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He Accepted the Mission

So what if the Cold War is over? Somebody still has to save the free world. Tom Cruise signs on for 'Mission: Impossible'--and liberty reigns once again.

May 12, 1996|David Kronke | David Kronke is a regular contributor to Calendar

Ving Rhames, one of Cruise's co-stars in "Mission: Impossible," says: "He's a better actor than what I expected. I thought that a lot of times in the past, he was, quote unquote, playing himself, like John Wayne in most films just played John Wayne. He is so popular and has that reputation as the all-American guy. So it kind of surprised me with how focused he is, how tuned in he gets when working, how he listens to other actors, which is the key to being a good actor. I felt we had a nice chemistry, which was needed between our two characters. He's almost a perfectionist, as far as his work is concerned.

"He's really down-to-earth and very generous," Rhames continues. "Even in his adopting children [Cruise and Kidman have two adopted children: Isabella, 3, and Connor, 1]--he's a special human being. Can you imagine the opportunities they will have because they were adopted by Tom Cruise? Who wouldn't want to be adopted by Tom Cruise?"

In "Mission: Impossible," Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, a member of the Impossible Missions Force who discovers he has been betrayed by a fellow operative and must not only right this wrong, but also evade those trying to kill him. Only one character from the original series appears in the film--Jim Phelps, the Peter Graves role, played here by Jon Voight.

More we cannot tell you, because frankly, Cruise has gone stark raving Method actor for this movie, becoming astonishingly secretive and spy-like in his reticence to divulge state secrets--in this case, the film's story line and how the movie's characters relate to the old series.

His response: "We had to ask ourselves, this is post-Cold War--where are these guys? In a simple way, one of the lines is, it's, you know, more"--he takes a considered pause--"you know, cause you've got to have characters, and those, they were just really"--another pause--"you know, more, you know, in this kind of, you've got to service the plot in a picture like this. But the characters, you know, what is the story? Which way? What is it, post-Cold War? Where are these guys headed now with the level of corruption and, you know, the, uh"--a pause--"so that's the kind of stuff we looked at. So it's inspired by these characters."

Where's a white-hot interrogation lamp when you need it?

Cruise, who turns 34 in July, is similarly circumspect when discussing the rumors of difficulties swirling about the production of "Mission: Impossible." This is the first film from Cruise/Wagner Productions, and the two weren't content to cut their teeth on a simple chamber piece--they opted for a loud, splashy action-epic with multiple European locations and elaborate stunt work.

"Paula and I had a lot to prove," Cruise says in his spacious office at Cruise/Wagner, on the Paramount lot. Rauschenberg prints hang on the office walls; a thick book of Pauline Kael's film criticism rests on the counter behind his desk, while his bookshelves are laden with scripts and the unmistakable yellow-and-black bindings of Cliffs Notes. "Even though I've been successful as an actor, this is a different game."

Three years ago, Cruise initially pitched a film version of "M:I," learning that Paramount Pictures coincidentally owned the rights and had tried for years, unsuccessfully, to get a movie off the ground. "It lends itself to wonderful geography, and sequences I thought that could be different for this genre," Cruise says, explaining his attraction to the material. "Basically, it was a film I wanted to see. I make my decisions about pictures by: Would I want to see it?

"It's fun working on this kind of movie, because you are the audience. It's, 'OK, what do you want to see? What would be really cool?' It's as basic as that sometimes--what do you think is really cool?"

More than the famous smile, the most striking thing about Cruise in person is his penetrating gaze; when his bluish gray eyes bear down on an object, they practically scream with intensity. When he gets serious, they become a twinkle-free zone. Of course, thankfully, that's only temporary, but it can be distracting, such as when he's forced to consider stories of backstage angst. Three separate screenwriters were recruited at various junctures in the production to furiously rewrite dialogue and concoct a satisfactory conclusion; many scenes reportedly were re-shot.

"Gossip," Cruise says, though stopping short of dismissing it as untrue gossip. "It's hard making movies. I've never made a movie where I heard someone say, 'God, this is so easy!' You're moving this mammoth machine and trying to contain the flames. So there are problems, there are always problems, especially on a picture this size.

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