Actor Tom Cruise is still willing to talk about the controversial religion he practices, but he acknowledged Monday that his 2005 rant about Scientology on TODAY came off as “arrogant,” and said he regretted that.
“I’m here to entertain people,” the actor told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Monday in New York. “That’s who I am and what I want to do.”
Some 3½ years ago, Cruise and Lauer engaged in a pointed and intense debate about psychiatry and antidepressants in the same TODAY studio. At one point, Cruise told Lauer, “You’re glib” — a line that launched a thousand tabloid headlines.
Cruise called his comments on that day a mistake. “I learned a lesson,” he told Lauer. “I think I learned a really good lesson.”
Not a rematchIt was clear long before Cruise sat down with Lauer that there was no animosity between the two. Affable and relaxed, Cruise was in the studio early, clowning around and even standing in for a cameraman as Lauer was reading TODAY show promos for local affiliates at 6:50 a.m.
When the show opened, Cruise stood next to the news desk, kibitzing and laughing with co-anchors Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira before moving on to schmooze with Al Roker and Ann Curry.
As a tease to the segment, Lauer and Cruise arm-wrestled.
“This is not ‘Rocky II,’ ” Lauer said by way of introduction. “There is no rematch about to happen.”
The TODAY show received some 10,000 e-mails after the 2005 interview, instead of the several hundred most interviews generate. Cruise said the reaction he got was equally overwhelming.
He said he looked back on what he had said and how he had said it, and decided he was wrong to react as he did.
Less risky business?
“I thought about it a lot,” Cruise told Lauer. “It’s a subject matter that was important. After looking at it, I really thought, it’s not what I had intended. In looking at myself, I came across arrogant. I absolutely could have handled that better.”
Cruise lit up as he had three years ago when talking about his wife, Katie Holmes, who is starring in “All My Sons” on Broadway. The man whose iconic first scene in “Risky Business” involves him singing in a white shirt, socks and underwear has expressed interest in doing a musical someday. Last week, he did an impromptu Elvis impersonation on Jay Leno’s show.
In the meantime, he’s enjoyed himself just taking in Holmes’ performance. “I’ve seen the show 25 times,” he said.
Cruise and Holmes have a daughter, Suri, 2. Lauer asked him if there are plans for a sibling.
“I think that’s a question for the women,” he said.
‘Not who I am’
Cruise had been an outspoken advocate for Scientology, the controversial religion founded in the early 1950s by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Three years ago, he openly discussed his membership in the religion with Lauer. But in recent interviews, he’s said he prefers not to discuss it and has directed questioners to the religion’s Web site.
According to published reports, Cruise was introduced to Scientology around 1990 by his first wife, actress Mimi Rogers. He has credited the religion with helping him to overcome his dyslexia.
Although granted status as a religion in the United States, Scientology has been accused of fraud by a court in France and is considered a business in Germany. The church has denied all charges.
Cruise denied published reports saying he does not want to talk about Scientology.
“That’s actually not true,” he told Lauer. “I’ve been a Scientologist for 25 years. I think there’s a time and place for it. [But] when people are tuning in to hear about my movie, that’s what I’m here to talk about … I’m here to entertain people. That’s who I am and what I want to do. Certain issues and things have a time and a place in the proper environment.”
In a cover story in the current issue of People magazine, Cruise admitted that he made mistakes during his last interview with Lauer. “I think I could have handled things better,” he said. “I’m not a person who sits in judgment of people. That’s just not who I am.”
War of the words
Lauer’s famous interview with Cruise on TODAY took place on June 24, 2005, when the actor was promoting his blockbuster movie “War of the Worlds” and dominating tabloid headlines because of his romance with actress Katie Holmes and his association with the Church of Scientology. A month earlier, he had made headlines when he started jumping on the couch while talking about Holmes on Oprah Winfrey’s show.
With Lauer, Cruise didn’t need to leave his chair to launch another barrage of headlines.
The interview began with Cruise enthusiastically talking about his new movie and Holmes, who sat off-camera watching the interview and glowing whenever Cruise talked about her.
“It’s just a great time in my life,” the actor told Lauer. “I’m really happy. I’m engaged, I’m going to be married, and I just can’t restrain myself.”
He talked about being a father to a son and daughter, Bella, now 16, and Connor, now 13, whom he adopted with his second wife, actress Nicole Kidman. The following year, he would have a daughter, Suri, now 2, with Holmes.
Halfway through the lengthy interview, Lauer asked Cruise about his involvement with Scientology. The discussion turned to criticism Cruise had directed at his friend Brooke Shields’ admitted use of prescription antidepressants.
“I never agree with psychiatry. Never,” Cruise said. “I know that psychiatry is just pseudoscience.”
Cruise was also highly critical of treating children diagnosed with ADHD with drugs such as Ritalin.
Lauer said that he knew people who have been helped by such medication and asked Cruise why he objected to their use.
“You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do,” Cruise told Lauer. “All it does is mask the problem. That’s what it does. That’s all it does. You’re not getting to the reason why. There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.”
“You want them to be well by taking the road you approve of rather than the road that works for them,” Lauer replied.
“Matt, you’re glib,” Cruise finally told Lauer.
It would be more than three years before Lauer and Cruise appeared together in public again. On Oct. 24, Lauer was roasted by the Friars Club, and Cruise surprised Lauer by showing up to roast the TODAY co-anchor.
Cruise cracked up everyone with material he wrote himself. He said that Lauer is the man “we wake up to every morning — only because we had the channel on NBC before we fell asleep.”
Cruise had to leave after he delivered his roast, and as he was going, Lauer got even by making fun of the actor’s height: “Tom, can you stay? I'll get a booster seat.”
As in 2005, the ostensible reason for Cruise’s visit to TODAY was a new movie. “Valkyrie,” scheduled for a Christmas release, is the story of a World War II plot by German army officers to kill Hitler. Cruise plays the man who attempts to carry out the plot: Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a German aristocrat sickened by everything Hitler represents. The movie is based on a true story about the plot, which ultimately failed.
Cruise said he was not aware of the details of the plot to kill Hitler when he read the script. It gave him a new appreciation for the Germans of integrity who tried to stop the dictator.
“When I read it, I thought, this is an incredibly exciting suspense thriller,” the actor told Lauer. “I thought it was very entertaining. I asked, ‘Is this true?’ I thought it was very compelling and important.”
The movie was made by United Artists, which Cruise and Paula Wagner took over two years ago. It is also the first major lead role for Cruise in two years, although last week he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his comedic supporting role as a fat and balding film executive in the Ben Stiller movie “Tropic Thunder.”
This is a year of milestones for the 46-year-old superstar, who has frequently been named one of the most powerful and influential men in Hollywood. It is 25 years since his breakthrough starring role in “Risky Business,” the film that launched his career as a leading man in blockbusters that have earned, according to People, some $7 billion.
His wife, Holmes, is celebrating her 30th birthday and their daughter, Suri, her second.