Dialogue: Tom Cruise

The star and newly turned executive discusses his latest projects, the joys of running a studio and flying P-51s.

With the Nov. 9 release of "Lions for Lambs," Tom Cruise returns to the big screen for the first time since he left his longtime base at Paramount to become his own boss, running a revitalized United Artists alongside partner Paula Wagner. The movie is the first that the duo greenlighted, which means the industry is watching closely; meanwhile, Cruise is already at work on a second UA project, "Valkyrie," an account of the real-life attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, co-written by Christopher McQuarrie and directed by Bryan Singer, the duo who made 1995's "The Usual Suspects." Just days after Cruise learned that some crucial footage had to be reshot following a lab problem, he spoke to The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Galloway about the movie and his career.

The Hollywood Reporter: You're in the middle of shooting "Valkyrie." What drew you to it?
Tom Cruise: From a pure storytelling aspect, it's an incredible script. It's a very powerful screenplay based on a true story (about) a fascinating part of history that isn't really known.

THR: Are you a World War II buff?
Cruise: I've always loved airplanes. I'm a commercially rated instrument pilot, so I can fly all kinds of airplanes -- and I've always wanted to fly a P-51 Mustang. I'm also a history buff. To study this from a different perspective has been very enlightening.

This is the second film you've greenlighted since you and Paula Wagner took over UA, following "Lions for Lambs." How different is it being your own boss?
Cruise: I've produced my own films with Paula; it's just a nice progression to own your own studio. I'm enjoying it a lot. It's even more freedom, particularly given what UA stands for. I have great respect for the history of UA, having made a picture for it with "Rain Man" (1988). And there was a lot in "Lions for Lambs" for me personally. I grew up watching ("Lions" director) Robert Redford in films, but I'd never met (him) and always wanted to work with (him).

THR: Did you spend a great deal of time preparing for it?
Cruise: Everything happened very quickly. We all came in with our research -- and you do a tremendous amount of research for these characters. I had to study what was going on all the way back to Vietnam, sorting out where we are today and who this character (I play) is (U.S. Senator Jasper Irving) and how he would approach (situations). You can't just show up and play that character -- you had to be that character. And that was it, months of it.

THR: How do you combine acting in movies with your new role as an executive?
Cruise: There's times where everyone knows I'm the actor -- not the studio head or producer. I can put these hats on when I'm on set and working with the director and other actors. (But) it's difficult, because as the actor I have to protect that creative time. So we make these times (for each activity).

THR: How involved are you with the whole process as an executive?
Cruise: I'm very involved. I'm now working on scripts, reading, (making) script notes, working with (UA marketing executive) Dennis Rice on the trailers -- and working with Paula. We speak all the time, establishing things for the future, talking with writers and directors.

THR: How do you envision the future of the company? Is there a specific number of films you aim to make?
Cruise: If I could make four to six (a year), that would be great. But I want to make the best films that I can. I'm an artist first and foremost.

THR: What about the nonartistic part of being an executive? Were you also involved in raising the money for UA?
Cruise: Sure. It's being raised on my name. Paula and I were offered different kinds of funds to start a studio, production entities. It's a different world. A great producer is someone who knows how to spend the money wisely and protect the money in a way (that allows people to) do their best work. I have always felt a real responsibility to make the studio back their money.

THR: Now that you're running your own studio, how have things changed for you professionally?
Cruise: I honestly can't believe this has happened to me, and I feel very fortunate. Who knows where it's going to end up and what we're going to do. But I'm excited by it. And also there's a great joy in giving artists an opportunity and even to be a part of helping or watching them flourish and grow.