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The passion of Tom Cruise
Hollywood's biggest star is a man driven by absolute faith. But will his transformation into Scientology's biggest martyr derail his career?
By Kim Masters
BEFORE THE SCIENTOLOGY TENT POPPED UP ON THE SET of War of the Worlds, before the deluge of Tom and Katie stories in the tabloids, the ecstatic outburst on Oprah, or the stern denunciations on the Today show, an early hint of Tom Cruise's "religious" awakening came at a private ceremony in England last fall.
Appearing before the International Association of Scientologists to accept its "Freedom Medal of Valor," the actor laid bare his heart. His speech, peppered with attacks on psychiatry and oaths to "church" founder L. Ron Hubbard, was delivered to a multitude of followers listening to a live global simulcast. "It's a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist, and it's something that you have to earn," he told a rapt audience. "That's what drives me. I know that we have an opportunity to really help...change people's lives, and I am dedicated to that. I'm absolutely, uncompromisingly dedicated to that."
Earlier the "church"'s leader, David Miscavige, had explained why the Hollywood star was being honored: for his relentless work on behalf of ""religious" freedom, overcoming governmental oppression, bringing an end to psychiatric abuses...and disseminating Scientology itself." He told the crowd that each member had an individual responsibility for doing everything he could to support the "church"'s teachings. "Bearing that in mind," the supreme leader asked the crowd, "what happens when your zone of influence is the global stage?"
His question was resoundingly answered a few months later, as the publicity campaign for War of the Worlds kicked in. Reporters who approached the actor expecting canned quotes about the movie were instead treated to sermons about the "church"'s successful detoxification, prison rehabilitation, and education programs. The film was slowly overshadowed by Cruise's Scientology. "It certainly took some of the emphasis away from where we would have liked it," says Marvin Levy, War director Steven Spielberg's spokesperson. Paramount's marketing department watched helplessly as the biggest movie star in the universe began to spin out of control.
At first Spielberg stood by Cruise. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel he defended Cruise's proselytizing by alluding to his own work with the Shoah Foundation. ("Mr. Spielberg, are you comparing the educational work of the Shoah Foundation with what Scientology does?" the incredulous interviewer fired back.) However, a few weeks later, Levy says, the director was taken aback by Cruise's appearance on Oprah. Unable to attend the show in person, and nervous about all the attention being focused on Cruise's relationship with Katie Holmes, Spielberg sent a cheerful recorded message instead. "Talk a little bit about War of the Worlds," he joked, "because we're opening really soon!" But when Spielberg later watched Cruise's manic declaration of love, Levy says, he sensed that the film's carefully orchestrated media plan might be slipping off the rails. An executive at the studio says the actor was delicately advised to temper his message. "He just says thank you and does what he does," the executive sighed a few days before the film opened. "Unfortunately, he gets to choose."
When the movie, which had cost upward of $200 million, finally opened for the July 4 weekend, Paramount waited anxiously for the opening receipts. Despite - or because of - the controversy, the film was the star's biggest opening ever, raking in more than $77 million (though its earnings would drop 60 percent the following weekend). But Cruise's next project - Mission: Impossible 3, with a reported $185 million price tag - still had executives feeling skittish. "The studio cannot make money off a movie that will probably be the lowest-grossing of the Mission: Impossible movies and have the highest budget," a producer on the lot said during the film's negotiations. He noted that the director, J.J. Abrams, had never shot a feature film, putting Cruise more in command than usual. And Cruise, to all appearances, wasn't quite himself. "You couldn't control Tom Cruise when he was tethered," the producer said. "It's a diabolical set of circumstances." Paramount pounced on an opportunity to reopen negotiations and was able to modify the terms of the deal.
