STRAIGHT STORY: Tom Cruise, Cameron Crowe stop in Dallas to promote 'Vanilla Sky'
By Daniel A. Kusner
It’s not a big deal to be in the same room as Tom Cruise. At least he’s pretty good at making it seem that way.
Last Friday, the box-office actor and director Cameron Crowe stopped in Dallas to hold a press conference for their new film, "Vanilla Sky," a remake of the 1997 Spanish romantic thriller, "Abre Los Ojos."
First of all, Cruise's presence doesn't make the gaydar needle bounce off the charts — even though Cruise was wearing a fetching lavender ribbed-turtleneck. Also, he’s not the dwarf everyone says he is. Cruise stands almost 5’10”.
In the looks department, Cruise is attractive enough. But frankly, he’s such a recognizable and photographed cultural figure that, in person, the surprise element of his physical presence has practically evaporated. With all the tabloid covers and billboard ads, Tom Cruise appears as common as stop signs.
He did leave one strong impression, though — the beefy laugh that Ben Stiller imitates so well. He lets one of those out every five minutes. It makes him appear jovial and pleasant, which helps detract from the fact that’s he’s essentially the most powerful actor in Hollywood.
In "Vanilla Sky," Cruise plays David Ames, a studly Manhattan publishing executive whose life takes a horrible turn after he falls for an innocent exotic babe (Penelope Cruz) while trying to cool things down with his “fuck buddy” (played by Cameron Diaz). It’s a complex story that twists and turns in many different directions, and dissecting the plot too much might spoil the film for ticket holders.
"Vanilla Sky" is hardly a gay film. But there are a couple queer elements that Cruise and Crowe didn’t mind talking about. And of course, the “whole gay thing” with Cruise sort-of sprung up from there.
Gay artist and native Texan Robert Rauschenberg has a meaningful part in the film. He assumes the role of David Ames’ deceased father, a tycoon who left his publishing empire to his son.
“I don’t think there aren’t any gay connotations to using Rauschenberg in the film,” says Crowe. “I saw a picture of him in W magazine, and he’s really photogenic. The picture was a close-up shot of him smiling, which I felt so comfortable looking at. I also felt — what if this guy was one of the most legendary sharks of the New York business world? Wouldn’t it make it even more effective as a tough businessman, if he was that disarming?”
According to Crowe, when Rauschenberg heard about the project, his response was, “I get to be Tom Cruise’s father? I’m in!”
There’s a bar scene in "Vanilla Sky," where a gawky chap (Noah Taylor, from the film "Shine") tries to strike up a conversation with David Ames. Not that the matter really needed to be cleared up, but David tells the guy, “Sorry, buddy. But I’m straight, okay?”
Cameron Crowe admits that this scene knowingly pokes fun at Cruise's response to the gay rumors in his personal life.
“Somebody asked me what I was trying to say there. Because at a recent screening there was a half-second lag where nobody knew whether it was okay to laugh,” Crowe explains. “The movie plays with pop culture and images. To me, Tom is pop culture. So the fact that Tom is playing a part in a movie, that’s commenting on pop culture. And, well, it gives me a wide-open opportunity to play with the pop culture of Tom. There was a debate about that in our editing room. Does that take you out of the movie? Does it make you think about Tom, as opposed to David Ames? But in this movie, I think it belongs there.”
For Cruise, the gay rumors haven’t always been a source of amusement.
He slapped an unheard-of $100 million lawsuit against gay porno “wrestler” Kyle Bradford. The suit was prompted after the French magazine Actustar reported on a story that Cruise and Bradford had an affair, which led to Cruise’s divorce with actress Nicole Kidman.
Cruise then filed yet another $100 million lawsuit against a man who allegedly claimed he had a videotape supposedly proving Cruise is homosexual.
Although it might be a sore subject, Cruise makes it clear that he’s not annoyed by the attention he receives from his gay fans.
“Let me tell you something, I’m not annoyed. I’m a heterosexual. And I have nothing against homosexuality at all. But when someone says that they have mud-wrestled with me — and they’re going off creating lies and telling everyone — I find that offensive,” Cruise says. “If someone said they had videotape of me mud-wrestling, and they were trying to gain a name for themselves and capitalize on a situation when they know it’s a lie. . . I think whether you’re straight or gay — if people are out there saying things that are disparaging or they’ve got videos of you in sex scenes and stuff like that… I, personally... I’ve got a family to protect. And it’s untrue.”
Does he find it difficult to acknowledge his gay fans while making it absolutely clear that he is not one of them?
“Not at all. I don’t feel that way at all. I’m a heterosexual, and that is the truth. I don’t feel anything in terms of not acknowledging or isolating or being prejudiced towards anything. I don’t care,” he says. “To me, whatever anyone — whether it’s religion, they’re sexual preference — it’s their choice. It’s personal. It’s their right. I don’t have anything to judge that at all.”
When this line of questioning petered out, the press conference was concluded.
While shaking hands with everyone at the end, I asked Cruise if he had any problems with being referred to as “gay friendly.”
With that, he broke out his boisterous laugh and said, “Absolutely not. You go right ahead.”
Friday, December 14, 2001.
MY QUESTION QUOTED IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS.