Tom Cruise, the evangelist of the movie theater: ‘I will never release films on streaming platforms’

The actor is presenting ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ at Cannes. He reflects on his lessons from the set and his passion for making movies for the big screen

Tom Cruise receives an honorary Palme d'Or from Thierry Frémaux, director of the Cannes festival.Photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe | Video: reuters
Gregorio Belinchón

With his long hair and a brilliant, snow-whte smile, he has reached the epitome of Hollywood stardom. The adoring masses at Cannes received Tom Cruise this Wednesday with overwhelming applause and wild screams. The star took over the Cannes festival with a premiere that featured a red-carpet flyover by the French Air Force, all to celebrate the European release of Top Gun: Maverick.

Shortly before the event, the actor, dressed in black from head to toe, spoke to a crowded room about his career and his passion: cinema. Cruise did not share any major revelations with the audience of 1,300, but he did offer up a handful of notable anecdotes. He first attended the French festival 30 years ago, when Far and Away, with Nicole Kidman, closed the 1992 edition. The actress, his ex-wife, did not appear in the video presenting Cruise’s filmography, but he mentioned her on stage when recalling the shooting of Eyes Wide Shut and his conversations “with Stanley [Kubrick] and Nic.”

Tom Cruise at screening of the film Top Gun: Maverick
The premiere in Cannes of 'Top Gun: Maverick'. VALERY HACHE (AFP)

The actor has not budged an inch from his identity as “a friend of the cinema.” Over the course of the conversation, he repeated three mantras: “I make movies for the big screen.” “I make movies for the public.” “It is different to write and create a film for television than for cinema.” Cruise recounted that during the pandemic, he called theater owners to assure them that both Mission: Impossible 7 and 8 and Top Gun: Maverick would be released in theaters. Before the coronavirus altered the world, Top Gun: Maverick was slated for a June 24, 2020 release date. Could it have been released on a platform? “That did not happen and will not happen. Ever,” he replied. The film will finally hit theaters on May 26.

For the actor, after the last two years, it is a “great privilege to be here, in a room without masks, seeing each other’s faces.” And he insisted that he still goes to theaters to see films. “Movies have to be seen in theaters. There you feel part of a community, you share the experience. I know the business, but I like the experience of making big-screen, long-running movies. Cinema is my passion. I always go to the movies when they come out. I’ll put my cap on and sit in the audience with everyone.”

Tom Cruise at 'Top Gun: Maverick'
Tom Cruise in a still from 'Top Gun: Maverick'.

Cruise recalled that he has loved watching movies since age four. “I also wrote things, characters, and I climbed trees. I was a dreamer. In my teens I sold Christmas cards door to door or mowed the lawn. What I earned I spent on going to the movies,” he recalled. “At 18, I made my own videos. I did not go to film school, but I learned on the set.” He repeated his commitment to learning from everything and everyone. “You have to work hard to learn. I shoot in different parts of the world, and I like to immerse myself in their cultures and languages. People interest me. History interests me.”

Cruise went into detail explaining his natural habitat, the film set. “Each film is an accumulation of knowledge from the previous ones. My second film was Taps, and there I sat down to chat with George C. Scott. I imposed myself. He shared with me all kinds of knowledge, memories. He gave me great advice when I explained that I wanted to dedicate myself to this for the rest of my life: ‘All you have to do is work your best every day,’” he recalled. “That’s why I love collaborating with film crews. I’ve worked with incredible creators like Tony Scott [who directed the first Top Gun in 1986]. Everything is important. Taps was an incredible five-week apprenticeship. I even watched the daily material we shot. They taught me how light communicates different feelings even if the actor does the same thing.”

The risks that audiences love

Aren’t you afraid of acting in so many dangerous action sequences? “Of course.” So why does he do it? “Would you ask Gene Kelly why he does all his own dancing?” And he recalled: “I was four and a half years old when I climbed onto the roof of the garage of my house, while my mother was in the kitchen, and I jumped with a parachute made from a sheet. The moment my feet left the roof I realized that this was not a good idea. Either it would kill me or later my mother would.” He knows that his passion for risk benefits his films: “I think of the audience and their experience.”

Tom Cruise

Top Gun: Maverick has no special effects besides the explosions. The actors actually flew on jets. Cruise recalled that in the first installment, in 1986, many aerial shots were ruined by the actors’ vomiting. This time, he planned and executed a detailed flight immersion plan for his younger colleagues. Why has it taken 36 years to shoot the second part? “They offered it to me, but at that time I had to grow as an artist. The sequels have to dialogue with the public. This has been years and years in the making. I even discussed it with Tony [Scott, who passed away in 2012]. I put a lot of time and energy into each project.” And does he consider this the end of his career? “No, because I keep learning, making movies, looking for stories. I think about the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and collaborating with a team and seeing how I can help and how they can help me.”

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