An out-of-control Tom Cruise makes for a mesmerizing spectacle, and as each incident fed another round of speculation the media declared open season on the star. The Oprah episode became the subject of a Zapruder film-style analysis in the New York Times, while on The View some weeks later, Joy Behar physically restrained Cruise with a seat belt after he'd vaulted over the show's couch. After the star's combative words on the Today show, Al Roker lightly suggested that he would have "smacked" Cruise if the actor treated him as rudely as he had treated Matt Lauer. The most surprising shot came on the cover of the August Vanity Fair, which asked, brazenly, "Has Tom Cruise lost his marbles?" The magazine wasn't alone in speculating about Cruise's mental health. Responding to the actor's claim that there's "no such thing as a chemical imbalance," comedian Lewis Black quipped, "No? Then what do you call what's happening to you right now?"
In fact, Cruise's spinout has been a long time coming. When the actor became a Scientologist in the late '80s, the "church" may have hoped he would become a walking advertisement for its beliefs, but even though Cruise never made a secret of his connection to Scientology, until recently it wasn't something he discussed much with people in the industry. He was too busy being a movie star. "This is what I can tell you about Tom Cruise: He's all about business," says a former studio executive who has worked on several of his films. Bill Mechanic, who ran the Fox studio when Minority Report got underway, agrees that Cruise was remarkable: "All he cared about was his career. He gave a shit, knew how to carry him-self as Tom Cruise. I always held him up to young actors, that they should watch how he handles himself."
But Cruise's faith, which seemed to simmer for years, has gradually built to a boil. Having undertaken the arduous process of becoming "clear," Cruise has quietly and methodically ascended Scientology's Bridge to Total Freedom. In recent years his inner circle has become increasingly dominated by his "religion". In early 2004 he dumped his longtime publicist, the formidable Pat Kingsley, in favor of his own sister, a high-level Scientologist. His mother and his two other sisters are now "church" members as well. And Odin Productions Inc., the entity that manages Cruise's affairs, is staffed with many Scientologists. Now, as the world's biggest movie star approaches the "church"'s highest level of enlightenment, he may, knowingly or not, become Scientology's most famous martyr.
One lapsed "church" member who has considerable experience dealing with celebrities in the organization recalls what she thought when she first saw pictures of Cruise receiving his Medal of Valor. "Some celebrities get the fever," this disaffected Scientologist says, referring to the messianic intensity of Cruise's gaze. To her, and to several other former members, the explanation for Cruise's recent behavior is clear: There comes a defining moment for some Scientologists when they cross over into total dedication, when they are called by their faith to do great things, no matter what the consequences. "That's the zeal I've seen in Tom Cruise," she says. "He's willing to gamble his career."
SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN THE EARLY '50S, THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY HAS HAD considerable success recruiting celebrities. In 1955 founder L. Ron Hubbard launched "Project Celebrity" in an effort to enlist Hollywood A-listers to spread his message. His wish list at the time included Orson Welles, Walt Disney, and Greta Garbo. In a Scientology magazine members were instructed to "learn what you can about your quarry and then put yourself at every hand across his or her path." A former Scientologist involved in celebrity recruiting says Hubbard also set forth something called the "dissem formula," a multistep approach that involved exploiting the subject's problems, his "fear of worsening," and then offering the "church"'s techniques as a solution. Since then countless celebrities have been drawn into the "church", among them John Travolta, Juliette Lewis, Kirstie Alley, Paul Haggis (who wrote Million Dollar Baby and wrote and directed Crash), Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), and Isaac Hayes. (Today the "church" denies it has ever made a policy of seeking out celebrities.)
For the "church", celebrities bring visibility and respectability. For the celebrities, the rewards of Scientology are less obvious. Though the "church" coddles them, most of them are hardly in need of pampering. As Cruise's sister and publicist Lee Anne De Vette points out, her brother can afford any lifestyle he wants without help from Scientology. But when you consider the emotional needs served by the "church", the relationship makes more sense. To insecure celebrities, a system that promises to keep them functioning at the top of their game while providing them with a hospitable community is attractive.
