60 Minutes With Tom Cruise

Hollywood's movie-star-next-door chats about working with Jack Nicholson in the new film A Few Good Men, reveals his word for the day, and says it's no picnic having perfectly straight hair.

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You're joking. Interview Tom Cruise, one of our most appealing screen presences, for a cover story in 60 minutes or less? But as my editor explained, that's all the time he's willing to give--take it or leave it. In the Cruise interviews I'd read and watched on TV, he struck me as determinedly smooth, dutiful and supremely cautious. Trying in such a short time to draw out anything new or especially interesting from someone so amiably impermeable struck me as so preposterous a notion that I couldn't resist. Would you pass up an hour with him? I made a vow to myself before meeting with the star: I will not let him slide by talking about the same 10 things everybody knows about him.

They are:

1) After making a big splash grinning, playing air guitar and dancing in his BVD's in Risky Business, he made an even bigger splash in Top Gun and Cocktail, then acted the overwhelmingly ambitious yuppie in Rain Man.

2) He won grudging critical respect, if not an Oscar, by playing Vietnam vet Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July.

3) His movies have made over $1 billion worldwide, which means, despite the disappointments of Days of Thunder and Far and Away, Hollywood considers him the single bankable actor of his age group.

4) Married and divorced from actress and Scientologist Mimi Rogers, he is himself a Scientologist and is now married to actress Nicole Kidman.

5) He has no children.

6) He is very close to his sisters and to his mother, who once taught hyperkinetic and dyslexic kids.

7) In the tradition of superstar predecessors Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, he is given to such manly man pastimes as race-car driving and tossing himself from planes.

8) In the tradition of superstar predecessors Robert Redford and Paul Newman, he has formed a production company to develop his own projects.

9) In the tradition of superstar predecessors Warren Beatty and Paul Newman, he intends to direct.

10) He is as maniacally private about his personal life as he is driven, perfectionistic and focused in his professional life.

The Tom Cruise who greets me at the door of his suite at the Hotel Bel-Air, dressed in a tight white T-shirt, jeans, boots and a crew cap from his new movie A Few Good Men, is beaming, friendly and gentlemanly. Can't do enough to make sure I'm comfy. Wants to know if I'm happy with the Cobb Salad the properly awed waiters have rolled in. Do I have enough Perrier? Do I have a lot of interviews to do today?

"Shoot," Cruise says, grinning, sitting across from me on a couch as I reach into my sports-jacket pocket for my tape recorder, which won't come out. Cruise watches, head cocked in curiosity, while I yank, mutter, coax and curse. He wasn't expecting this; it's off the plan. He laughs uproariously. The recorder, which had earlier slipped into my jacket pocket quite easily, will not budge. I keep pulling, hearing threads tear. This makes him laugh more. He asks me if he can try. I slip off the jacket, toss it to him. And he yanks. Grabs. Turns it upside down. Makes cartoon-villain eyes while reaching for a knife. "How did you get it in here," he asks, "with a crowbar?"

I remind us both that the meter's running. Suddenly, this look of intense serenity comes over him. Fierce, Zen-like calm. He slips his hand into the pocket, effortlessly slides out the tape recorder, and hands it to me. If he's mystified, he doesn't show it. He offers me an irrepressible grin and says, "Okay--shoot."

STEPHEN REBELLO: You're very much a self-made, self-taught guy. Is it true that you carry around a dictionary with you?

TOM CRUISE: Oh, yeah, I do.

Q: Got a favorite new word?

A: My favorite new word? Oh, God. What I do is, when I'm reading, I look up a word. So, the next time I read it, I know the meaning. It's not like I put the word up on the refrigerator and use it. It's not like, "Oh, I've got a word for the day."

Q: You've talked about having been dyslexic earlier in your career. Didn't that make it difficult when you were trying to learn lines?

A: I had to work at it with a lot of effort. It just took a hell of a lot longer for me. There's varying levels of what dyslexia is: reading things backwards, not knowing your right hand from your left. For me, it was skipping lines, letters backwards.

Q: And, because of your involvement in Scientology, that's not the case for you now.

A: Look, for me, there was a study technology that L. Ron Hubbard had that I applied. In applying it, I had the ability to learn and read anything that I wanted to. Who knows whether I actually had dyslexia or not? Maybe I had the wrong approach to studying as a kid. You read [Hubbard's] book and you understand certain phenomena that could be ways of helping. That's all there is to it.

