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INT: Tom Cruise


Last week, Tom Cruise took a break from his busy schedule to drop by the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills and talk about THE LAST SAMURAI, opening this Friday.

Set in mid-nineteenth century Japan, THE LAST SAMURAI is the story of ex-Civil War hero Nathan Algren (played by Cruise), who is recruited by the Emperor of Japan to help modernize his nation’s first standing army. Algren, embittered by his participation in the Indian Wars, ends up switching sides to help defend a noble Samurai village from the wrath of the Emperor’s forces.

Despite spending the entire night on the set of his latest project, Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL, Cruise was full of energy and wit. Dressed in a tight black t-shirt and pants, the results of his intense training for THE LAST SAMURAI were still apparent. "I couldn’t touch my toes when I started working out,” the actor blushed, “I couldn’t get my hands past my knees.” Not exactly a fitness level worthy of a Samurai Warrior. If he was going to play the part right, Tom knew he would have to bulk up.

“I knew that the way that I would have to move just carrying the armor. You think, ‘50 pounds of armor, it doesn’t seem much.’ But when you start lowering your center of gravity and bending your knees, it’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the knees, the groin, the hamstrings. And so it was – I  put on 25 pounds for the picture. I was 25 pounds of muscle heavier than I am right now.”

But that kind of feat is pretty standard for a guy known throughout Hollywood for his superhuman work ethic. Despite spending an interminable length of time shooting EYES WIDE SHUT with notoriously obsessive Stanley Kubrick, the actor had no qualms about committing two years of his life to working on Samurai.

“I put a lot of time into everything that I do, interestingly enough. (With) RAIN MAN and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, it was years for us prepping those films. This film (Samurai) is different in that it took me almost a year to physically be able to make this picture. I take great pride in what I do and I can’t do something halfway, three-quarter, 9/10ths. If I’m going to do something, I go all the way.”

Asked about his reasons for taking on such a huge project, Cruise replied, “I haven’t really found or made an epic film. And I knew what Ed was going for with this picture, and it was very ambitious on many levels. We both love adventure films. In the spirit of adventure and epic films, we’re imbuing it with this wonderful story.” When Cruise teamed up with producer/director Zwick, he found they also shared a keen interest in Japanese culture.

“It is an amazing culture, and, uh, I’ve always been fascinated by that. When I go to Japan, it’s so enigmatic to me. The culture is different. I’ve been absolutely fascinated, in awe of the culture. I find the aesthetic and the people fascinating. I want to know and wanted to know more about them, more about their history, how they live, how they got to where they are today.”

Tom was enamored by Japanese craftsmanship, especially in regards to the Samurai sword:  “I think when you study the sword – that is the greatest sword ever made in the history of this world. The art of it – it is both a powerful weapon, yet it’s aesthetically superb. The balance, the engineering – they didn’t have thermodynamics then, so when they were forging it, they’d hold (the sword) up to the rising sun or the setting sun, for temperature.  And they knew at that point that it was ready to pound, and they’d fold it over and over and over again.” 

Tom found inspiration in the Bushido, the Code of the Samurai. “I look at the Samurai – they were the artists of their time. They were educated. They were educated to be leaders and to actually help people. One of the things that struck me when I read Bushido was compassion, that to go out and if you can’t find someone to help, if there’s no one there to help, go out and find someone to help. That, that hit me because I try to lead my life like that. I think it’s important. Helping someone and seeing them do better in life is the most gratifying thing in the world.”

In the film, Cruise’s character finally finds peace when he joins the Samurai and fights alongside them. As far as his own quest for inner peace is concerned, Tom credits his faith with helping him along the journey.

“It’s well known I’m a Scientologist, and that has helped me to find that inner peace in my life. It’s something that has given me great stability and tools that I use. And it’s also something that’s enabled me to help others in a way that I’ve always wanted to, something substantial. You know, in Scientology, we have study technology that is applied and really enables a person to educate themselves so they can become literate.” The work of L. Ron Hubbard has also helped him gain an understanding of the conflicts that exist throughout the world.

“It really comes down to three barriers. There’s the misunderstood word, too steep a gradient, and a lack of mass. These are the tools that Hubbard found out. Actually, he was an educator. He fought in World War II and, actually, he taught in the Philippines. He was a great teacher, and he figured out why: why people were illiterate, why there are wars, why there is conflict.”

Amen, Tom. Check out THE LAST SAMURAI when it hits theaters on December 5th.

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