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Everything Cruise and Spielberg said that day has shown up elsewhere--in Entertainment Weekly (where Cruise beams eerily from the cover, showing off his new braces), in USA Today, in the Thrifty Nickel. The topics were predictable: What about all the special effects? Tom, do you like doing your own stunt work? What attracted you to the movie? What was it like working with Tom/Steve? How are the kids now that you and Nicole have divorced? (No one ever has any shame about prying into a star's private life, which makes sense; they are more interesting than we are.) And the answers, rote: Special effects are overrated. Yeah, I like doing my own stunts when Steven lets me. It's a great story with a heart. The kids are fine, thanks for asking.

No one had done his homework, because he didn't have to. They could cheat off each other's papers, sharing answers while showing off their love for movie stars but not necessarily the movies they make. They pepper the queries with loving adjectives: "incredible," "amazing," "unbelievable." A sampling, because a little is enough:

"Tom, you seem like you would be a great director, too." (Cruise's response, through a bright braces smile: "Well, thank you." No, dude. Thank you for being Tom Cruise.)

For Cruise, again: "The public still loves you through everything." ("They have been incredible, incredible.")

And, again: "Do you feel like there is sort of a destiny to your life, or do you feel like you are making the choices?"

To Spielberg: "When you look at something like this and you see the future that you've envisioned, what would you most like to have happen in your lifetime, you know, that you could do? I love the jetpacks and stuff." ("You stole my answer," the director replies, grinning. "That is what I was going to say.")

"Steven, this is kind of an off-the-beaten-path question, but I am doing a story on the Joan Crawford biography coming up on TCM. You worked with her, of course, on Night Gallery." (You have to hand it to this guy--at least he asked a question the answer to which was useless to everyone else.)

There are some nuggets of revelation that show up from time to time, but they're accidental. A woman sitting next to Cruise asks him the inevitable question, what passes for hard-hitting on Entertainment Tonight: "So, Tom, how does it feel to turn 40?" Through that enormous grin, that mouth full of under-construction teeth that look like white tombstones, he insists it's no big deal, that he never thinks about it unless asked about his encroaching birthday during interviews like these.

But, in reality, he seems to be obsessing over it, in small, subtle ways. Throughout the half-hour, he kept talking about movies well in his past: Risky Business, All the Right Moves, Legend. It's as if George Clooney were to give an interview about The Facts of Life. It's ancient history, or ought to be, yet Cruise keeps dipping into the yellowing scrapbook--back to the good ol' days when Tim Hutton and Matt Dillon were in their prime, when Cruise was just a doughy comer. "It has made me kind of reflect on when I started out when I was 17," he says. "I remember being a young actor and thinking that I couldn't wait to get older, because here I was, 21 years old, sitting at board meetings going over marketing things for pictures. It is something that when I look back, I think that I have done all right, and I don't feel nervous or weird or bad about it."

It's a rare reflective moment for Cruise, who's one of the least contemplative actors to sit in front of an open microphone. At least he didn't bring up Cocktail or Days of Thunder. The most insightful thing about Cruise is that maniac laugh of his, that hysterical bwah-hah-hah that scares the hell out of you if you're unprepared. He let it out of its cage a couple of times--once, when a reporter spilled a bowl of jelly beans placed before him. It was pretty funny.

If Spielberg's no more insightful, he at least seems more sincere; film, after all, is a director's medium, and he knows how best to sell the product. Though he's just as adroit at sneaking in references to his older films--he says he and Cruise almost made Rain Man together, and it was their first, ahem, "close encounter"--he's also prone to doling out a little more insight. Maybe that's because directors think of things like legacies, while most actors daydream about things like paychecks and premieres. Spielberg is asked what he means when, in recent interviews, he says he's becoming "more courageous." Does he, in fact, mean "subversive?"

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky