Los Angeles Cruise and Spielberg, together on the same bill. Took long enough.
Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg friends since the actor shot to stardom with 1983's "Risky Business" and joined the director as one of the demigods of modern Hollywood spent years kicking around ideas for a joint project.
It wasn't until Cruise came across an early script for the sci-fi thriller "Minority Report," based on a Philip K. Dick short story, that they found something that grabbed them both.
"I don't know why it took so long, quite honestly," three-time Academy Award nominee Cruise said in an interview. "This was simply a film that I got excited about and he got excited about."
"We've tried for 10, 12 years, sending things to each other, saying what about this, what about that? We've come close on a couple of occasions," said Spielberg, who won best-directing Oscars for "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan." "As desirous as we assume actors are to work with directors and directors to work with actors, it's got to be the right idea, the right material, the right time."
The gritty, film-noirish "Minority Report" follows what were arguably the most enigmatic and un-Hollywood films each man has made.
Cruise, reuniting with his "Jerry Maguire" director Cameron Crowe, was coming off the reality-warping puzzler "Vanilla Sky," a remake of an obscure Spanish film. For Spielberg, it was the even more mystifying "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," a project bequeathed to him by Stanley Kubrick's family.
Spielberg, 55, and Cruise, who turns 40 in July, have amassed such clout that they can step out on limbs and break with the commercial conventions that got them where they are.
"I've always wanted to have that opportunity. Even when you look back, people thought I was crazy when I did 'Born on the Fourth of July,' or 'Rain Man,' also. With those movies back to back, some people were saying give us another 'Top Gun,"' Cruise said.
"I actually thought about doing 'Top Gun 2' but couldn't figure it out. We sat down, couldn't figure it out and thought, why do it? Believe it or not, I make a lot of money, but I don't do it for that reason. I just look for really good material, something that I really want to do."
'The right piece of material'
In "Minority Report," Cruise plays the head of a police corps in 2054 that relies on three "precognitive" humans to identify people about to commit murder, allowing officers to prevent the crimes and imprison the perpetrators-to-be. Cruise's character winds up on the run after he's fingered for a future murder himself.
Like "Vanilla Sky," in which Cruise hides behind a mask and a disfigured visage for much of the time, "Minority Report" plays with the actor's pretty-boy features. He's beaten and bruised. His face is hidden by bandages after gruesome surgery to conceal his identity and dodge omnipresent eye-scanning devices. He puts on a mask that morphs his face into that of a weathered old man.
For the director's part, "Minority Report" despite elaborate sets and visual effects has a dark, scruffy look that runs counter to the kaleidoscopic eye candy of such Spielberg films as "Jurassic Park" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial."
While both recently have done uncharacteristically broody films, that does not mean their big, pure entertainment popcorn flicks are behind them.
"If the right piece of material comes along that stimulates the child in me and stimulates the adult that I am, then I'll jump on board without hesitation," Spielberg said. "It's whatever really inspires me, whatever comes into my life that inspires me.
"I don't do career planning. I don't sit down and say, 'OK, now I have to make a small, little personal film after these big leviathans.' I don't think that way. If I make two leviathans and a great third leviathan came along, I'd do that."
Private life is off-limits
Spielberg is finishing the chase film "Catch Me If You Can," due in theaters late this year. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a master con man pursued by an FBI agent, played by Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" star Tom Hanks.
After that, Spielberg has two or three films in development and will choose one of those to shoot next year. In 2004, he plans to reunite with Harrison Ford and George Lucas on a fourth "Indiana Jones" movie.
Cruise has a third "Mission: Impossible" film in the works. He also is producing and might star in a remake of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds."
While a gushing enthusiast about his films, Cruise clams up about his personal life, including his break last year from Nicole Kidman and his relationship with Penelope Cruz, whom he has dated since last summer. Cruise answers personal questions politely but hesitantly and tersely.
How's the relationship now with Kidman, with whom Cruise has two adopted children?
"It's great," Cruise said.
Any wedding plans with Cruz?
"She's a lovely person, lovely. A genuinely good person," Cruise said. "It's nice and we're just enjoying it. There's no plans, no plans."
How bothersome are the personal questions?
"I know I'm going to get it," Cruise said. "Every now and then you get someone who's just, it's like, you know, this is stuff I don't discuss with anyone, and it steps over a line of common decency. I am a human being. But I understand it."
Contemplating the future
Lack of privacy was one of many themes that resonated with Cruise and Spielberg in "Minority Report." The film presents a world where, along with psychics peering into people's unconscious thoughts, police can monitor the whereabouts of everyone by eye scans.
That same technology allows advertisers and retailers to identify passers-by and instantly create personalized marketing pitches based on their past consumer habits. In one scene, as Cruise's character hurries through a corridor trying to maintain a low profile, holographic ads call out to him by name like high-tech carnival barkers.
Spielberg convened a three-day think tank with 23 scholars and futurists to help create his mid-21st century world. Pervasive individualized advertising was one thing the scholars unanimously agreed that the near future would bring, Spielberg said.
"There'll be spot-selling in the future where they will be able to read your eyes, know who you are, know what you like, know what you won't like, and they'll be able to shuffle what you want to buy and remind you that this is right around the corner if you choose to buy it today," Spielberg said.
Besides prompting contemplation about the future, "Minority Report," with its examination of free will and predetermination, gave Cruise and Spielberg food for thought about whether they owe their success more to fate or their own efforts.
Both men tend to think it was a little of each.
"I think I was lucky. But I also believe that people make their own way in the world," Cruise said. "Certainly, I've had a tremendous amount of luck. ... What you do with that is up to the individual. How you live your life. You create your own luck after a certain point."
Spielberg quotes David Geffen, a partner in his DreamWorks movie studio, who "always says, 'There's your plan and there's God's plan, and yours don't count."'
"Realistically, I think that there are certain things in our lives that we have to work really hard to cause not to happen," Spielberg said. "I have more ethereal beliefs that we are predestined to follow maps that we don't draw, and at the same time, I want to believe that most of my decisions are decisions that I'm determining. That no one can determine for me."
Cruise and Spielberg are determined to try to collaborate again on future projects. Spielberg noted that Cruise once did a full script read-through for a film that he never made but which still might go into production some day.
"It was such a great experience working with him," Cruise said. "I wish I had four movies under my belt with him at this stage."