A little more than 12 years ago, Tom Cruise went on Oprah to talk about his life, but also to ostensibly promote his upcoming movie War of the Worlds. He never did get around to talking about the latter, though, because he was too busy fist-pumping, jumping on couches, and going from being one of pop culture’s most unassailable stars to its biggest punch line in only a few minutes.
A month later, Cruise’s mundane Today interview about War of the Worlds went off the rails when Matt Lauer turned the conversation to medicating for mental-health reasons, a practice that Cruise — as a Scientologist — had condemned. "Do you know what Adderall is — do you know Ritalin?" Cruise forcibly asked. "You don’t know the history of psychiatry — I do." And then he uttered a sentence that would become infamous: "Matt. Matt, Matt, Matt. You’re glib."
Cruise’s press tours have not since reached the wild heights of the War of the Worlds experience. In the intervening years, he has thrown footballs with Jimmy Fallon, lip-synced with Jimmy Fallon, broken eggs on his forehead with Jimmy Fallon, and tossed wreaths with Jimmy Fallon like any "normal," publicity-seeking (and controversy-avoiding) celeb. But it’s still appointment viewing every time Cruise hits the talk-show circuit, primarily because it’s the only time that he appears in public anymore. What sides of Tom Cruise did we see over the past two weeks as he hyped up The Mummy? Well, we got five essential facets of him …
Tom Cruise, the Salesman
No one expresses their personal investment in something better and with more conviction than Tom Cruise. I’ve seen this "Behind the Scenes of The Mummy" promo several times (because my local theater won’t stop airing it before other movies), where Jake Johnson is talking about Cruise’s enthusiasm and he says, "I want to make the movie that Tom sees!" I really believe that, because Tom Cruise is a phenomenal salesman. I mean he must be; he convinced Jake Johnson that it’d be a good look to play an unfunny ghost in The Mummy.
Here Cruise is on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, wholeheartedly explaining the history of Universal Pictures and doing his all to legitimize the Dark Universe, which seems like an ill-conceived money grab:
Here he is on Australian TV making The Mummy’s zero-gravity stunt sound like it’s the most revolutionary achievement in film since Avatar:
Tom Cruise does this thing — he’s done it forever; it’s my favorite of his acting tics — where he almost closes his throat while he’s talking. It’s weird, but it creates a sense of urgency and seriousness and makes you feel like every word he’s saying should be considered with the utmost importance. It’s an impressive magic trick. And watching all of it in action for Mummy publicity, you turn into Jake Johnson — I wanna see the movie this guy sees! Unfortunately, actually watching The Mummy, you will really feel that way. The Mummy in Tom Cruise’s imagination is almost definitely better than the movie itself.
Tom Cruise, a Guy With Good Hair
This is just a quick non sequitur to note that Tommy’s hair was on point for The Mummy press tour:
I prefer swoopy Cruise hair personally, but front spikes are a good look too.
Tom Cruise, the Elder Statesman
After about a decade dumping on Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow came out in 2014, and society decided it was time to give him a break and start revering him again. That process is culminating now, and many times on this press tour Cruise has been treated like an American hero who just announced he’s retiring. Jimmy Fallon broke his back bending over to say nice things to Cruise (obviously), and James Corden did his "OMG it’s Tom Cruise!!!" routine, but watch what happens when Cruise and Zac Efron are both on The Graham Norton Show:
"This is something I wanna say about Tom," Efron starts in, before a ridiculously grandiose monologue about character arcs and mastering genres. God bless Annabelle Wallis, who’s sitting between Cruise and Efron during all of this, for not breaking down and doing the *wanking* hand motion.
Annabelle is stronger than all of us. I can’t wait for the press tour for Mission: Impossible 6, when Tom Cruise is given the Medal of Honor by the president of the United States and the pope admits he thinks Tom is "maybe a little better than Jesus."
Tom Cruise, the ‘Top Gun’ Guy
After Tom confirmed that a sequel to Top Gun is in the works, the Mummy press tour also became a press tour for that movie, which I’m sure Universal Pictures is just thrilled about. Graham Norton, Jimmy Fallon, Access Hollywood — they all asked Cruise about Top Gun, and he was mostly like, "Yeah, I know, can you believe it?" while audiences went berserk. But my favorite wrinkle in this segment of the press tour was watching interviewers approach the inevitable, awkward point that, you know, Tom Cruise is a 54-year-old man now and fighter pilots aren’t usually that old and so what the hell is Maverick going to be doing? On Access Hollywood, Tom Cruise cut off a question about "a new crop" of pilots by saying, "You just gotta see it." This was after telling the interviewer that the sequel would be (entirely focused on him and) called Top Gun: Maverick, because "you don’t want a number" (?).
The best of these moments, though, was after Zac Efron’s effusive praise on The Graham Norton Show. Cruise looks so uncomfortable when Norton asks Efron, who has to be on the list of actors who could be in Top Gun 2, if he’s angling for a role in the sequel. First, Cruise does that nervous laugh that has never fooled anyone, and then tries to play it cool with the MOST AWKWARD TOP GUN HIGH FIVE EVER:
The time between Cruise standing up and raising his hand and Efron reciprocating lasts forever. Tom Cruise will not allow you to confront him about his mortality, and I will never stop cringing.
Tom Cruise, the Guy Who Wants to Seem Normal but Is Trying So Hard It’s Impossible to Not Notice How *Un-normal* He Is
On The Tonight Show, Fallon had Tom read lines from scripts written by children. It was a vaguely funny concept, and it certainly elicited some moments worth laughing at. You can watch the whole thing here; the part I want to direct attention to is almost exactly halfway through, after Cruise and Fallon finish reading their second script. First, Fallon breaks into laughter and keels over; Cruise, seeing Fallon do this, then does almost the exact same thing:
This is like in E.T. when E.T. rubs his face because he sees Elliott rubbing his face. Cruise then, under his breath, says, "I love these, these are crazy."
In my experience, anytime someone says "I love this" unprompted and with so much pained amusement, it usually means they feel the exact opposite.
But the oddness of Tom over-laughing through "Kid Theater" is nothing compared to when he, Efron, and Wallis "danced" on Graham Norton:
Um. Wow. OK.
But note how Tom Cruise’s signature moves are just subdued facsimiles of the dance he busts out as Les Grossman at the end of Tropic Thunder. It’s a good example of Tom Cruise the actor pulling bits and pieces from his movies to assemble Tom Cruise the person. Scripted situations are his comfort zone because when he acts spontaneously and tries to assimilate alongside his peers, weird and embarrassing things happen, like this:
And that’s where Tom Cruise is at right now: a funky middle ground between the buttoned-up bore from the ’90s and the guy who nearly destroyed his career by jumping on Oprah’s couch. He’s trying to be normal, but he’s Tom Cruise — how could that even be possible?