Those who have worked with celebrities inside Scientology describe an insulated existence. Tory Christman worked as a volunteer on and off for 20 years at the Office of Special Affairs, the "church"'s public relations and legal arm. Back in the '70s, she says, she helped train John Travolta at the organization's Celebrity Centre, then in downtown Los Angeles and since replaced by an impressive facility in Hollywood. (The "church" disputes that Christman was ever involved in celebrity training and says she did not help train Travolta.) Travolta was for a long time the group's most powerful celebrity and one of its most devoted adherents; for years he tried unsuccessfully to find investors willing to back the film of Battlefield Earth, one of Hubbard's science fiction novels.
When the movie was finally released in 2000, Christman was asked to help with public relations. One of her duties was to ensure that news from outside the "church" was well received within the organization. Among Scientologists good news is "theta news"; the opposite is "entheta." Christman was asked to keep "entheta off of Travolta's lines" - that is, to prevent negative news from reaching the star. When anti-Scientology picketers showed up at one of Travolta's appearances, say, it would be her job to maneuver the critics away from the actor.
"You're basically placed in a bubble, exactly like in The Truman Show," says former "church" member Michael Pattinson, referring to the Jim Carrey film about a man unwittingly living in a manufactured world. "You never hear bad news." Other former Scientologists - many admittedly hostile to the "church" - say that stars like Cruise and Travolta are sheltered from the true, dark nature of the organization. One who worked in the group's Celebrity Centre puts it bluntly: "Tom Cruise's Scientology is not what everybody else gets, period."
Beyond banishing bad news, the "church" has also been known to target perceived enemies in the media with lawsuits and intimidation. For a long time it was daunting for a reporter even to write about Scientology. Though the "church" claims its dark era is long over, its criminal past is notorious. Founder L. Ron Hubbard's wife Mary and other top Scientologists went to prison in the early '80s for breaking into government offices and stealing documents; an earlier raid on the "church"'s Los Angeles and Washington, DC, offices had turned up eavesdropping equipment, pistols, a blackjack, a lock-picking kit, and instructional memos on how to obtain false identities and tap telephones. As recently as the '90s the "church" deployed private investigators against critics, and remained litigious. A spokesperson now insists that litigation, once necessitated by persecution, has tapered off. Nevertheless, the "church" greets scrutiny from journalists with suspicion. Only recently have reporters been invited to tour the Celebrity Centre as a prelude to interviewing Cruise.
David Miscavige, the "church"'s current leader, is said to share Hubbard's obsession with celebrities. A former top-level member of the "church" recalled Miscavige's "insane fascination" with Michael Jackson, who was once married to Lisa Marie Presley, a prominent member of the "church". "The whole crew had to listen to his music," this lapsed Scientologist said. "We would have special showings: `Make sure you watch the "Thriller" video.' David would proudly announce how we just almost got Michael Jackson."
"I guess it didn't work out," he said.
THE CHURCH HAD BETTER LUCK WITH TOM CRUISE. ACCORDING TO A FORMER Scientologist with longtime experience in the Celebrity Centre, Cruise was introduced to the "church" "very gently" in the late '80s through his then wife Mimi Rogers. Soon, says this source, the actor's handling was being personally overseen by Miscavige, who had taken over from Hubbard in 1986. For some time, says the former insider, the star's involvement with Scientology wasn't well known even within the organization. His file, like many celebrities', was said to be kept under his real surname: Mapother.
Cruise's early progress in the "church" was described in a 1998 interview with Jesse Prince, a onetime high-level Scientologist. (Prince's account is posted on factnet.org, an anti-Scientology web-site. The intention of the interview, according to the website, was to aid FBI research into the "church"'s dealings.) A pro-Scientology web-site claims that Prince is a former drug dealer who was paid to attack Scientology. Asked about Prince's account of his experiences as a Scientologist, a "church" spokesperson characterized Prince and other former high-level "church" members quoted in this article as "discredited sources" - "apostates" who could not live up to the "church"'s ethical standards. Attempts to locate Prince for comment were not successful.
Prince remembered that Cruise was a fast riser. "I mean, I've never seen a guy progress so quickly through the Scientology `levels,"' he said. "I know because I personally sat down and did E-meter drills with him.... When I first met him he was nothing." (First introduced by Hubbard in the '50s, the E-meter functions like a lie detector and is intended to help detect sources of upset in a subject's past.)
