The straight story
Tom Cruise, Cameron Crowe make Dallas stop on promotional tour for Vanilla Sky
By DANIEL KUSNER | Dec. 14, 2001
It’s not such a big deal to be in the same room with Tom Cruise.
At least he makes it seem that way.
Last Friday, the staunch hetero actor, accompanied by 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.
Cruise does not make the gaydar needle bounce off the charts — even while wearing a rather fetching, lavender ribbed-turtleneck.
And he’s not the midget everyone says he is. When he stands, he’s almost 5’10”
In the looks department, Cruise is attractive enough.
But 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 billboards dedicated to Tom Cruise, he appears as common as stop signs.
He does leave one strong impression, though. His beefy laugh — that rear- molar-sparkling laugh that Ben Stiller lampoons so well. He lets one of those rip every five minutes. Though forced, the laugh makes him appear jovial and pleasant. Which detracts from the fact that he’s one of Hollywood’s most powerful actors.
In Vanilla Sky, Cruise plays David Aames, a studly Manhattan publishing exec whose life takes a horrible turn after he falls for an innocent, exotic babe (Penelope Cruz) while trying to cool things off with his“fuck buddy”(played by Cameron Diaz).
It’s a complex story that twists and turns in so many different directions that dissecting the plot too much could spoil the film. [See Vanilla Sky review.]
Vanilla Sky is hardly a gay film.
But there are a couple of queer elements that Cruise and Crowe didn’t mind talking about. And the “whole gay thing” with Cruise sort of sprung up from there.
Openly gay artist and native Texan Robert Rauschenberg has a meaningful but small part in the film. He assumes the role of David Aames’ deceased father — a tycoon who left his publishing empire to his son.
“There are no gay connotations to casting Rauschenberg in the film,” Crowe explains inside a ballroom at the Hotel Crescent Court. “I saw a picture of him in W magazine. And he’s really photogenic. The picture was a closeup shot of [Rauschenberg] smiling, which I felt so comfortable while looking at it. 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 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 also a bar scene in Vanilla Sky, where a peculiar-looking chap (the talented Noah Taylor from Shine) tries to strike up a conversation with David Aames. Not that the matter really needed clearing up... But David tells the mysterious fellow, “Sorry, buddy. But I’m straight. Okay?”
Cameron Crowe admits that this scene knowingly pokes fun at Cruise’s response to the gay rumors about 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,” says Crowe. “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, 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. Like, does that take you out of the movie? Does it make you think about Tom, as opposed to David Aames? But in this movie, I think it belongs there.”
For Cruise, the gay rumors haven’t always been a source of amusement.
He slapped a $100 million lawsuit against gay porno “wrestler” Kyle Bradford after a French magazine spread the story that Cruise and Bradford had an affair, which reportedly led to Cruise’s divorce from actress Nicole Kidman. [Update: Cruise won $10 million in that action.]
He then filed yet another $100 million lawsuit against a man who claimed he had a videotape supposedly proving Cruise engaged in gay sex.
Although it might be a sore subject, Cruise says 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’re 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?
“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 anybody," he says. “To me, whatever anyone — whether it’s religion, their sexual preference — it’s their choice. It’s personal. It’s their right. I don’t have any reason to judge that at all.”
When this line of questioning finally petered out, the press conference 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 famed boisterous laugh and said, ”Absolutely not. You go right ahead.”
Charles Ealy, assistant features editor for books, movies and the arts at the Austin American-Statesman, worked with Wuntch as film editor at The News.
“He was a sweet and funny man and he loved movies more than anything else except for Mimi,” Ealy said. “I remember when he was going to interview Tom Cruise. There were all these restrictions about what you could or couldn’t ask, so Philip started out his interview with ‘So let me ask you all about your private life.’ He was always being funny with people.”
— Michael Granberry.
"Philip Wuntch, longtime film critic of the News, dies at 70."
The Dallas Morning News, October 13, 2015.