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Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2002

You can run, but can't escape the press

When Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg come to town, you expect a media feeding frenzy. And their news conference to kick off the Tokyo International Film Festival didn't disappoint, with a scrum of paparazzi that would flatten the All Blacks and a room packed so full of press and fans you could barely move.

News photo
Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise at a news conference to promote "Minority Report," which opened this year's Tokyo International Film Festival

Spielberg and Cruise were relaxed and in good spirits, as you'd expect from a couple of stars on the last stop of their worldwide promotional tour. But it also reflected the genuine rapport and camaraderie that the pair share, both on the set and off.

"You have to understand how easy it was to collaborate," said Spielberg, "because we've been friends for like 16 years. Probably the last time I was in Japan was the first time we met."

You'd think that the press could come up with a few intelligent questions to ask the world's best-known director, but there was more of the usual nonsense from the peanut gallery.

"The pre-cogs in the film can see the future, so if you could have one special power, what would it be?" asked one so-called journalist. Being as relaxed as they were, they took such questions in stride, even playfully.

"Well, that's an interesting question," said Spielberg, with a chuckle. "I don't want to sound like a Miss America contestant with this answer . . . Hmmm, to bring peace to the world? That's kind of a Miss America answer." After the laughter died down, he continued: "Sometimes, if I may let you into a piece of my work mind, I'm so curious about people. I'll watch someone walking down the street and think, 'Gee, I'd like to be them for an hour and a half, just see what their lives are like.' "

Not a week, not a day, but 90 minutes; note how deeply the cinematic model is burned into this guy's brain.

Cruise was just as good at giving good press. He lowered his voice and, adopting a private tone, he confessed, "Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted the ability to fly."

Well, now we can forgive him for "Top Gun."

Actually, though, that film seems like it was from a different era, and Spielberg noted as much.

"I think Tom can do anything right now. In the last couple of years, he's hit a high-water mark in his career. He has combined such different films. When you think of 'Eyes Wide Shut,' the character he played in that. When you think of 'Magnolia,' one of the most excruciatingly painful performances Tom's ever had to give. When you combine that with 'Vanilla Sky,' and you think back to 'Born on the Fourth of July' and 'Jerry Maguire,' and arrive at 'Minority Report' [you realize] Tom has never been the same character in any of those films. So in that sense, there's no such thing as 'a Tom Cruise movie,' because Tom goes in disguise for each film."

Cruise, for his part, seems just as awestruck by his director's talents. After reading the script of "Minority Report," Cruise sent it straight off to his friend. "Just as a fan, I wanted to see what Steven Spielberg [would do]," the actor said. "Visually, it needed to be stunning; I don't think there's anyone else who could have done it.

"Steven's films are always very human. Even if the scope of the film is quite large, there's always that human element, a human journey, that grabs me. I felt fortunate to be invited into his creative process, because he can accomplish more than any director today."

Cruise went on to mention how Spielberg brainstormed with a team of futurologists to extrapolate a plausible near-future, complete with omnipresent retinal scanning, magnetically driven vertical transport and nonlethal police weaponry.

Spielberg sees the biggest change thusly: "I realized that for the past 54 years, we're all been watching television, since its invention. But our film takes place around the year 2054, and television is watching us. It's reading our eyes, scanning our personalities, and our purchasing habits -- it's already happening now on the Internet. This film, like all good science fiction, warns today's audiences about tomorrow's dangers."

That's about as deep as it got, as the fuzzy questions predominated. "The film's called 'Minority Report,' " pointed out one astute member of the press. "What do you consider 'minority' about your own personality or tastes?"

Uh-huh. Spielberg slipped by with a joke -- "I live my life in the minority, because I have seven children, and they are the majority!" -- while Cruise conveniently forgot to answer.

Next up was a reporter who picked up on the film's tag-line, "Everybody runs," and asked if they ever felt like running away from something? No doubt, everyone was hoping Cruise would say "Nicole," but no such luck.

"My life has been very adventurous," said Cruise. "A lot of challenges. Maybe sometimes there were situations I should have run away from, but I have this irrepressible curiosity, that I want to know about life. So I find myself not running away, just running straight at it."

At which point Spielberg interrupted: "But I've seen you run away from girls that are chasing you."

Cruise laughed long and hard, as did his audience, which was as good a time as any to make a quick exit, stage right. No doubt a few such girls were waiting in the hotel lobby.

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