For years, according to former Scientologists, Cruise received the kind of special perks that one might expect any organization to lavish on a celebrity member. His treatment was described, in part, by ex-"church" member Andre Tabayoyon in an affidavit Tabayoyon filed in 1994 as an expert witness in a lawsuit involving the "church". (The suit was later abandoned.) Tabayoyon appears to have been well-credentialed: He spent 20 years in the Sea Organization, Scientology's upper-level staff, he says, and served as L. Ron Hubbard's butler. When he joined in the early '70s Tabayoyon signed a standard "church" contract committing him to one billion years of service. The contract, however, was broken when Tabayoyon, who testified he'd reached his limit for abuse, dropped out in 1992. Now, his wife says, he has nothing to say about the "church" or the contents of his lengthy affidavit.
During his testimony Tabayoyon said he had spent considerable time working at Gold, a lavishly appointed 500-acre resort built by the "church" near the high desert town of Hemet, 90 miles from Los Angeles. According to Tory Christman, the location of the facility was at the time a closely guarded secret even within the Scientology community. "There were rumors," she says, "but you couldn't know where it was."
Tabayoyon said visitors to the resort were greeted by a full-scale replica of a clipper ship (Hubbard was fascinated by ships). Inside the vessel were a sauna, a Jacuzzi, and a large pool. Also on the property: an "orchestra-size" recording studio, film and sound editing facilities, a 32-seat theater, a nine-hole golf course, and a dining facility with seating for 1,100.
A Vietnam veteran, Tabayoyon told a series of breathtakingly dark tales of individuals driven to psychotic episodes, even suicide, as they went through the "church"'s regimens. He also spoke of forced labor and coercive measures taken by the "church" to prevent members from leaving: a "brainwashing and penal operation" that he likened to techniques he'd been trained to expect from the Vietcong.
But none of these allegations would have reached Cruise's ears, because in those days only David Miscavige was allowed to talk to Cruise when he visited Gold, according to Tabayoyon. "One time one of the gardeners spoke to him, and this caused a major flap on the base," he said.
Miscavige, who was born into the "church" and became part of an elite crew reporting to Hubbard at an early age, grew extremely close to the actor as they spent more time together at the resort. A physically fit five-foot-five-inch man who, like Cruise, is known for his intense drive and energy, Miscavige took pains to make his special guest feel at home. Both Prince and Tabayoyon reported that Cruise was awarded a luxurious private apartment. Tabayoyon said the actor kept two Yamaha motorcycles, a Mercedes-Benz, and a large motor home in what used to be Hubbard's parking lot. Construction and renovation were handled with great care. In his affidavit Tabayoyon says he was asked to pour a concrete walkway "so that Tom Cruise would not have to walk on the desert soil. Before the concrete dried it rained. The concrete was spoiled." Miscavige "went into a fury over that," Tabayoyon said.
When Cruise married Nicole Kidman in 1990, Tabayoyon said, the "church" leader accompanied the couple to Colorado for the wedding. Prince said Cruise had "a fantasy of just running through a field of tall grass" with his new wife. He remembers workers at Gold "staying up overnight, just extended schedules, de-rocking, plowing a field, planting tall wheat grass, and when Nicole Kidman came - here's a field. Now they're running through the damn field of grass. It took weeks." Tabayoyon told a similar tale: On one occasion Miscavige ordered Gold's staff to create a flower-filled meadow for the couple. "Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on the project so that Cruise and Kidman could romp there," Tabayoyon said. "Miscavige inspected the project and didn't like it. So the whole meadow was plowed up, destroyed, replowed, and sown with plain grass."