Q: How do you think the press has been treating you lately? That California magazine story about your involvement in Scientology titled "A Cruise in Outer Space"? Spy's rumors about the $100,000-plus sound system developed by Scientologists that you apparently forced on the makers of Far and Away?

A: I've said this already, but, most of the time, they're pretty damn fair to me. I figure, if the press get things right 10 percent of the time, I'm a happy guy. It's not a big concern of mine. It just doesn't occupy my time. I've got too many other problems in terms of things to solve and things going on.

Q: There used to be a saying about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that went something like, "He gives her class, she gives him sex appeal." Change the names to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and how might the equation go?

A: Oh, God, this is another one of your kind of questions. Jesus, and I was doing so well, too. God, what is she? Why is she? I guess she...I can't say that.

Q: I wish you would.

A: I can't be crass. I'll leave it up to other people's imaginations.

Q: What's the biggest surprise about being married?

A: How it keeps changing. You can't grab life in your hands and make it stop for you. It keeps evolving and you think, "It can't get any better than this." And it does. Even the problems in your life--your problems can be myopic when you're single--certain things just don't seem as difficult. Every day is a new day.

Q: You've been friends with Paul Newman since you made The Color of Money. He and Joanne Woodward have been married forever; does he share with you any "staying together" secrets?

A: I think that the real secret in a relationship is being really honest. I don't mean an "I-really-don't-like-that-shirt" honesty. I mean, you have to discuss things and make them work. There are reasons why there's upset between the two of you. You have to have that commitment that, one: we're gonna make this work, no matter what; and two: I'm gonna tell the truth. You take responsibility for what you've done. It's a shared goal and commitment. Those are easy words but I've found it's made it incredibly fun. Incredibly fun.

Q: If you and Nicole have kids, what trait of yours do you most hope they won't inherit?

A: Oh, my God, I've heard your questions sometimes come out of nowhere. [Laughing] Well, okay...oh, God...[groaning] I guess, physically, one thing is my bone-straight hair. As you can see, I have to wear the hat backwards now. I mean, it's something that terrifies hairdressers. I hate it when it gets in my eyes.

Q: Count your blessings. I have to adjust my caps very, very tightly just to keep them on. How about personality traits?

A: Oh, my God. Anything. I just want them to be themselves, you know? Really, I just want them to work hard. I've often thought about this: I just don't know what it's gonna be like for my son or daughter.

Q: Because you're so famous?

A: [He nods and hums "Twilight Zone" theme.]

Q: I know you drive fast. Have you ever had to attend traffic school?

A: [Laughing] I've never been to traffic school because I've never gotten enough tickets during a time period. Actually, about a year ago, there was this officer and I can tell you he definitely didn't care that I was Tom Cruise. But he didn't give me a ticket. Now, often, I'll see that policeman in the area and I'll say hello. He knows me and he's watching.

Q: Let's talk about being famous. Who picks your stuff up at the dry cleaners? Who buys the Haagen-Dazs?

A: I do. I go grocery shopping, pick up the ice cream, get magazines. I can pretty much do anything. We go to movies in Westwood, Century City. We just sign a few autographs, say hi, get inside, get our popcorn and enjoy the movie. I actually love people. So, when they come up and say hello, it doesn't offend me at all. It's actually a nice communication with the people around me. There are certain things I can't do, like go into some big shopping mall in Jersey when I visit my family. Nic and I were recently in London promoting Far and Away and, like, I can't go into Harrods on a busy day. I don't go around with bodyguards or anything, but I can't do something like go to the Smithsonian during the day, either.

Q: So these things can become an issue?

A: It would be an issue because I'd have to say, "No, I'm not signing autographs right now because I'm here in the Smithsonian" to one thousand people and then you've gotta calm everybody down. I went into a pool hall in New York and kids wanted autographs and I said, "Hey, just let me finish my game and I'll sign." But, now, I've got to know the number of people, you know? I mean, how many autographs are we talking about?

Q: How does all this stuff make you feel?

A: In the beginning, when people were looking at me, it could be unnerving. People just start looking at you, staring at you. I used to get nervous. Sometimes I still get a little nervous when, all of a sudden, so much attention is directed at me just like-- [snaps his fingers]

Q: Has it ever turned weird?

A: Weird for me?

