PLAYBOY: But we can see you are competitive. Your Collateral co-star Jamie Foxx told us you and Will Smith were the most competitive guys he’s ever met and that you have to win at everything.
CRUISE: But I have a standard of what winning is. How do you define winning and losing? If I get beaten in a basketball game, I don’t care. How a movie does is based on so many things, including release dates and marketing. I understand the box office game. I was there in the beginning when they started fixating on the number one film and the competition in that. I really came up with promoting films around the world, and studios fought me, but I mainly did it because I wanted myself and my kids to see the world. But here’s the game I’m playing. I want to make great films that entertain an audience and hold up. I can control only the effort I put into it and the experience we all have making it. After that, it is what it is.
PLAYBOY: When Paramount was planning Ghost Protocol, they brought in Jeremy Renner, and the perception was that they were hedging bets with you. True?
CRUISE: No, because here’s the thing: I had creative control and final cut on Mission Impossible. I brought Renner in. So there’s a separation between what’s happening versus what people say. This is something I learned growing up, moving and always being the new kid. There’s what people say, and there’s reality, and you can’t worry about stuff like that. Do you wish they wouldn’t say certain things? Yeah, you wish. Does refuting things help? Not really. There comes a point when you just have to go, You know what? Here’s how I’ve lived my life: I’ve never been late to set. I make films I believe in. I feel privileged to be able to do what I love. You just have to keep going and remember that. The other stuff? I hear it, I read it, I get it. But life is not a matter of trying to prove anything to anybody.
PLAYBOY: And yet you constantly seem to be proving things to others.
CRUISE: Here’s the thing about competition. I don’t think that wanting to do my best qualifies as that. I love making movies. Whether it’s making a film or raising my children, personally I’m striving to do the right things and to learn. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person, and when I become interested in something, I give it my all. In life, I always wanted adventures and to learn different fields of endeavor. The great thing about being an actor is I’ve gotten to see what a fighter pilot’s life is like and a race car driver’s. I’ve gotten to fly airplanes, race cars, learn about motorcycles. In Rock of Ages I studied music, learned how to sing and see it from a singer’s vantage point. I carry those interests and lessons through my own life. I guess I am always striving to be competent. But when it comes to working with other actors or releasing movies, I don’t feel competitive. It’s a group effort.
PLAYBOY: You ride bikes, drive fast cars, fly planes. If you were going to drive away for a bit and clear your head, what would your favorite mode of transportation be?
CRUISE: Each one has its different level of freedom. A fast motorcycle is wonderful, but I’d have to say it would be the P-51 Warbird. I have a 1944 Tuskegee Airmen P-51 that was part of their training squadron. When I traveled around as a kid, I had a picture of a Spitfire and a picture of a P-51. P means “pursuit,” and you can fly hard through the canyons. It’s a beautiful airplane, unlike anything else.
PLAYBOY: Could you fly when you were making Top Gun?
CRUISE: No, but I always wanted to fly, and that was one of the reasons I did Top Gun. I just never had the time to learn. Then I met Sydney Pollack. I was 19 or 20. He was editing Tootsie, and I’d just finished Risky Business. I got a meeting with Sydney that was supposed to be 20 minutes and ended up being over two hours. Outside of my admiration for him as a filmmaker, we talked about a big mutual interest that we had in aviation because I knew he flew. Sydney became a lifelong friend, and when we finished The Firm together in 1993 or 1994, he gave me flying lessons as a gift. He said, “I know how much you love flying. Take the time, right now, and do it, because otherwise you’ll never get to it.” I had two kids by then, and I worked all the time. In a few months I had my instrument rating, and a little while after that I had my commercial rating. I trained mostly in aerobatics, because I wanted to fly the P-51. I was doing rolls, loops, all kinds of aerobatic maneuvers. My first airplane was called a Pitts, and then I flew a Marchetti. That’s a third-world air force trainer they use in the Navy’s TOPGUN schools for air-to-air combat. This was all in preparation to fly the Warbird, the P-51. I searched all over the world for my P-51 and found it in 2000. It’s called Kiss Me Kate, which covers two things I love most, my wife and movies.
PLAYBOY: You don’t seem to have many fears.
CRUISE: It’s not that you don’t feel fear; it’s about figuring out why and what to do with it. There are times you’re doing things and the fear is there. It’s not like I just jumped in a car and started going 200 miles an hour. I get the feel of the car, learn the track, work my way up to it.
PLAYBOY: What’s the fastest you’ve gone?