Scientology hasn't always been a romp for Cruise. Prince's interview asserts that the star went through difficult times as he moved to the organization's higher levels, hitting a rough patch more than 10 years ago, when he rose to OT III. (OT stands for Operating Thetan, thetan being Scientology's term for the soul. Cruise is said to be at OT VII, one below the top level currently attainable in the "church".) At OT III, according to former Scientologists, the story of Xenu is revealed. While the "church" disputes ex-members' accounts, the gospel goes (briefly) as follows: Seventy-five million years ago Xenu, the head of a galactic alliance of 76 planets, was confronted with an overpopulation problem. His solution was to freeze billions of beings, transport them to earth, deposit them near volcanoes, and vaporize them with hydrogen bombs. Their remaining "thetans" - disembodied spirits - were captured and programmed with the false realities (including the major "religion"s) that pervade the earth today. Some of these beings - "body thetans" - have attached themselves to our bodies either singly or in clusters; Scientologists must contact, handle, and release them. This is accomplished with the E-meter.
Many former Scientologists found the introduction to OT III harrowing; according to Prince, Cruise was no exception. "He got onto OT III and he had black circles under his eyes," Prince said. "He was, like, pretty screwed up.... After OT III he just got that pasty skin and that foolish look.... He just wanted Scientology to be away from him. He wanted to do no more auditing, just nothing with any of that stuff, just go back to Hollywood and his home."
But the "church" was unwilling to watch its most celebrated member slip away. According to Prince's account, the actor was given a break. "He was taken off any kind of real heavy auditing, and just, `Let's have some fruit, let's get exercise, come to the exercise room, let's play basketball, let's do this.' I was leaving as that was going on."
At some point, however, Tory Christman believes, Cruise re-dedicated himself to Scientology. In the early '90s, she says, she was strongly urged to attend a big event at Flag, the "church"'s facility in Clearwater, Florida, during which Cruise spoke to the group. "Before that he was doing his thing. He wasn't really a public Scientologist," says Christman. "Travolta was. All of a sudden Cruise came out and was like, `I'm a Scientologist. I'm a trained auditor."
Watching the star's performance, Christman concluded that Cruise had been "handled," or brought into line with the "church"'s agenda. She had in the past observed similar handlings during which individuals were told that they were uniquely qualified and essential to the "church"'s mission.
Some lapsed Scientologists say they experienced harsh, aggressive tactics when they were handled. The painful memories and intimate secrets disclosed during "auditing" sessions, they say, are used by the "church" to rein in wavering members. "They use the bad points and they say, `Well, you're still having trouble. Let us help you,"' Prince said. "[They] use your imperfection to control you utterly, totally, completely."
Now an avowed enemy of Scientology, Michael Pattinson tells just such a story. During his 24 years in the "church", he says, he reached the highest level of the "church"'s training (attainable only aboard the "church"'s ship, the Free Winds, which tends to ply the waters of the Caribbean), and then quit in 1997, after which he filed a rambling (and unsuccessful) lawsuit accusing the "church" of fraud. In the suit Pattinson alleged that Scientology promised to make him straight; and yet, 24 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, he found that he was still gay, though now happily so. When he wanted to leave the "church", Pattinson claims, a Scientology handler threatened him. "She said, `Remember those things you wrote up recently?"' he says. "`Those could come out publicly.' It was my personal gay life, and who cares? But the fact that she threatened me - I took Hubbard's picture off the wall and shredded it."
The truth about what kept Cruise in the fold may never be known, since at the time he wasn't receptive to discussing Scientology with the outside world. In 1993, when reporter John H. Richardson began to research an article for Premiere magazine, Cruise would only reply to written fact-checking questions with the understanding that his answers would be printed without alteration. In response to one of those questions, Cruise complained, "I have no idea why my "religion", or anybody's, would be the subject of an article."
What really riled him, however, were Richardson's questions about his relationship with David Miscavige. "This question is just off the wall," Cruise bristled. "We are friends. And how is this relevant to anything? It's offensive that I should even have to answer this question." After describing the leader as "a good friend," the star lamented that they rarely saw each other.
