After making Jerry Maguire, actor Tom Cruise and writer-director Cameron Crowe made plans to work together again. Once they saw the Spanish film Open Your Eyes, which Crowe says they “couldn’t stop talking about,” they knew what their next project together would be.
“We were definitely looking for something that we could do together, and we both loved Open Your Eyes,” Crowe said at a New York City press conference with Tom Cruise last weekend. “It’s just a great movie and a great jumping off point for asking questions a different way.”
Using the Spanish film and its plot as a starting point, Crowe and Cruise developed Vanilla Sky, which opens in theaters Friday. While the movie is based on Open Your Eyes, Cruise sees their work as more than an English-language copy of its French equivalent.
“It’s a story that allows an artist/writer/director to come in and put his own mark on it, ask his own questions and come to his own conclusions,” Cruise said. “The way that Cameron designed the picture as to have a dialogue between the two films, I’ve never seen that before. It’s kind of a remake as opposed to a cover, and an artist imbuing it with his own characters and his own questions.
“It’s a film for me and subject matter that I am interested in and that I love talking about with Cameron: the effects of pop culture on society,” Cruise said.
“I sort of wanted to get into the idea of pop culture in all of its hideous wonderfulness,” Crowe said, “because it still defines every day of my life in some way or another, either by battling against the effects or going with them.”
In Vanilla Sky, Cruise plays David Aames, the heir to a publishing fortune whose life has been one long, smooth ride. After an ex-girlfriend attempts to kill them both by driving off a bridge, she is left dead and he survives, but without one of his most valuable assets: his good looks. Aames is left scarred and suffering, struggling to return to the life he lived. The film could easily have dwelt solely upon this common issue. But according to Crowe, this was never his goal.
“I am not a fan of movies where something happens physically and the whole movie is sort of about the affliction,” Crowe said. “Sometimes they’re good, but sometimes it’s hard to get past the affliction and into the story. This one felt like just part of the character, and (Cruise) plays it that way.”
Crowe sees Cruise’s character as a more complex character, not embodied simply by his affliction.
“It’s a guy whose journey includes the effects of an accident,” Crowe said. “You start to go right past whatever physical affliction is present, and you see what is going on in the person.”
In preparing for part, the actor and director researched the effects of severe disfigurement on both physical and emotional levels. As Aames, Cruise spends much of the movie hidden behind makeup or a mask. These restrictions led Cruise to pursue a different style of acting, one more in tune with his character’s physical condition.
“(Cruise) always played it from the inside out, as a guy who had nothing to depend on that he once really depended on, a guy who’s moving his hands more and is a little more needy,” Crowe said.
Cruise credits Crowe’s style as a director for the way he went about character development.
“When Cameron gets excited about something, we do it over and over and over,” Cruise said. “We can’t help it; we get sort of lost in it. His writing is so extraordinary for an actor to be able to have those words to say and these characters to play that you want to do it over and over again.,” Cruise said.
On the set, the actor said Crowe creates a relaxing work setting in which everyone is focused on one scene.
Although Cruise is known as one of America’s most popular actors, appearing in major pictures such as Top Gun, Mission: Impossible and Jerry Maguire, his career has taken detours allowing him to work with such acclaimed directors as Stanley Kubrick. Cruise never wants to limit his career, opting instead for some riskier endeavors. These choices in films all reflect his larger outlook on life.
“I’ve always wanted to make different kinds of films,” Cruise said. “I’ve learned from every film that I’ve made and from the filmmakers that I’ve worked with and the actors that I’ve worked with, and … at every step tried to do something that’s a challenge to me.
“I’ve always tried to do different characters and challenge myself and see where it takes me. If I fall on my face, then I fall on my face. Every day that I’ve worked I’ve never taken it for granted. I’ve never slacked off.”
Cruise finds approaching his life and career in this manner to be a fulfilling, rather than draining, experience.
“There’s nothing like working hard,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re lying in bed, and you’re thinking ‘I couldn’t have given more in any part of my life.”
Crowe said he is grateful simply for the chance, as a writer and director, to act as storyteller for the public.
“To me it’s just stories around a campfire,” he said. “It’s all different ways of telling a story and it’s things that just make you feel something in the dark, and this is a slightly different one than the last one.
“Any great movie should remind you that the audience is always listening and always watching. So don’t squander the opportunity.”
This article appeared in the December 10, 2001 issue of the Hatchet.