CRUISE: More than 200 miles an hour, at Daytona.
PLAYBOY: How nervous does all this make the studios, with you doing your own stunts, performing aerobatics in your P-51 and driving 200 miles an hour in a car?
CRUISE: I don’t ask them. When I was stunt climbing at Mojave for Mission: Impossible 2, Sherry Lansing was running Paramount. I held back sending them any film until we’d finished the sequence because I love her and didn’t want to give her a heart attack. Then we sent the rushes, and normally Sherry would call right away to discuss them. I never heard from her on those. Finally, when I got back, it was like, “Tom, we’re not even going to talk about this.” But I don’t go into these things in a haphazard manner. You train so if things do go wrong, you know your outs and your backups. In One Shot, we did a car chase, and essentially I did every stunt in every shot in the movie. When you watch, you can see that. There was tremendous preparation, and that’s what people don’t understand—months of figuring out the car, the tire temperatures, the handling, the temperature of the pavement. You have to be on top of all of it.
PLAYBOY: You are clearly detail oriented about your career. But you had a lapse with that testy interview with Matt Lauer, making comments about Brooke Shields, psychiatry and prescription drugs for postpartum depression. And on Oprah you jumped on a couch. What did you learn?
CRUISE: I agree with you, and I never meant it that way. When I go back and look at it, I find myself thinking, I don’t feel that way. I get how it came across, but I don’t feel that way, and I never have. Telling people how to live their lives? I saw how that came across and how pieces were edited.
PLAYBOY: Are you more cautious about how much of yourself you put out there with the media?
CRUISE: When I’m promoting a film, I’m there to promote a film.
PLAYBOY: Is it fair to say that your relationship with Scientology is now in the category of a private matter?
CRUISE: What’s interesting is, if I don’t talk about my religion, if I say I’m not discussing it or different humanitarian things I’m working on, they’re like, “He’s avoiding it.” If I do talk about it, it becomes, “Oh, he’s proselytizing.” Reviewing the whole thing and how things can be edited and misinterpreted, I decided, You know what? Here’s the deal. I take responsibility for what happened, but everyone now knows that if I am dealing with humanitarian things, I will talk about that. When I’m promoting a film, I’m not going to get caught up in anything else, and that includes all my personal things.
PLAYBOY: The aftermath of that controversy hurt your career. Were you concerned that this dream you’re living of making movies had been jeopardized?
CRUISE: No, I really didn’t. But it was important to me to take responsibility, take a hard look and decide where I go from here. That time was interesting. It was that moment when the internet had really spun out. It was a learning experience for all of us, how these things go. All you can do is learn and say, “This is the way it’s going to go from now on. Here is the line.”
PLAYBOY: Plenty of stars have done a lot worse and gotten a pass. There’s no tape of you erupting on a set, no rehab stints. Yet it seems you get a harder time than most for perceived missteps. Why is that?
CRUISE: I look at it in terms of what I can take responsibility for and being honest about that and going, “Okay, I get it.” My whole life, I’ve wanted to take care of my family and be the person people can depend on. I feel that about myself. Do I make mistakes? Yeah. I don’t care who you are, life has challenges. Whether it’s as a father, as a man, in my work, you go through things. I want to look at those things for what they really are, take responsibility, make it right and move on. How harshly I’m judged or not judged, I don’t think about stuff like that. I feel lucky. I remember as a kid I wanted an adventurous life, and I’ve gotten it. So if someone judges me harshly, it’s okay. I don’t even judge them harshly for doing it.
PLAYBOY: Did that perspective come with maturity?
CRUISE: I think it’s something I’ve always felt. I remember back as a little kid, going into a new school. Always, you know there will be a guy coming up at you, and you just wait for it. The first day someone’s going to slam me against a locker, and then it’s on. I don’t want the fight, but it’s there, it’s happening.
PLAYBOY: And you have to stand up for yourself.
CRUISE: You have to. There’s one thing you know with a bully. I don’t care how big or mean they are. If you allow it, if you don’t stand up to that.… And there are different ways to do it. There’s the school yard, but sometimes just confronting them works. I learned hard lessons as a kid, and you think that once you grow up and aren’t at school, it will be different. It isn’t; it’s just bigger. I was being evaluated by the world. You have language barriers. There are lots of ways to incite incidents through miscommunication. The internet has made it more immediate for false stuff. I’ve learned to just let it go or communicate where you can. Since the beginning of my career, you can find something with anyone.
