Vanilla Sky – Toronto Sun

Cruise, Crowe in the Comfort Zone

Actor, Director a formidable team

There is a comfort zone between megastar producer-actor Tom Cruise and Oscar-winning writer-director Cameron Crowe that is evident on screen and in the room.

Last week, they were together for exclusive private interviews, including with The Sun, when they showed up in Toronto as part of a heavyweight promotional tour for Vanilla Sky. Today, their challenging movie, which is sure to drive some people nuts while others hail it as a masterpiece, opens across North America.

Cruise and Crowe, however, are proud and confident. That comfort zone — Crowe also wrote and directed Jerry Maguire with Cruise in the title role — let them take the risk on Vanilla Sky, which is a re-make of a 1997 Spanish hit called Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes).

“To me,” says Crowe, “risk-taking is great if it’s not done for the sake of taking a risk, which tends to become something other than just a story that comes from your heart.”

“When I read it, I just couldn’t believe it,” Cruise says of Crowe’s script. “I just couldn’t believe it! I love the process of working with Cameron.”

In the non-linear movie, which veers into dreams and provokes the audience to calculate what is real and what is not, Cruise’s character is seen both as an arrogant, preening playboy and as a horribly disfigured man who hides his bitterness behind a latex mask after a tragedy.

“To me,” says Crowe of why he was willing to tell a powerful story in an unconventional way, “compassion is one of the great things you can show in a character and the journey of David Ames (Cruise’s role) in the movie is really powerful to me because, at the end, what is coming out of him is complete compassion.

“Those are the kinds of moments that make a movie worthwhile. And there are many roads to get to an emotional revelation. Which is my favourite thing in movies, when the character you’ve been on the ride with reaches that point. Then life is different for them and for you in the theatre — hopefully. It’s cool.”

Cruise says Crowe is an actor’s dream writer-director. “His characters evolve. He reaches always for what he wants.” And Crowe goes after meticulous detail, says Cruise. The detail ranges from what is stuck on co-star (and now real-life lover) Penelope Cruise’s on-screen fridge to the musical cues that colour almost every scene.

A footnote. Cruise says audiences should not mistake Crowe, a former Rolling Stone rock ‘n’ roll music journalist who told his own story in Almost Famous, for being just a music-obsessed filmmaker, although that is his reputation.

“As much time as he spends on the music,” Cruise says, “he spends on caressing his characters (and feeding off his actors) and looking around waiting to be surprised. You create that kind of environment and you use everything.”

Cruise and Crowe, who had never met Cruz before casting Vanilla Sky, collaborated on choosing her. Obviously, they knew she had been in the Spanish original and knew she was making a Hollywood career, too. But both of them watched every single Spanish film she had made since launching her career 10 years ago.

Cruise says he found Cruz “deeply romantic” and an actress who could be both elegant and believable. Crowe says it was useful for he and Cruise to watch all of Cruz’s work.

“It’s like a band you’ve just discovered but, before they were on the major label that brought them to you, there were like 20 other releases and you go back there to the other stuff and go: ‘Holy cow!’ It’s just so great to reference all that stuff and go: ‘Okay, on your fourth EP, you did this hilarious thing …’ ”

Cruise laughs. He’s in the comfort zone.

Courtesy of Toronto Sun – Bruce Kirkland – December 14, 2001