A year later Tabayoyon painted a more revealing portrait of Cruise and Miscavige's relationship. His affidavit says the two spent a lot of time together on the Hemet base. "Often they would hang out alone in the space designated for L. Ron Hubbard on the clipper ship we built in the desert," testified Tabayoyon. "This space had a small kitchen, a little dining room, a little bar, and a bed.... On other occasions Miscavige and Cruise would work out in the expensive gym we built for exclusive and restricted use."
The affidavit continues: "Obviously, Miscavige and Cruise have developed a special relationship."
Though Miscavige's personal attention may have kept Cruise happy for a time, some former Scientologists believe the star eventually hit another rough patch while his marriage to Kidman was disintegrating. At the time, rumors abounded that Scientology had become a source of tension for the couple. A former Sea Org member who audited Kidman confirms that she never quite caught the Scientology bug. "She seemed happy in life but had an obvious lack of interest in doing something further in Scientology," he says. (Kidman has since said that she is not a Scientologist. Her representative says she has no other comment.)
Around the time of the breakup - as recently as 2000 - Cruise was still quiet about his "religion", at least in his dealings as a film star. Former Fox studio chief Bill Mechanic says Cruise never mentioned it. That was in sharp contrast to Travolta. "John wanted me to make Battlefield Earth," Mechanic recalls. Mechanic wasn't convinced that the project could work, but he agreed to develop it. "He had Scientologists all over me," Mechanic says. "They come up to you and they know who you are. And they go, `We're really excited about Battlefield Earth."' The strategy was not a success. "Do you think in any way, shape, or form that weirding me out is going to make me want to make this movie?" Mechanic asks.
Gradually Cruise's reticence vanished. After his split from Kidman was finalized in 2001 he began to invite Hollywood power players to events at the "church"'s luxe Celebrity Centre, including Fox's Tom Rothman, CAA agent Kevin Huvane, and the entire Viacom-Paramount lineup: Sumner Redstone, Tom Freston, Jon Dolgen, and Sherry Lansing. (Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have visited Cruise at the Gold compound.)
Some of these executives downplay Cruise's overtures. "It's a nothing," Dolgen says. "It's hard to tell, even if you go there, what they believe.... There was no pressure, no proselytizing.... To me it was no different than going to a UJA dinner." Not everyone felt that way, however. A former studio executive who made several movies with Cruise says he felt "a subtle pressure" from Cruise to accept the invitations. "Like sending you a note: `I'm so excited about this. The movie's great. Now, can you do this?' I pretended I never got them," he says.
As Cruise continued "up the Bridge," his displays of "church" loyalty grew bolder. One of the more heated episodes came in 2002, when John Goldwyn, then president of Paramount Pictures, became embroiled in a bitter divorce from his wife, a Scientologist, just as he was coming out publicly as a homosexual. In the heat of battle Goldwyn filed court papers in which he included an excerpt from Dianetics. Sources with direct knowledge of the matter say that Goldwyn felt his wife's faith in Scientology was adversely affecting the terms of the dissolution of his marriage. These papers came to Cruise's attention. In what must have been a harrowing moment for Goldwyn, an infuriated Cruise, convinced that Goldwyn was attacking his "religion", confronted the executive in front of Goldwyn's boss, Sherry Lansing. Both Goldwyn and Lansing declined to comment on the episode, but a source says the standoff was a delicate moment: At the time, Cruise's contract with the studio was being renegotiated. Goldwyn withdrew the contested papers from his divorce proceedings, and the incident was allowed to pass.
IN HINDSIGHT, CRUISE'S DUSTUP WITH GOLDWYN WAS ONE OF THE FIRST CRACKS IN the facade the actor had presented for years. It wasn't until spring 2004, however, when he fired longtime publicist Pat Kingsley, that his public image began to unravel. Kingsley, who has also represented Jodie Foster, Tom Hanks, and Al Pacino, had loyally protected the star for 14 years. She reportedly made many journalists, as a condition of getting an interview with Cruise, sign an agreement saying they would not ask him about Scientology or his sexual orientation. (The star has denied the rumors of homosexuality that have dogged him for years.) In 1993, when Kingsley learned that Richardson was working on a piece for Premiere, she complained that writing an article about someone's "religion" was "un-American." If she had remained Cruise's publicist it would be hard to imagine the actor's becoming a butt of internet parodies (such as tomcruiseisnuts.com).
