Vanilla Sky – USA Weekend

Eyes Wide Open

It’s been an eventful year for Tom Cruise. Single again. Pushing 40. Raising kids. One of Hollywood’s most bankable stars sits down with his friend, “Vanilla Sky” director Cameron Crowe, for a candid conversation.

It’s a few days before Halloween. Tom Cruise is holed up in an L.A. editing room with ebullient writer-director Cameron Crowe, who has been working 15-hour days. He’s racing to finish their new movie, “Vanilla Sky”, a dark love story that is Cruise and Crowe’s first collaboration since 1996’s Oscar-winning “Jerry Maguire”. A compact figure who looks less like a star than some kid’s dad, Cruise watches himself on a huge screen as his character, dashing New York publishing magnate David Aames, ducks a cunning party crasher with whom he’s had a fling (Cameron Diaz) in favor of a guileless Latin beauty (Penelope Cruz, reprising her role from the 1997 Spanish version, Abre los Ojos, or Open Your Eyes). From there, things grow … complicated. Like life.

Watching from the back of the room, Cruz is a quiet presence in a black blazer and jeans. She and Cruise have been together since going public as a couple this summer in the wake of Cruise’s breakup with wife Nicole Kidman; they share custody of two adopted kids, Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6. Now, the actor wraps Cruz in his arms. On the screen, actor Jason Lee offers Cruise’s character an aphorism that’s classic Crowe: “Without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain’t as sweet.”

As the crew continues tweaking the scene, Cruise and Crowe take a break to talk with USA WEEKEND about life, onscreen and off.

USA WEEKEND: When did you two first meet?

Crowe: There was a party during the making of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” [the 1982 movie based on a book by Crowe]. The legend of “Taps” [Cruise’s 1981 movie with his friend Sean Penn, who also starred in “Fast Times”] was thick in the air. Sean and Tom had acquired these reps: Sean was sort of Sean De Niro, this character-actor extreme; Tom had both moves, character and leading man. He was The Guy. When you showed up, the whole party tilted to you. There was this charisma that was palpable, but not in any forced way.

Cruise: And you were, like, this great writer. You’d written for “Rolling Stone” — everybody wanted to be on the cover of “Rolling Stone”. It was a chaotic time — you’re trying to find out who you are when everything is converging on you. I remember meeting Cameron then. And then you did my first cover story …

Crowe: … for “Interview” magazine. You were just heading into “The Color of Money”, I think.

Cruise: I’d just done “Top Gun”. It was ’85.

But when did you connect personally?

Cruise: I was in New York and saw “Say Anything …” — and I flipped. It’s such a dark story, but it’s so hopeful. I left feeling great, yet it didn’t resolve everything. It was life. Funny and heartbreaking. And I thought, “Is that the same Cameron Crowe?” So I made calls.

Crowe: We were dismantling our offices, and this woman says Tom Cruise is on the phone. And I picked up the phone and he said, “I just saw this movie. I’m sorry it took me a day or two …” And it had just come out. He went into this insightful rap, then said, “Hey, man, if you ever have anything for me, give me a call sometime.” And I was like: That’s so great; you put a movie out there in the world and Tom Cruise sees it and calls you up.

Cruise: I was blown away. You know that feeling when you see a great movie and you just want to talk about it? I ended up seeing it four, five times.

What other movies have made you feel that way?

Cruise: “Broadcast News” — the writing in a picture like that. I dug “Heat”, the direction. Obviously, “The Godfather”. Obviously, the Kubrick films.

It’s been five years since “Jerry Maguire”. What was working together like this time?

Cruise: He sent me the screenplay and said, “It’s a little long.” But I couldn’t put it down. It’s a very ambitious film. It’s so well written, but it’s like threading a needle. You go from romantic comedy to thriller to drama. It’s got all of these elements that you’ve got to tonally balance throughout. I’d never been through an experience like this as an actor.

Crowe: This character has a lot of baggage emotionally that he has to work through that “Jerry Maguire” didn’t. David Aames inherited a dynasty and is living a very full, yet gloriously superficial, life. I always wanted to create the portrait of the American male right now: What is it to fully live up to the responsibility of a serious adult love affair? It’s incredibly complex and challenging, funny, sad and surprising.

Cruise: There are times in life when we do things and realize afterward, Why did I behave that way? Maybe that isn’t OK. I do believe you can make things better, and the only way is to take full responsibility for your actions. As a kid, you wonder, How come this thing called happiness is so elusive? That’s one of the themes we spent many hours talking about. What is the relationship of one-night stands? What is love? What is the responsibility you have within that?

How has the responsibility of having kids changed you?

Cruise: You have less sleep! I’ve always loved children. I was one of those guys who was a camp counselor in Kentucky. With work, it becomes a real balance. It brings you more outside yourself. I can’t say I’ve turned something down because I’m a parent now, but it’s affected my work.

How much of your work have they seen?

Cruise: Not a lot. Nic and I don’t let them watch a lot of television. We’re very selective. But they have seen “Far and Away”. My son just loves “Top Gun”. And they’re always on the set with us. But I haven’t shown them “Eyes Wide Shut” or “Magnolia”. We’ve had big discussions about different pictures. They say, “When can I see that?” Nic and I talk about it. They’ve got time, ’cause it’s us. They do now understand those are characters we play. Otherwise, we watch old Jerry Lewis and Elvis movies.

Crowe: I’ve certainly learned a lot about parenting from Tom, because I’m a few years behind. I’ll look at Tom and the kids and go, OK, that’s a mini-manual of what’s coming up. Tom’s kids are really good at calling “Action!” too. [Cruise booms with laughter.] Or Connor will call “Cut!” with an authority I only dream of.

Would you want your children to be in movies?

Cruise: Nic and I encourage self-expression, and people have asked us. Kubrick wanted our kids to be shot [to appear in “Eyes Wide Shut”]. Nic and I have not encouraged that. It’s a lot of responsibility, and there’s a lot at stake every single day.

At the end of “Jerry Maguire”, Tom says, “We live in a cynical world …” Do you think that’s changed in the last three months?

Crowe: I think it has. The world is a little less cynical out of necessity. I think grandly so.

Tom, you must have felt it at the all-star telethon for the Sept. 11 victims [he delivered a tribute to the fire department priest known as Father Mike].

Cruise: That was powerful. I’ve never been in a group with such a feeling of community. I’ve actually yearned for that moment of everyone coming together that way and not thinking about the pressure of awards or business. That’s kind of who I am. I like that on movie sets — a sense of community, a unity. I’d met everybody before — Tom Petty, Neil Young, Julia Roberts — but the social veneer was really pulled down a lot.

Will this tragedy have a lasting impact on the kinds of movies that are produced from now on?

Cruise: It even makes us look at our picture in a different way. Some things mean something different than they did before Sept. 11. It’s a responsibility not only for our country but for the entire planet.

You turn 40 in July, Tom. Ten days later, you’ll be 45, Cameron. Does it feel like a different time for you?

Crowe: I haven’t faced it yet, baby. Deny, deny, deny. [Roaring laughter.]

Cruise: You know what? With everything going on in the world and in my life, it feels like a different time. I haven’t attributed it to turning 40. When I was a young actor, I couldn’t wait to get older because the characters get better. And the roles have gotten better. And I have a better contribution to those roles. You keep working at something and, damn, you’d better get better.

Courtesy of USA Weekend – Mark Morrison – December 9, 2001