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Tom Cruise’s Ego Is the Killer

Don’t praise a millionaire celebrity for filming a movie despite the pandemic

Question: Is it possible to shoot two mega-blockbusters in one of the biggest tentpole movie franchises ever, back-to-back, on locations that span the globe, with death-defying practical stunts, at a cost of around $400 million total, during a pandemic that has so far killed 1.5 million worldwide — all without any two crew members standing closer than six feet together?

Of course not, that’s demented. You couldn’t even manage this while making a low-budget music video over a single weekend with a bare-bones team. Only a lunatic would convince himself that you can maintain airtight health protocols around an airborne, highly contagious virus when you’re staging Hollywood setpieces that take hundreds of people to pull off. And that’s what you hear in this leaked audio of Tom Cruise ranting at his subordinates during a U.K. shoot for Mission: Impossible 7, which is meant to be followed immediately by production on Mission: Impossible 8. (The aptness of the series title should not be lost when listening.)

In too many ways, this is par for the course. An actor or director reaches his breaking point, has a meltdown over this or that aspect of a project (or their own life), and this raging episode is widely reported or captured in a clip that will soon go viral. Christian Bale. David O. Russell. Alec Baldwin. Mel Gibson. Russell Crowe. Maybe they’ll take some heat for flying off the handle, particularly if the comments are seen as racist, misogynist or otherwise hateful, but if they’re lucky, it will affirm them as manly creatives who push themselves to the limit and dedicate their talents with a passion that turns explosive now and again. Such is the price of greatness.

Cruise’s diatribe fits the pattern; he’s known as a ruthless perfectionist who can frighten co-stars with his intensity even when he’s trying to be nice. If you’re a fan of the eye-popping, adrenaline-junkie Mission: Impossible movies, you might feel this furious energy is just what delivers the ultimate spectacle to the screen. And hours after the recording began to circulate, listeners were admitting that they sort of… agreed with him. They hemmed and hawed as to his role in the allegedly abusive Church of Scientology, and they stipulated that it’s not ideal to berate to your employees like this (Cruise is a producer on the films), but, in fact, they liked hearing him drop the hammer on a couple of guys who weren’t social distancing. They proposed that he go around the U.S. yelling at anti-maskers. Finally, a dude who takes the virus seriously.

Please. Cruise may be a terminally serious person, but a millionaire celebrity threatening to fire a few working-class nobodies while screaming that he’s responsible for “thousands” of jobs as the entire industry confronts financial oblivion — that’s a joke. He, director Christopher McQuarrie and Paramount Studios are the ones responsible for the conditions he finds so unacceptable, as well as for exposing an untold number of individuals to the virus (12 on set tested positive in October), filming inside a hospital in Rome that was treating coronavirus patients, and, in a fun little side scandal, trying to secretly gain permission to blow up a historic Polish bridge, then denying these plans as the story broke and the country moved to protect the site as a cultural landmark. Is a random camera operator or sound technician, probably grateful for the hazardous gig amid the wider shutdown, responsible for all that bullshit? Come the fuck on.

Besides, Cruise didn’t impart or achieve much of value with this outburst. The problem of the fatal disease that puts everyone present at risk is merely implied as he rails profanely, describing himself as the martyr upon whom the sum pressures of this idiotic venture are placed. It’s through this narcissism that he expects to terrorize, dominate and eventually control those around him.

But this is a fateful moment — and a dangerous context — that he cannot bully into cooperation. He’s 58 years old, and before long he won’t be able to ski-jump off Mount Kilimanjaro or whatever the hell. The Mission: Impossible thrill ride has become his defining art, the backbone of his cinematic legacy, and you can be sure he’s afraid that the system undergirding it is near collapse. To stubbornly keep that machinery operating despite the harm it causes in the current environment is not about saving the little people. Neither is inventing a standard of safety that cannot be met while business continues. It’s about him. That’s it.

Don’t let your own frustrations with the maskless and conspiracy-minded twist the truth: Cruise is a powerful man who wants to preserve his status, angry that a devastating plague has interrupted this stage of his career, looking to take it out on others.

Mission accomplished, I guess.