Photo: LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images
Historically, when Tom Cruise sits on comfortable furniture and talks to a journalist for more than ten minutes, he says or does something gloriously weird and sometimes image-destructive: jumps on Oprah’s couch, calls Matt Lauer glib, calls into question the dignity of the British monarchy. Today at the Cannes Film Festival, he unfortunately abandoned that grand tradition, sitting on a leather chair onstage for 40 minutes and recycling four of the same talking points over and over and over until people started leaving and the French teen next to me glumly removed his language-translating headphones.
Cruise was in town to promote and discuss the premiere of Top Gun: Maverick, his new movie where he battles a nameless, faceless enemy in the interest of promoting warfare as a preferred national conflict strategy. The event — which, it should be noted, was titled “Rendezvous With Tom Cruise” but is known colloquially to me as “Tomdezvous” or “Rendezvous With Tom Cru” or “Rendezcruise” or “Tomdezcruise with Ron Vous” — was a hot ticket, so scalding in fact that I had to plead to get in. In the hours leading up to the chat, crowds of voracious Cruise fans, some of whom took object lessons from Top Gun and mavericked this intrepid reporter out of the way, packed the streets outside the Debussy for the chance to briefly glimpse Cruise in the well-preserved flesh.
After a glowing French introduction and an oddly lengthy montage featuring clips of basically every single film he has ever made (the French appear to prefer his work in Risky Business, Jerry Maguire, and the Missions: Impossible), Cruise took the stage to a one-thousand-person-strong standing ovation and proceeded to bore the hell out of everyone. I am sorry to be the one to report this, but Tom Cruise has pivoted from agent of chaos to agent of repetitive, PR-approved, essentially meaningless talking points about goals, skills, his craft, “the art form,” and storytelling. At one point, he said (to tepid, confused applause), “All I can do is the best I can do every day. That’s it.”
To give Cruise some credit, there were two, possibly three interesting moments during the chat. One was when Cruise referred to his ex-wife Nicole Kidman as “Nic” (!) while telling a story about how he and Stanley Kubrick and Kidman worked together to find the tone of Eyes Wide Shut. Another was when he admitted to being so obsessed by the theatrical experience that he goes out incognito to see every movie that comes out in theaters: “I put on my cap and I sit in the audience.” At one point, he claimed to “remember every take” he has ever done. “I remember everything,” he reiterated, terrifyingly. Later, when the interviewer asked Cruise about his dangerous stunt work — “Why do you do it?” — Cruise replied, “Nobody asks Gene Kelly, ‘Why do you dance?’”
There was also a moment when Cruise seemed ready to go old-school nuclear but then reeled himself in: The interviewer asked Cruise if Paramount had ever pressured him to release Top Gun: Maverick on a streaming platform, and Cruise’s face went briefly offline before he returned with a smile. “No, they wouldn’t — that’s not gonna happen, ever,” he said, still grinning. “That is never gonna happen. Ever. That is never gonna happen. No.”
Below, I have put together an incomplete list of the things that Tom Cruise said over and over again in hopes that you get a sense of how it felt to be in that sweaty room today surrounded by increasingly disappointed French people.
On studying: Cruise spent a lot of time talking about all of the studying he does of every single department of every single movie he makes as well as of every movie ever made in the history of cinema. He explained that, during pre-production and on set, he likes to question everyone he works with on every aspect of their job in the interest of collaboration.
– On the set of Taps (another thing he brought up at least five times), for example, he “studied every single department, went to every department and studied everything.”
– “I understand the business. I went through and have been studying and learning all the way, and I understand.”
– “I tell everyone, ‘The best thing you can do is study every aspect of your art form.’”
– “[My movies] were great experiences for me. All of them … I was so young and I was studying. Even with Francis [Ford Coppola], I’d go to every department: How can I help you? What’s your job?”
– “I was studying movies and the names of the credits to understand who did what. Not just their job, but why did this film work in this way… I was trying to study things that were different and that were the same.”