Kingsley has kept mum about the reason for the split, but it's conventional wisdom in Hollywood that the rift came when she advised Cruise not to discuss Scientology while promoting The Last Samurai. Once Kingsley was out of the picture, it quickly became clear that Cruise's new publicist was marching to the beat of a different PR drum. The first sign came last year when the actor, then hawking the film Collateral, posed for a spread in Rolling Stone that struck many as homoerotic. "These are not the photos of [an Oscar] nominee," a key executive on the movie snapped at the time. "These are photos that hang in a firehouse in West Hollywood."
But De Vette didn't agree, then or now: "I think they were very sexy shots," she says.
De Vette, by all accounts a pleasant and unexceptional woman, had previously worked on Cruise's publicity in conjunction with Kingsley. Now she's on her own. What had been murmurs about Cruise's PR strategy during Collateral crescendoed with War of the Worlds and De Vette's handling of Cruise's public courtship of Katie Holmes.
De Vette denies that she actually "announced" Cruise's relationship with Holmes; she calls that "a media-generated piece of bullshit." Nevertheless, the romance was met with an astonishing level of skepticism in the media and a flurry of reports that before settling on Holmes the actor had considered several potential mates, including Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, and Jennifer Garner.
In Hollywood it didn't go unnoticed that, with the exception of Garner (who's a decade younger than Cruise), all the ladies allegedly on his wish list were in their 20s. This was read in the industry as a deliberate attempt to boost Cruise's profile with a younger generation of moviegoers. "He shouldn't be so desperate to be a movie star to 15-year-olds," says a leading agent. "Take a page out of Clint Eastwood's book.... Do that." De Vette says the notion that Cruise pursued a string of prospects, or that his profile needed boosting, is "more media BS."
De Vette shrugs off magazine polls showing that the public has been turned off by his recent behavior. In fact, she says, all evidence indicates that Cruise's fans are happy for him. "When Tom goes out to do those premieres, he gets an opportunity to talk to fans," she says. "And fans are holding up signs saying CONGRATULATIONS, TOM AND KATIE."
But Cruise's PR blitz didn't stop with romantic gestures. With scarcely a pause for breath, he went on the Today show, where - at Matt Lauer's prodding - he revisited the question of psychiatry and medication. While many were stunned by Cruise's demeanor with Lauer, De Vette says the interview went well. "Tom has received hundreds and thousands of letters and e-mails thanking him for taking a stand," she says. She stresses that "drugging our children and turning our society into robots" is of great concern to her brother. If children are given medications like Ritalin, she says, "you might as well be putting them on cocaine."
WATCHING ALL THIS UNFOLD, some former Scientologists started to wonder about the source of Cruise's mania. According to a "church" member who worked with celebrities, some famous members develop a wish to become part of the Sea Org, a high-level unit consisting of the organization's most dedicated staff. "At one time there was a status called 'honorary Sea Org member,"' she says, "for celebrities who felt this level of dedication but had more value left in their careers." While it's unclear whether the status of honorary Sea Org still exists (the "church" denies it ever existed), this observer believes that Cruise has achieved such a position, and this explains his euphoria. "You feel so good, it's like you're high on coke," she says. "If you look at him, he has that dedicated glare that Sea Org members have."
Ann Marie Woodward spent 17 years in the "church" and worked in the Sea Org, as did Chuck Beatty, who left in 2003 after 27 years. Both say that it's a full-time proposition. Sea Org members, who wear naval-style uniforms and live in dorms, receive very little pay (usually $50 a week) and are prohibited from owning cell phones, watching television, or surfing the Web. They're also not allowed to have children and, in some cases, may not call their own parents unless an "ethics officer" is present. In other words, they live inside the "church"'s most carefully protected sphere. Asked about this, De Vette says she's never heard anything to suggest that the "church" would discourage members from procreating, but a spokesperson for the "church" confirms that, starting in 1986, members wanting to have children have been told to stick to "lower level" duties. As for keeping staff away from the media, De Vette sees nothing wrong with that. After all, she says, the evening news is "all about death and destruction."
