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On the weekend of November 15, 2003 Tom Cruise talked to the press during a day of media interviews in Los Angeles. Here is what he had to say about his role in “The Last Samurai” and his views on movie making, the Japanese people then and now, and much more…This is an interview in three parts, and this is Part One of a generally unchanged transcription. Part Two features Tom discussing his Scientology beliefs, his children, and his plans for this Christmas holiday. Look for it in Dish right now! Here goes:

“When I was growing up, I remember vividly being in a drive-in and I was, I guess about 6 or 7 years old. I was on the roof of my family’s station wagon watching “Lawrence of Arabia”, and across the screen was the Sahara Dessert. I always wanted to see other places and learn about how other people lived. And because of the traveling I did, I saw different, even within America there are different cultures you know; it’s American, but that’s the generality.”

“When I go to Japan- it’s so enigmatic to me. It was different. The culture is different. The people… I don’t think anyone who has been to Japan or seen pictures of Japan, (when I was a child we didn’t have the Internet, we didn’t have television) couldn’t be absolutely fascinated, in awe of the culture. I find it aesthetic and the people fascinating. I just want to know, and wanted to know more about their history and how they lived, how they got to where they are today and…”

“You look at that small island and I think when you study the sword, that it is the greatest sword ever made in the history of this world. And the art of it- it is both a powerful weapon, and yet it’s aesthetically superb. The balance, the engineering, they didn’t have thermo-dynamics then, so they would actually, when they were forging it, they would hold the heat up to the rising sun or the setting sun and judge the temperature. And they knew at that point it was ready to pound and they’d fold it over and over and over again. I just, it’s an amazing culture. It is an amazing culture. And, uh, I’ve always been fascinated with that.”

“One of the great things about being an actor and what I do is I get to travel to these places, and I get to learn about the people. That is the most enjoyable thing for me, to learn the history of other people, and how people lived, and their daily lives. And also you find a common ground even though their language is different and their culture is different, you find that common ground of joy, happiness, pain- and its humanity. And it really gives you a sense of hope. We’re all in this thing together here, you know? That’s why we have to help each other out. And I really enjoy that….”

Q: Explain the time commitment you put into your movies….

“Well, I put a lot of time into everything that I do, interestingly enough. You know, “Rain Man” and “Born on the Fourth of July”, it took years for us prepping those films. This film is different in that it took me almost a year to physically be able to make this picture. I love what I do. I take great pride in what I do. And I can’t do something half way, three-quarter…….If I’m going to do something I go all the way. And I didn’t know if I could do it, honestly, if I could find that kind of physical elegance and movement that the samurai have. I look at Hiro (Hiroyuko) Sanada and Ken (Watanabe), and they just, there’s the natural grace of them as actors, I think.”

“For me, it was a year preparing, not only physically, but developing the character- because of the transition that the character makes… I kept copious amounts of notes, so that I could remember- for the training sequences- where Algren starts and where he ends up. I knew what Ed (Zwick, director) was going for with this picture, and it was very ambitious on many levels because we both love adventure films and we wanted to deliver. You’re looking at this time period and his (Ed’s) meticulous dedication to that history, yet in the spirit of adventure and epic filming, we’re imbuing it with this wonderful story. And it’s, how is this all going to work out? And it took that amount of time to prepare, and I don’t make a film unless I feel that I have that kind of time.”

“Every film I do there’s a lot of preparation- this one in particular because I had to study the American-Indian War. Well, I’m an American and I thought I knew a lot about the American-Indian Wars and that time period in our history, but I was blown away by how little I knew. And also the Japanese history during that time period, and a little earlier, how the country came to this moment. And also I went and re-visited the Civil War again for myself, just because Algren had lived through that time period and I collected a small library. So I needed that kind of time to absorb the film and to work with Ed and Marshall (Herskovitz, screenwriter). And I enjoyed it. I loved working with Ed Zwick. He’s a bright sensitive artist. So it was pleasurable for me.”

“I remember as a young actor, I thought- ‘I’m used to hard work, I can bus tables, I can wait on tables’. But I’ve never made a film that I didn’t believe in. However the picture turns out, I’ve always given everything to it. That’s how I approach life. I can’t help it. There’s no part way with me on anything, in any area of my life, really.”

Q- Tell us about Bushido, the way of the samurai?

“Well, those values are very important to me, very important to me, and I think it’s important to have values in life. I look at the samurai, because they were the artists of their time- they actually were educated to be leaders and to lead, and to actually help people. One of the things that struck me when I read Bushido was compassion. To go out, and if you can’t find someone to help, you know, if there’s no one there to help, to go out and find someone to help. And that hit me because I try to lead my life like that. It’s important. And I actually believe that helping someone and seeing them do better in life is the most gratifying thing in the world. And being in a film in which that’s the value, that’s what the movie’s about, that’s what I connected with in a very passionate and deep way, to the code of the Samurai.”

Q- What is it that you would like people to know about this movie, and why should they see it?

