FEATURE: Cruise Control, Part 1

23 06 2010

Tying into the release of “Knight & Day” today and the LAMB Acting School on Tom Cruise on Saturday, I thought I would offer up some thoughts on the star.  I haven’t reviewed any of his movies in depth, but I wanted to have something to contribute because I definitely have something to say.

When I was born in 1992, Tom Cruise was one of the biggest stars in the world.  He rose from obscurity in the early ’80s to superstardom by the end of the decade.  People seem to malign Cruise now, claiming he’s a ham and a pompous action star.  But we can’t forget that Cruise has been nominated for three Academy Awards and seven Golden Globes (including three wins).  He has starred in four Best Picture nominees and worked with acclaimed directors such as Rob Reiner, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann, and Oscar winners Sydney Pollack, Oliver Stone, Barry Levinson, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg.  His films have grossed nearly $3 billion combined.  So to belittle Tom Cruise’s talent or appeal is, at least in my view, practically pointless.

His popularity has dropped off in recent years amidst the couch-jumping incident with Oprah and his outspoken support of Scientology, but those are hits that the celebrity of Tom Cruise has taken.  The actor that is Tom Cruise is still in good shape.  So to celebrate his career, I’ll offer up a double-edged approach to writing about Tom Cruise.

First, I’m going to talk about the actor Tom Cruise could have been by exploring some of the roles he was considered for and turned down.  Second, I’ll walk through his career, offering little capsule reviews of some of his movies that I have seen.

An Imaginary Portrait of Tom Cruise

Can you imagine Tom Cruise as Neo in “The Matrix?”  Don’t laugh; it almost happened.  As hard as it is to see him dodging bullets like Keanu Reeves, it’s a better fit than some of the roles you’ll read about later.

How about Cruise as Andy Dufresne, the protagonist in “The Shawshank Redemption” played by Tim Robbins?  He was considered for the role along with Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Nicolas Cage, and Charlie Sheen.

Does Tom Cruise seem like a good fit to play Jim Morrison?  He almost did in “The Doors.”  He, John Travolta, and Jason Patric were all considered to play the iconic rockstar.  Val Kilmer got the role after sending a video of himself singing The Doors to director Oliver Stone.

Cruise was considered to play Rick O’Connell, Brendan Fraser’s adventurer in “The Mummy” series, along with Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck.  But either out of lack of interest or lack of time, Cruise did not take the part.

Can you see Cruise as Edward Scissorhands, the seventh greatest character of the last 20 years according to Entertainment Weekly‘s recent issue?  He met with Tim Burton to discuss starring the movie.  Cruise wanted the ending to be happier, and Burton was happy not to cast him because Cruise did not fit his vision of the character.  As we know, the role went to Johnny Depp.

Cruise expressed interest in playing Jack Dawson in “Titanic.”  The role went to Leonardo DiCaprio, who at the time was just reaching star status, because he was young enough to portray a 20-year-old.  Cruise apparently was not heavily considered because he wanted too high of a salary.

He more than expressed interest in the part of John Nash, the schizophrenic mathematician profiled in “A Beautiful Mind.”  He was one of many actors in consideration for the part, and the list is extremely impressive.  Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Johnny Depp, John Travolta, Mel Gibson, Nicolas Cage, Ralph Fiennes, and Brad Pitt are just some of the names that were in contention for the role.  Cruise even went as far as to lobby in front of director Ron Howard himself.  But the role went to Russell Crowe after Howard saw his Oscar-winning work in “Gladiator.”

Tom Cruise could have played Guy Montag, the book burner in a dystopian future, in another film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451.”  Unfortunately, the movie was mired in the dreaded development hell.  Mel Gibson was scheduled to direct, but due to Cruise’s busy filming schedule, it didn’t work out.  As we all know, the movie still hasn’t gotten off the ground.

But Cruise was also considered for other movies that have made it past development hell.  For instance, back in 1998, he wanted to produce “Iron Man” and star as the rich genius Tony Stark.  Ten years later, “Iron Man” hit theaters with Robert Downey Jr. as the titular role.

Cruise almost got the chance to headline another comic book movie adaptation.  Can you picture Tom Cruise in Spider Man’s tights?  In the 1980s, he was considered to play the role.  At the time, he was still an up-and-coming star, and such a role would have tipped the scale towards superstardom.  But Cruise found his own way there, and it wasn’t until 2000 that they found Tobey Maguire to take the role and step into the blockbuster arena.

Slaying vampires was apparently on Cruise’s radar in the 1990s.  He was attached to “I Am Legend” in 1997, a decade before the film’s eventual release.  Michael Douglas and Mel Gibson were also considered while the movie was in development hell.  In 2007, the film finally opened with Will Smith in the leading role, Dr. Robert Neville.

Whenever “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was in the hands of Steven Spielberg back in 1991, Tom Cruise was slated to play the character who ages backwards.  17 years later, Brad Pitt received an Oscar nomination for the role.

Cruise talked with Oliver Stone about playing Bud Fox in “Wall Street.”  However, at the time of their meeting, Charlie Sheen had already been cast.  He was also considered to go toe-to-toe with Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct;” the role went to Michael Douglas.

Other roles that could have been played by Cruise were Norville Barnes in “The Hudsucker Proxy” (the studio wanted him but the Coens insisted on Tim Robbins), Miguel Bain in “Assassasins” (a role played by Antonio Banderas), Robert Clayton Dean in “Enemy of the State” (Will Smith’s lawyer hunted by the government), famed singer Bobby Darin in “Beyond the Sea” (a role that gained Kevin Spacey some criticism and some acclaim), Johnny Cage in “Mortal Kombat” (a martial arts-heavy role that went to an expert, Linden Ashby), and villain Ben Wade in the remake of “3:10 to Yuma” (Russell Crowe, who beat him for “A Beautiful Mind,” got the part).

So needless to say, it’s a compliment to Cruise’s acting skills to see how many iconic roles he has been considered for.  Yesterday morning on Good Morning America, he said that he choose movies based on what will provide the most “entertainment” for audiences.  Let’s just hope “Knight & Day” can provide just that.


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