Tom Cruises into role as studio owner
Couch-jumping Tom Cruise may not the first person you would think of if you were looking for a partner to help you run a movie studio but that's his main job these days.
The actor owns some 15 per cent of United Artists with the remainder owned by MGM. Industry trade guide Variety said that he has even made presentations to investors and last year, he reportedly helped raise some $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) in funding to make 18 films.
His second film since he came to the studio is director Bryan Singer's Valkyrie, based on the July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. It plays in the UAE cinemas this week.
Cruise says that while he isn't running the studio on a day-to-day basis, he has taken on some responsibilities and is always conscious of the need to make movies that offer both artistic quality and the potential of box office quantity. He says that while he has never run a studio he has produced a movie or two, with most faring well at the box office. "I am not running the nuts and bolts, but you still have to know all that stuff," he says. "And I have produced a lot of films. Mission Impossible was the first and I produced all [three] and The Last Samurai."
That was before he landed at UA in 2006 with a plan to revive the studio formed nearly 90 years ago by Hollywood actors including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, where Cruise and UA co-owner Paula Wagner had a production deal at Paramount Pictures. Together, they made 13 films, with a track record that, critics say, made for middle-of-the-road results at best, if films he starred in were excepted.
While their first film, 2007's critical flop Lions for Lambs, which also starred Meryl Streep, only grossed $63m on a production budget of $35m, bigger things are expected of Valkyrie, which has yet to gross more than its $75m production budget in box-office takings.
And while he insists he is not in charge of the studio but only owns it, the Jerry Maguire star has had to deal with issues that could impact the movie business, such as financing, and the future of UA. "I own a piece of UA and we're starting it up and, you know, we had the writer's strike, we had a pending actors strike," he says, in explaining his role.
But does that eye on the bottomline impact his choice of role? "I think you always have to balance art and commerce and the challenges of that. I like to look at that as opportunities as opposed to seeing them as restrictions. So that aspect of it has always been there," he says. "I am also a big believer in surrounding yourself with good people that you enjoy and respect. I have never had an exclusive deal as an actor or even producing films. I produced Last Samurai at Warner and I produced the others at Miramax so I have experience at this but I am an actor first and foremost."
In Valkyrie, Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who is recruited by a group of politicians and generals out to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
They see von Stauffenberg, who was severely injured in the North African campaign, as being respected enough to be able to get close to Hitler. He soon becomes a leader of the plot and works hard to gain Hitler's confidence. He knows that if he can get Hitler to sign off on Operation Valkyrie, Hitler's emergency plan to stabilise the government in the event of his death, the group will be able to rid Germany of Hitler and take over the government after they kill him.
Yet, Valkyrie, was not an easy movie to make. The German media assailed Cruise's Church of Scientology beliefs and, since the government had already funded television movies about the assassination attempt, didn't see why another movie on the subject was needed. However, Cruise and Singer were convinced it was a story few people outside Germany were aware of. They also felt that most Americans believed that anyone involved in the war was a Nazi.
"It was an important story that I felt should be told," says Cruise. "It was surprising to me because when I grew up wanting to kill Hitler and Nazis I thought 'why didn't someone just shoot him?' I also thought Germans were Nazis but von Stauffenberg had to watch as his son was indoctrinated into the Hitler Youth even though he despised the Nazis."
Bringing the movie to a wider audience helps shatter preconceptions that all the World War II stories in Germany revolve around the Holocaust. "When you say 'film about Germany in World War II,' people think you are making a movie about the Holocaust.
"And the internet has accelerated these kinds of perceptions as opposed to what we were doing artistically. In fact, even friends who have seen it say 'Hey this is a suspense thriller'. And we said 'what did you think we were doing?'"
While critics see Valkyrie as Cruise's comeback bid – he hasn't starred in a film since Lions for Lambs – but he disagrees. "I don't see it that way. I've been busy making movies. My daughter was born, and I've been making films – Tropic Thunder and Valkyrie."
His approach to making movies, Cruise says, despite having been a star for a quarter of a century, is as though each film he works on is his last. He believes he has been lucky to make films but says he would never put the making of movies before the raising of his three children.
"When I was making Taps and Risky Business I wanted to enjoy those moments because you don't know if it is going to end right there. I have always chosen projects that were challenging, but I have always wanted to entertain an audience. I feel fortunate to have that success, but personal success is raising my kids and my family. As much as I love movies, my family is the most important thing."
But for now, he says, he's taking things as they come. "You know, I'm waiting for things to come in. I've been working with writers and filmmakers, and just going to decide."
Word on the street, though, is that he has already told his agents to seek out funny scripts and is hoping to star opposite Stiller in the long-gestating buddy comedy Hardy Men. He also plans to act in a 'kids' flick so that his children Connor, 13, Bella, 15, and two-year-old Suri can enjoy watching it.
He is also on his way to earning back some respect and credibility since his public meltdown in 2005. He credits David Beckham with devising an exercise and diet regime that helped him shed a stone since he finished Valkyrie, and last year, he met with his most public critic, studio boss Sumner Redstone. It was Redstone who reportedly ended his Paramount deal with a blunt rebuke. But Redstone now wants to work with Cruise on a rumoured fourth edition of Mission: Impossible.
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