“Well, what I’d like them to know is that each audience (member) walks away with an experience from the movie, whether it’s a thrill ride or an epic, or romance, or a thriller. I like people to have that feeling because they’re going to go see a different world, in the same way that I did as a kid. And when I go to a picture I’m a great audience because I love movies. I love movies. And this movie is going to take you to a different place and a different time and yet it’s still so human; that’s what I realized when I was reading not so much the history, but when I was reading the diaries from real people.”

“Because history books, sometimes they’re just nice fiction. You know, it’s just good fiction. But when I get down to certain diaries from the Civil War and the American-Indian Wars, and diaries of people who had been to Japan and their personal diaries, that weren’t altered for social benefit, you can’t help but connect- you can see yourself in those at times, what it’s like seeing it through their eyes. And I want people to know that that is available to them in this film and they’re going to go to a time and it is authentic, even though the story is fiction. But the time frame in which it takes place, and the humanity in the picture, is real.

Q: What was surprising to you about Japanese culture? What were things you expected, that turned out to be really different?

“Well, I always suspected that ‘Hie’ did not always mean yes. (laughter) When someone said ‘hie’ it didn’t always mean okay. It meant, it was an acknowledgment that they heard me, but it didn’t necessarily mean that they agreed with me.(laughs) Also, I think that I was fascinated with the samurai sword. It’s just so many things that surprised me, that engaged me. When I went to Japan, I was jet lagged so I used to go and walk in the rain at night…..all the lights at night and the businessmen coming out of their bars at two in the morning. I just felt that I wanted to get inside of the culture. And I feel like I really had a very good, a greater understanding of them from studying their history and how they got where they are now. But I think that I want to say is that I’m surprised, I’m excited and pleased to see how much we had in common, really. And of course, I don’t know if you’ve read “The Code of Bushido”? But are we talking about now, or are we talking about then? I’m kind of caught in two different time frames. Are we talking about in 1876 or in modern times?

Q: What about war?

“Wars don’t resolve conflict- ideas do. You look at how history keeps repeating itself. We are in a society in a time where okay, here we are. We have great technology. We have a very sophisticated way to communicate, to travel, yet there’s still famine and there’s still war. So, you have to look at what is it we’re doing wrong. You have to kind of change the operating basis at some point. So “The Last Samurai” is a metaphor for that. It is a metaphor also for the traveling that I did as a kid, everywhere that I went. You know, I lived in Canada, Kentucky, East, West, South, and the traveling that I’ve done to different cultures- whether it’s to London, Paris, Germany, Japan, Korea, Singapore, you learn about people and the way that they live.”

“It’s amazing to me what I was reading about the American-Indian Wars, the things that were written in the newspapers and that were in the news during that time period about what is civilized and what isn’t civilized; what is correct and not correct; and how to live and how not to live. And yet you look at the American Indian, or you look at the Japanese, I am sure how they were viewed as foreigners at that time was wrong. Where there is no understanding, you’re going to have conflict. Where there is no reality and ability to communicate, it lessens the amount of affinity you can have for another person. So I think that even though this picture is, as Ed and I kept saying, a ‘romantic adventure’, yet it does have this other content and in a way it’s a picture that we never wanted it to be.”

“Yet people will take from it what they want. If they understand history, they’ll look at it metaphorically. Even if they just want to go on the ride and look at what it was like while a country was going through when happened when the Japanese met the Industrial Revolution; and it’s the death of one culture, and the birth of another, a process that continues through history. They’ll take away from that what they’re going to take away.”

Q: How did Hiro and Ken, and the other Japanese actors help you?

“They were very generous with me. The first time I put on the yakata (a Japanese robe) I thought, ‘Man, I’ve never worn a yakata’, and I really felt their support. And I think they were a little bit surprised how extensive it was, the wardrobe, the sets, the history that we knew. Ed wanted to know about different ceremonies that you see in the film, like the beheading of General Hasegowa, those things. Working with them just informed the film and informed us about their culture. That’s something we discovered through rehearsal, when we were making the film, I would always say ‘What do you think? How do you feel? How is this?”

“If you look at Hiro (Hiroyuko) Sanada, he’s someone who was with the Royal Shakespeare Company (in London), the first Japanese actor with them. And he also, he would come in and work with me on the sword. I work better in an environment that is one that is encouraging. I like a sense of family, you know. When I’m making a film, it’s not about me; it’s about the movie. It’s about us together working together; the film is much easier to make when everyone is going in the same direction and we’re working together. So I really depend on that kind of support from everyone. When I was speaking Japanese, Hiro actually came in and worked with me on my accent, when I was speaking it and when I was looping it, to help fix some of the inaccuracies with my accent and where the stress should be on words. They gave that kind of support throughout the entire film.”

Q: You got so good…..

(Tom laughs) “He’s a good teacher.”

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

“I remember what surprised me in Japanese history was if you were a foreigner and you washed ashore you were beheaded instantly. I was very happy when I learned that’s different when you show up at the airport. (laughter) They welcome you, and they’re very pleased about it. That was surprising. It’s amazing that they kept everyone out for as long as they did.”

Part II features Tom discussing his Scientology beliefs, his children, and his plans for this Christmas holiday. Look for it in Dish right now! Watch for Part III coming soon. / Issue 41 - September 2018
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