High Flyer: Tom Cruise

High Flyer: Tom Cruise

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Nine billion dollar actor Tom Cruise continues to bring in the box office. He may not win the Oscars, but who cares when you have a vintage P-51 fighter plane to fly? P1 Magazine profiles Hollywood’s Top Gun.

The internet is littered with lists detailing the Best Actors Never To Win An Oscar. Up until recently, Leonardo DiCaprio was a popular member of that under-achieving elite, but his win this year for The Revenant put paid to that.

Then, joining the list of current leading men never to get their hands on the gold statuette are Brad Pitt,  Johnny Depp, even Bill Murray. However, you have to delve pretty deep to find lists lamenting the lack of Oscar glory for Tom Cruise.

It seems that Cruise, who first made it big in 1986 with Top Gun, is simply too Box Office – his 45 movies have taken more than US$9.23 billion worldwide. That’s a lot of cinema tickets.

And one of Cruise’s greatest passions is aviation. In fact, when asked about his favourite toy, there was a clear winner.

“I have a 1944 Tuskegee Airmen P-51 that was part of their training squadron,” says Cruise. “When I travelled 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.”

“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 (1982), and I’d just finished Risky Business (1983). 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 (1993) together in 1993 or 1994, he gave me flying lessons as a gift. 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. My first airplane was called a Pitts, and then I flew a Marchetti. 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.”

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Cruise’s prized P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft

Cruise has been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar twice (Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire) and Best Supporting Actor once (Magnolia), but it seems his success as a blockbuster action hero could be counting against him. And you need a lot of zeros to count the success of the Mission Impossible franchise, which has taken more than US$2.8 billion worldwide at box offices in six frantic instalments. That’s a mission any actor would choose
to accept.

Three high-profile divorces (from Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes), cringe-worthy TV appearances and leading light status at the Church of Scientology have all helped to dampen enthusiasm for Cruise as a personality, but seems to have had little effect on his on-screen attraction.

While the Mission Impossible movies are his cash cow, Cruise has also carved something of a niche for himself in sci-fi disaster in recent years, as well as playing anti-heroes like Jack Reacher (which will be his next film, due later this year). However, earlier in his career, while arguably at the peak of his powers, Cruise did take on some more challenging and thought-provoking roles, while working with some of Hollywood’s leading directors and acting royalty.

Following the success of Top Gun in 1986, in which Cruise perfectly portrayed cock-sure trainee fighter pilot Maverick, a few months later he was sharing the screen with Paul Newman in The Color Of Money. Newman went on to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Fast Eddie Felson, with Cruise reprising his cocky character.

Cruise squeezed in a Cocktail (the less said about that, the better) before going on to enjoy more commercial and critical success in 1988 with Rain Man – which topped the global box office that year and earned acting partner Dustin Hoffman the Best Actor award (you may see a trend developing here?).

Cruise again came to the attention of the critics and enjoyed commercial success in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam drama Born on the Fourth of July. Cruise himself was born on the third of July – in 1962, as Thomas Cruise Mapother IV.

“When I made that film people said, ‘This is going to ruin your career. Why are you doing this after you did Top Gun. Why not just do Top Gun 2?’. But I wanted to challenge myself.”

The challenge paid off, with the Vietnam film providing back-to-back Best Picture nominations for Cruise movies, following Rain Man. In fact, Cruise was to star in four films nominated for Best Picture in just nine years (adding A Few Good Men and Jerry Maguire to that list).

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Cruise and Hoffman starred in the hit movie Rain Man

Before that defining role in Jerry Maguire, which showed a new side to Cruise and saw him nominated for Best Actor, there was also the first instalment of Mission Impossible in 1996. Taking US$457 million, this was the most successful Cruise film in his career at that time.

1999 was to be a special year in Cruise’s acting career, and one of great contrasts. First, he worked with legendary director Stanley Kubrick (and starred alongside his then with Nicole Kidman) in Eyes Wide Shut, picking up a US$20m paycheck. Then he starred in the magnificent ensemble piece Magnolia, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Cruise was mesmerising, while only being paid US$100,000.  Cruise was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Magnolia, but lost out to Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules.

Over the course of his career, Cruise has made a habit of working with some of the most talented and decorated directors. As well as Oliver Stone and Sydney Pollack, he has also worked with Francis Ford Coppola, martin Scorsese, Barry Levinson, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg and Robert Redford – all Best Director winners.

Since the turn of the millennium, Cruise has been very bankable, if not backable for awards glory. Mission Impossible 2 (released in 2000) took US$550 million, Minority Report (2002) raked in US$359 million, The Last Samurai (2003) took US$457 million, and War of the Worlds (2005) a whopping US$607 million. However, in the last decade, it’s really the MI series that has guaranteed Cruise blockbuster credentials, with last year’s Rogue Nation being the most successful yet, taking more then US$700 million.

And Mission Impossible gives Cruise the chance to get more than his fair share of kicks performing his own stunts – like climbing the outside of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, or having onto the side of an Airbus 400 – filmed at RAF Wittering in the UK.

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Cruise performs his own stunt, hanging onto an Airbus 400 for MI: 6

The movie’s cinematographer Robert Elswit told The Hollywood Reporter it was all real. “It’s pretty damn crazy; it’s over a hundred knots when it takes off. I think it’s up in the air for about 6-8 minutes before it lands again. It had to be at least 1,000ft up. And he’s attached to the thing the whole time.”

While Cruise is still able to command large fees (and also take lucrative percentages in a producer capacity), it’s unlikely he will worry too much about a lack of awards.

“Awards are wonderful,” he says. “I’ve been nominated many times and I’ve won many awards. But my journey is not towards that. If it happens it will be a blast. If it doesn’t, it’s still been a blast.”