Q: Uh-huh.

A: Right around Top Gun, I was actually at the Smithsonian when people started pointing at me and running after me. Hundreds of them. I was with my family and I thought, "Oh, my God, what's gonna...?" My sister and my newborn niece were there and that made me nervous. Now I find that if I just stop and go, "Hey everybody, just take it easy," then it's all right. It's no big problem.

Q: While flipping the channels the other night, I heard this big-haired woman on "STUDS" describe her ideal man: "Tom Cruise." Earlier that same day, I'd heard that Jeffrey Katzenberg urged the animators at Disney to redesign the hero of Aladdin to look more like you.

A: [Laughing uproariously] Oh, Jeeeee-sus ...

Q: So, has many people's idea of the all-American hunk ever been subjected to a makeover by a lover? You know, like, "Can't you do something about that bone-straight hair?"

A: Yes, Nic. [Laughing] Oh, man. I mean, Nic likes to see me in certain clothes. She'll say to me, like, sometimes before we go out, "Oh, don't wear that," or "I'm wearing this, don't wear that." But no one has tried to do the whole "dye your hair blond, get your busted nose fixed" number on me. [Laughing] Well, maybe they've said, "Can't you dress a little more English?"

Q: And you do it?

A: Oh, yeah. I mean, if she wants it...I really don't care. Maybe I'll be wearing a suit and she'll say, "Put your jeans on."

Q: Actually, I've seen you out together a couple of times and you've looked like old-time movie stars on their way to EI Morocco or The Brown Derby.

A: Oh, thank you very much. You know, I do miss those times, even though I never lived through them. I talk about this all the time. I talk to [Paul] Newman and see pictures of the way Hollywood and New York were in the '30s, '40s and '50s--you know, when men wore tuxes to dinner. I just like that level of dignity, of style, not that I wear tuxes or anything. [Laughing] As you can see, I wear a lot of jeans and T's. But Newman told me he used to walk from the theater to where he was living in New York, wearing a suit all the time. If you were taking someone out on a date, you wore a suit, got all dressed up. 'Cause, sometimes, Nic and I will talk and say, "Well, what do you want to do tonight?" and decide, "Let's go dancing," but there's only one place in Manhattan where you can really dress up and see ballroom dancing.

There used to be 30, 40 places to go. That's something we love. When I see movies like Sweet Smell of Success or read a script like What Makes Sammy Run? I long for that. You know what? Barry Levinson's movies have great style, and Martin Scorsese's too. When I did The Color of Money, I was surprised how Scorsese insisted on certain details in my shirts. Rob Reiner, too, every day on the set of A Few Good Men, wore white pants and a white shirt. He could almost be John Huston on the set. He didn't want to think about anything else, so he always wore white.

Q: Let's talk about Far and Away, which seemed to me a perfectly enjoyable, old-fashioned movie, made with lots of care. Still, not many ticket-buyers seemed to care.

A: Just about 30 million will have seen the movie by the time it's all over. Look, for me, I don't know what's going to do well and make a big bang or what isn't. So, ultimately, you've gotta go through it and feel happy with what you've done. For me, I'm proud of Far and Away. I have no regrets on it. I mean, that was last month. Right now, I'm thinking about the movie I have coming out, A Few Good Men, and the one I'm about to make, The Firm.

Q: Were there any particular challenges in making A Few Good Men?

A: I finished Far and Away and started immediately on it. So, the first time I met Rob Reiner--I'd been told, "You know, Tom, he's a pretty aggressive guy." He's a big guy. Big hands. Very bright, articulate. When he talks his points, he gets very loud because he gets very excited. He's just so fucking smart. He's very intense, but he's also like a teddy bear you want to hug. We read the script together--I'd already planned on doing it, but we were working on things like structure-- and he would read it imagining the nine different characters. And he started imitating Jack Nicholson. That's how he found out that Jack Nicholson should play the role.

The character I play, Kaffee [a glib, brilliant Navy lawyer who defends two Marines accused of murdering a platoon member], is a very tough, complex role to play. You're either going to hit or miss with this guy. All of the scenes, all the rhythms, come from character and even though Rob worked so hard on it himself, he trusts the actors to breathe life into their roles. You'll look over at him on the set and he's saying the lines along with the actors. You become really bonded with this guy because there's nothing more he wants for you than to be great. And you feel that.

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