PLAYBOY: You’re not totally passive. You have sued over some particularly personal things that have been written about you and your family. Was it worth it?
CRUISE: Sometimes, yeah.
CRUISE: They know I mean it, that if I have to, I will sue. You start with a letter saying, “Okay, you know it’s not true. Apologize.” There is a point with a lot of things when you just go, You know what? I don’t want to waste my time with this. I’m busy. I’d rather spend this time with my kids and my wife, at home or on our movies, creating a life together. If you have kids, it is the most important thing to create good times.
PLAYBOY: The night Princess Diana died you called CNN to talk about how the intrusiveness of the press had gotten out of hand. This phone-hacking scandal on Fleet Street has closed one major newspaper and reached all the way to Rupert Murdoch. Have you ever been hacked?
PLAYBOY: What do you make of this invasion of privacy?
CRUISE: I put that in a minor pile of things I have to handle. But with certain ones you have to go, “Okay, you crossed a line, and now you have the attention of my lawyers.” [laughs] When it involves your kids, with these guys you have to go, “Here’s the line, and anytime you cross it.…” But there are lots of
times when you just have to say, “Please don’t cross that line. Be decent. Let’s not do this.”
PLAYBOY: The press makes much of your marriage to Katie Holmes. How does she respond?
CRUISE: She is an extraordinary person, and if you spent five minutes with her, you’d see it. Everything she does, she does with this beautiful creativity. When she becomes interested in something, she doesn’t talk about it, she does it. One week I said to her, “You’ve been up in the middle of the night. Is everything okay?” She smiled and then threw this thing on my desk and said, “I wrote this script.” She wanted to try it, and she did. She wanted to try designing clothes, and now her line is wonderful and, to me, an example of how she just creates beautiful things in her life. She has a voice and warmth as an artist, as a mother. She’s funny and charming, and when she walks into the room, I just feel better. I’m a romantic. I like doing things like creating romantic dinners, and she enjoys that. I don’t know what to say—I’m just happy, and I have been since the moment I met her. What we have is very special.
PLAYBOY: You just starred in and produced One Shot, based on Lee Child’s best--selling novel about the brutish ex-MP turned drifter Jack Reacher. When you signed to star, there was an outcry from loyal readers who said, “Wait, Reacher’s six-foot-five, 250.” No offense, but you are not——
CRUISE: No. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: When you starred in Interview With the Vampire, Anne Rice was publicly critical until she saw the movie and changed her mind. What would you say to readers who might be thinking, Well, here goes Hollywood screwing with my favorite book series?
CRUISE: I learned from the Anne Rice scenario. I should have called and sat down with her first, like I did for Born on the Fourth of July. I sat with Ron Kovic and said, “I’ve been offered this. How do you feel about it?” It was really a job interview. I wouldn’t have done One Shot if Lee Child had said no, but Lee was the one who convinced me to do it. And he created such a great character.
PLAYBOY: Reacher is an oversize badass. What do you bring to the table that compensates for the fact that this guy towers over everybody, is the roughest guy in the room and kicks ass constantly?
CRUISE: Well, I bring all of that but the height. [laughs] It’s a visual thing. There are some ass beatings in this. They’ll see that it delivers what I love about the Reacher series: the visceral action, those ass beatings and the humor of Lee Child’s novels. And the women are fantastic.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been on top longer than most actors, and you’re still pushing at an age many actors start slowing down. How much of your good fortune do you attribute to your faith?
CRUISE: I have respect for what other people believe. What I believe in my own life is that it’s a search for how I can do things better, whether it’s being a better man or a better father or finding ways for myself to improve. Individuals have to decide what is true and real for them. I’m fortunate in the life I have. I just played the rock-and-roll guy, and my appreciation and understanding of what they do grew. I’ve gotten to travel to different places all over the world, to see the commonality of the human experience. It’s something I look for. Whether it’s in Canada, France, India or Russia, even though people have different color skin and they believe in different things, there is a commonality of the human experience that is very real for me. I try to look to the future and look at life in a way that, no matter how tough something can be, I don’t go in blindly but step back and try to understand it. To me, that’s the search. It applies to racing cars and to playing different characters. There has to be a level of understanding. I hope that answers your question. That’s what I want, and the search never ends. You always have a choice. You can let something overwhelm you, or you can take one step at a time and figure it out. Because life is problems. We’ve all got problems. We like problems, do you know what I mean? [laughs] And getting to that place where you ask how you can solve these problems to better handle life and survive, that is the place I want to be in my life.