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The Accidental Turitz: On Separating the Actor — in This Case, Tom Cruise — From Their Work

June 1, 2022 03:59 | By
Top Gun: Maverick

Image via Paramount Pictures

Last week, I wrote about how much I loved Top Gun: Maverick, which I saw for the third time on Sunday. Partly because of that, this column is going to be about Tom Cruise, but not in the way you think. Stick with me here…

Nearly five years ago, I had a bad take on a delicate situation. In the run-up to the 2018 Oscar nominations, I wrote a column for another website about how James Franco deserved a Best Actor nomination for The Disaster Artist and that whatever he did outside of the parameters of that performance — and he did some pretty lousy things — should not be held against him or his performance. I maintained that the two should be separate and that people should judge the film and his work in it without taking into account the baggage that his offscreen behavior carried.

Looking back, I think this was both naive and ill-considered.

The truth of the matter is that many of us cannot separate the art from the artist, and I’m as guilty of that as anyone, as any regular visitor of this space would know. I think Roald Dahl was a brilliant writer, just as I respect the work of Mel Gibson and Roger Waters even though all three have shown some pretty awful antisemitic tendencies. It’s why I won’t pay to see Waters perform live or to see a movie with Gibson in it. When I saw Apocalypto back in 2006, I bought a ticket for Casino Royale, which I’d already seen two or three times by that point, simply because I refused to put another dollar in Gibson’s pocket. And for obvious reasons, I can no longer watch Bill Cosby’s brilliant concert film Himself despite the fact that it’s an all-time favorite.

And yet, I find myself at something of a hypocritical crossroads, because even though Tom Cruise is, essentially, the second-highest ranking member within Scientology, I’m still an unabashed fan of his, one who believes he is the last true movie star.

Cruise’s recent run of films has been spectacular, as the three most recent Mission: Impossible movies could pass for the greatest action trilogy ever made, while Top Gun: Maverick will go down in my mind as one of the greatest sequels ever, and the rare film that is better than its predecessor.

Leah Remini

Image via A&E

That’s not to say that it’s easy to ignore all the Scientology stuff that so fiercely revolves around him. I was reminded of this Tuesday morning when I saw that Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R, Illinois) tweeted that he loved the Top Gun sequel, which prompted journalist Yashar Ali, and later, former Scientologist Leah Remini, to scold him for hyping Maverick because it would be seen as a victory for Scientology, despite the fact that, in this case at least, one has nothing to do with the other.

Personally, I think what Remini did after leaving the church — making the documentary series Scientology and the Aftermath — is truly courageous and should be applauded, and the simple fact of the matter is that Cruise’s ties to the religion and all the troubling stories that surround it are indeed problematic. He is, for better or worse, the global face of Scientology. I wish he would recognize the damage the church has done and make changes internally. It wouldn’t take much, either. All he’d have to do is say he’d like to see things change, and they would. No questions asked.

And yet, for some reason, I clearly hold Cruise (and his movies, to be fair) to a different standard than others whose behavior and actions are also considered, at best, questionable. Maybe if I had been cut off from a close friend or a member of my family because of Scientology, I would feel differently, but, when it comes to Cruise — and, to a lesser extent, John Travolta — I have essentially done what I told others to do four-plus years ago with Franco and ultimately regret — separate, separate, separate.

There is a solid analogy I think I can use to delve into this further. My best friend in the world has political beliefs that are completely antithetical to mine. I am often appalled at some of the things he says and the opinions he expresses, but the fact remains that he has been an incredible friend to me, he’s like a member of the family, and he has been for two-thirds of my life. Is the fact that I sometimes think his priorities are out of whack and that I am downright offended by his take on certain situations enough to end what has been the most important relationship in my life other than the ones with my parents, my siblings, and my wife? Of course not. The answer is to just establish boundaries, and agree not to talk about certain things.

I don’t think that philosophy is so different from being a fan of Tom Cruise. I know there are a lot of people who think he’s a creep — certainly, a fair number of my friends believe that — but I just like his movies. I enjoy his work on screen. I think Top Gun: Maverick is one of the best movies of his career and one of his three or four best performances, as well as being one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. It’s a movie that reminds me why I fell in love with movies in the first place, and those reminders don’t come along too often anymore. On top of that, I simply cannot wait for the next Mission: Impossible movie, even though that is exactly what I am going to have to do, for nearly 14 more months. Then, I have to wait another year for the next one.

I also admit to wanting to see Cruise in space in that movie he’s doing with his two favorite running buddies, Christopher McQuarrie and Doug Liman. If Cruise got ahold of my number and texted me saying he wanted to work with me, I would do it in a heartbeat, while Gibson would be left on “read,” as the kids say these days. This, despite the fact that Cruise is a well-known close talker, and I have personal space issues.

Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to decide what outside baggage they’re going to assign to the stars they watch. I think a journalist taking a congressman to task for expressing joy about a film he saw is a bit much, but it’s certainly his right to do so. Just as it’s my right to see Maverick a fourth time in theaters, if only because it’ll be the last time I see Cruise on the big screen until next July. But hey, we get our pleasures where we can.


Neil TuritzNeil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.

You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.