– “I’d study Sydney Pollack’s movies, and then I’d say, ‘Please, I want a meeting with Sydney Pollack.’”
– “I’m studying and working constantly.”
On storytelling: Cruise loves to discuss storytelling, a word that has been rendered meaningless by advertisers for at least 15 years but nonetheless still holds value for him.
– “I always tell people, ‘I wanna hear your story. What do you think this movie is? … This isn’t my movie! Don’t ever say that. This is our movie.’”
– “It’s not about me. It’s about the story. I’ve always looked for stories and I meet the people that are involved that I work with, and we spend time together because I want to understand what their commitment is, who they are, and what kind of film can we make together.”
– “People interest me. Story interests me. If you look at what art is….”
– “I spend a long time developing characters and working. In everything, it depends on the story. It depends on the character.”
– “The potential of a story — I work on things for years. Years!”
– “You need to understand how a story is put together.”
– “I was precocious, cocky. But I was very interested in always being involved and learning. I started to realize when you talk to actors and see actors, they all have different ideas of story.”
– “I’m constantly thinking about stories and characters. Like, oh, ‘Here’s a story that I want to do.’ And then the studio greenlights that movie and I’d take the script and I would put the story I wanted to do into that movie. [Laughs.] And that character. That’s kinda what I did.”
– “I always know there’s another story.”
On skills: Cruise said the word “skills,” a Scientology buzzword, at least two dozen times, often as it related to his aforementioned studying.
– “The derivation of ‘art’ is ‘skill.’ I looked it up. It’s ‘skill’.”
– “As a kid, I thought, If I could do this for the rest of my life, if I could become skilled at this and understand for myself and become competent…”
– “It is a different skill writing a movie than something for television.”
– “When I’m making a movie, I’m using all of the skills of everyone I know.”
– “If you look at my movies, whether it’s Risky Business, sliding across the floor, Taps, figuring out the marine physicality, parachute and jump, these are things that my whole life — the skills I’ve developed over time. I’m an arabic pilot and I speed fly and I take dance lessons and singing lessons.”
– At the end of a long story about jumping off his roof as a 4-year-old: “Now here I am on a movie set. I was the kid who would climb to the rafters and climb the tallest tree in the wind — I wanted to do that. And how do I deal with these skills and make it a part of story* (*see: storytelling) and character?”
– “On Days of Thunder, I’d race cars for Paull Newman. So I’m learning all of these skills like in Old Hollywood. Because I studied* (*see: studying) Old Hollywood. You could see that they had to study* dance and singing and that system is gone. Even when I wasn’t working on a movie, I was studying* film and I was pushing myself to learn different skills.”
On goals: As a person chasing skills, Cruise naturally appreciates goals.
– At one point, the interviewer said, “[Frequent Cruise collaborator] Christopher McQuarrie told me, ‘Tom’s only goal, when he achieves a goal, is to find another goal.’” Cruise replied, “Yes.”
– “As a kid I wrote goals on the wall of what kind of movies I liked, or what I wanted my life to be, and then I worked towards those goals.”
– “My goals were, how do I be skillful* (*see “skills”) in many many things?”
– “I thought, at 18, when I was laying there, I want to try and make every different kind of film that I can and learn about this art form. I really set these goals. I had these goals. The same goals I had when I was a little kid. For me, it’s each phase.”
On dreams: You can’t tell stories without dreams.
– “I was very much a dreamer.”
“Everyone knows you have a dream. We all dream about what we want our lives to be. This is my dream. Suddenly, I am on Taps.”
– “I was interested in adventure in life. It helped me to dream about things. For me, I thought, It’s possible. Even if others said, ‘It’s impossible. It can’t happen.’ I held onto my dream, thinking, It’s possible. And I will work towards that someday.’”
Honorable mentions: “Questions,” “Curiosity,” “Lenses,” “Character,” “Exploring,” “Adventure,” “Audience,” “Cinema,” “People,” “Help,” “Work.”