have another take in you?”

“I have a hundred more in me,” he would say. “I’ll go forever.”

Zellweger, the newcomer, goes to the same emotional place but without a map. Sometimes it was painful to watch her rip her chest open, time and again, to expose her wildly beating heart for the camera. I think I aged her in the process. But it is her realness that completes the once-slick Jerry Maguire, and when I watched the entire movie put together for the first time, on a hot summer day in July, I realized what a gift it had been that our casting director brought her back one more time, just because.

In mid-September, Tom Cruise came back to town from England, where he started to prepare for his movie with Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut. I had promised to show Cruise a rough cut of Jerry Maguire, and somehow I had imagined that it would be just him watching in a screening room with me and our editor, Joe Hutshing, and our music supervisor, Danny Bramson. Instead, Cruise showed up with a large group of friends and family, bringing candy and Cokes, too. “Hope you don’t mind,” he said, grinning, the old hands rubbing together again. Now I was truly nervous. Cruise sat next to his wife and sank back in the seat, ready to be entertained. I had watched only one other movie with him before,Trainspotting, and the experience was interesting. Unlike many actors, he is not an armchair critic. He gives himself totally to the movie like a real fan, laughing generously, experiencing film. I knew that if I didn’t hear him enjoying himself, the silence would be deafening.

He began laughing almost immediately, which was a relief. I watched the back of his head as he watched and cheered on the performances of Cuba Gooding Jr.; Kelly Preston; Bonnie Hunt; Regina King as Marcee Tidwell; Jay Mohr as the double-dealing agent Bob Sugar; Jonathan Lipnicki as Jerry’s stepson, Ray; and the undeniable honesty of Renee Zellweger. Cruise appeared to enjoy them all, and to a lesser degree, even himself. When it was over, several of his family members were crying.

In the hallway, we discussed his performance. For Cruise, it was all still sinking in. He commented on what the editors and I knew months earlier: The movie had turned out to be more emotional than any of us had first imagined.

Across the room, I could hear Nicole Kidman say the word romantic. This was a good word to hear. When Cruise joined her for a moment later, she grabbed him, and they held each other in the lobby of the studio theater. I stood alone, feeling a great sense of completion. The feeling would last exactly one minute. There was a huge amount of work left to be done. Kidman and the others then happily exited for the restaurant where Cruise would join them later. I walked back to my office with Jerry Maguire himself. “Thank you for this character,” he said, still gimlet-eyed from having finally seen the movie. “It’s the best part I’ve ever had. I don’t ever want to stop playing this character….”

He asked me to give him a ride to the restaurant. Clearly he didn’t know what I am like in these situations. Showing the movie to the actors in it is a nerve-racking tightrope walk. I was a total mess. I could not drive myself right now, much less transport the titular head of the international Tom Cruise Dynasty in my ’89 Crown Victoria. Cassettes were strewn across the floor of the car. My tires were not new. My car had not been serviced in two years. Disaster would ensue, and it would all be my fault. No. I am in no condition to drive, and that’s that. The answer was no.

“Sure,” I said coolly.

Cruise climbed into my car, and we lurched off into a traffic jam, full of excited and hopeful talk about the future. Just for a moment I could glimpse my wildest dream: I’m 89, and some young schnook comes up to me with a poster from Jerry Maguire.

“Good picture,” I say.

“My favorite,” adds the kid.

“Tom Cruise,” I say importantly. And he will nod. Our silence will say much. “And Renee Zellweger. She was a nobody then.” And signing the poster with sturdy precision, perhaps I will look up and say, as if it had all been a breeze, “We had the right actors. It worked.”

Courtesy of RS #750/751 – Cameron Crowe -  December 26, 1996