Other former Scientologists speculate that Cruise's behavior also has to do with his position on the "Bridge." Anyone at OT VII - said to be Cruise's level - is under a lot of stress. The primary exercise at that juncture, according to ex-Scientologists, is the search for body thetans, a taxing process, supposedly done on a daily basis, of using telepathic contact to get them to move on.
Michael Pattinson, who was at OT VIII before he left the "church", thinks being at OT VII might explain Cruise's recent advocacy. "One of the reasons that Tom Cruise may be doing this right now is for something called eligibility," he explains. "Eligibility is a loyalty proof-process you go through to be invited to the next level. If you don't put in writing your contributions to Scientology and its expansion, you won't be invited."
Pattinson also thinks Scientology helps explain Cruise's comportment during recent interviews. In Scientology there is an emotional "tone scale" and a belief that higher emotions (such as enthusiasm) dominate lower ones, he says. "If you get one point or two points above where the interviewer is, you are dominating the situation," he says. "The Oprah show was that." As for the more stern face Cruise wore on the Today show, Pattinson thinks that would also have been well received in the "church". "Anything that fights against psychiatry gets points," he says. Though Cruise might have appeared angry - low on the tone scale - the very top of the scale requires "absolute command intention," a state of mind in which one cannot fail to prevail. Pattinson says a common exercise for achieving that state was to shout at a glass ashtray in an attempt to get it to levitate.
Like the "church", De Vette dismisses any information that originates from Scientology's defectors. "If somebody's not a part of something anymore, there's a reason for it," she says. "Mostly, when somebody leaves it's because they've done something to harm that group, not because somebody's done something to harm them."
Former Scientologists also have theories about how the "church" is dealing with newcomer Katie Holmes. Normally, they say, the "church" would not want a neophyte to be exposed to so much publicity so early in the process. Because a huge amount of attention was inevitable in this case, with Holmes promoting Batman Begins, they speculate that the "church" took the highly unusual measure of having Jessica Rodriguez, a member of the Sea Org, accompany her everywhere. A former Scientologist who has had experience with the "church"'s celebrity dealings notes, "To have a Sea Org member who's highly trained as an auditor go out with a celebrity like that - it shows a much higher degree of control and effort to orchestrate this thing."
De Vette denies that Rodriguez is on assignment. "She's a friend of Katie's, and Katie invited her," she says. "Anything else that's made of it is further bigotry." Asked how long ago the friend-ship was formed, De Vette declines to say. Asked whether they had (as reported) known each other for about three weeks when they began to travel together, De Vette replies, "A friend's going to click or not going to click. You know that pretty quickly."
Tory Christman, however, doesn't buy it. "A Sea Org member is working 24 hours a day. They don't have time to hang out," she says. "Jessica and Katie may like each other, but if Jessica's spending this much time with her, she's on post."
Despite all the controversy, former members think the "church" expects big gains from deploying its biggest star (and adding a new one to its constellation). But at this point Hollywood is wondering whether the publicity will injure Cruise's career, the way Battlefield Earth hurt Travolta. Many feel it's too soon to judge whether Cruise's bankability has been harmed. If the star continues to make news as he has in recent months, however, he can expect trouble. Although Mission: Impossible 3 is in many ways the ideal opportunity for Cruise to deliver what his fans want, it had better be a knockout. "They're going to need an airtight vehicle," says a producer who has worked with the actor.
One agent thinks the damage may have already been done, and that Cruise and Holmes are likely to suffer the fate of another star couple: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. "Us Weekly will have you on the cover every week for the next three months," he says, "until you're a joke."
Many lapsed Scientologists will be thrilled if that's the result of Cruise's pyrotechnics. In this war of the worlds, they hope the ones who are battling space aliens will not come out ahead.