Cruise control

He's in love, he's a Scientologist, and he wants you to know it; is Tom Cruise out of control?

Tom Cruise stars in "War of the Worlds." His stardom, however, appears to be reaching its limit with fans.

Paramount Pictures
Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 30, 2005 at 11:06 p.m.
When Tom Cruise made the publicity rounds in 2000 on behalf of "Mission: Impossible II," we learned a lot about the many seeming similarities between the actor and his character, spymaster Ethan Hunt.
Cruise was one of those actors who liked to "do his own stunts." During the filming, he leaped from the side of a mountain. He crashed a motorcycle. He sauntered through a blazing wall of fire.
Such is the wall of illusion the Hollywood publicity machine builds up around its celebrities. As for the reality - that insurance companies prohibit movie stars from risking even the slightest injury on the job - well, that's not very sexy, is it?
Lately, however, the wall around Cruise has come crashing down. He's in love. He's a Scientologist. He hates psychiatrists and antidepressants. And he wants you and everyone else on planet Earth to know it.
He turned Oprah's couch into a trampoline.
He turned Brooke Shields into an easy target.
And in the process, he turned a lot of people off.
In a recent Entertainment Weekly online poll, 61 percent of respondents said they liked Cruise less in light of all the attention to his private life.
The message seems to be: Too much Tom. Too much Katie. Too much L. Ron Hubbard.
Too much information.
There's something just a tiny bit refreshing about Cruise's media meltdown.
Think of it: a celebrity who actually says what he thinks. (Even if it is sometimes abhorrent.) A star without a script is a rare thing indeed these days.
When actors make conversation on talk shows, nothing we hear is natural, spontaneous speech. Stars' talking points are established by producers ahead of time; actors know exactly what questions will be asked, and just what their answers will be.
And there's a reason anecdotes surrounding their films - such as Cruise's derring-do - begin to sound so familiar, too. Publicists play a key role in shaping a storyline to accompany every new effort, typically something that will glamorize the stars or burnish their heroic aura, accentuate their generosity with fans, or highlight some previously unknown talent or passion.
(A rare exception to the practice is the gloriously honest and truly talented interviewer Howard Stern - which is why we practically never hear big-league stars on his radio show, and which is why, when we do, we should applaud them.) But it's hard to imagine a publicist shaping Tom Cruise's manic, increasingly erratic appearances. In fact, most observers believe none of these outbursts would have occurred under the watch of publicist Pat Kingsley, whom Cruise fired last year after a 14-year business relationship.
Indeed, according to MSNBC gossip scribe Jeanette Walls, Cruise's agents are desperate for someone to "rein Tom in."
Kingsley's replacement, Cruise's sister and fellow Scientologist Lee Anne DeVette, isn't going to be the one to give him the hook. She may be one of the few people in the world who is actually on Cruise's wavelength.
As for the rest of us? We may as well sit back in awe, jaws agape at the spectacle of Hollywood's biggest movie star dissembling about his "amazing," fist-pumping love for the "magnificent" Katie Holmes.
We can merely shake our heads as Cruise, in an interview on "Access Hollywood," attacks "evil psychs" and his "Endless Summer " co-star Brooke Shields' use of antidepressants to treat postpartum depression. He even went so far as to ask, "Where has her career gone?"
Last week, Cruise called the Today show's Matt Lauer "glib" for questioning his criticism of antidepressants. "Here's the problem," Cruise said. "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."
When he isn't on the attack, there's something sadly confused and almost vulnerable about his rants. Later in the "Access Hollywood" interview, for example, Cruise gestured to the unseen production crew and started babbling, "I care, man. I care!"
Some may have found it amusing when a British prankster recently squirted water in Cruise's face with a novelty microphone during a red carpet "interview" in London. Cruise lectured him sternly - "You're a jerk!" - but he could never fathom that all of us would secretly love to throw a little cold water on his megalomania.
America's relationship with its celebrities is full of paradoxes. They are infinitely removed from us, but it is our fandom that creates them. We're captivated by their glamour; we delight in their blemishes. We admire and adore them, but our envy for their exalted status makes their fall even more enthralling.
Unique is the star who takes such matters into his own hands, readily shedding his own mystique in a fit of unbridled self-regard.
The intrepid hero Cruise as the engineer of his very own train wreck: Likely there's a movie in there somewhere.

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