Hollywood Flashback: Tom Cruise Reveals How He Landed His First Hollywood Agent at 19

Courtesy of Photofest
Cruise (center) with his CAA agent Paula Wagner on the 'Mission: Impossible' set in 1996.

"I didn't go to acting class. I didn't go to film school. Film school was every single day that I was making a movie," says the actor in an exclusive excerpt from James Andrew Miller's new book 'Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists.'

Tom Cruise, Actor

[Sean] Penn goes, "Come out to L.A. and stay with me," so I stayed in his guest house for a couple of weeks. He said, "You've got to check out CAA," because I wasn't signed with any agent. I remember calling Paula and sitting down with her. She wanted to very much take me to lunch, and I just remember how warm, intelligent and beautiful she was.

Paula Wagner, Former CAA agent

I brought him up to the office, had him meet everybody, sold my heart out, and everybody was like, "OK, take a shot, let's see what happens." This was a new thing, signing these new, young actors. Tom was 19 when I signed him.

Cruise in 1981, the year he made his big-screen debut in 'Endless Love.'


I wanted to sit down with their filmmakers and study their movies, and CAA had all of those connections. I didn't go to acting class. I didn't go to film school. Film school was every single day that I was making a movie.

Michael [Ovitz] was certainly instrumental in keeping Sydney [Pollack] interested. Sydney was ambivalent right from the get-go, and he was not a particularly collaborative director. I think Larry Gelbart had a phrase for him: "He's the arsonist and the fire chief." And I said, "What do you mean?" And he said, "He always yells, 'Fire! We have to put it out!' Then adds, 'Thankfully, I'm also the fire chief.' " He loved to solve problems. Sydney and I were ambivalent right from the beginning. This had been my project; I'd thought of it, with Murray [Schisgal], I gave it the title, and I had also worked with Elaine [May]. When Sydney came on board, he just wanted me to be the actor. I said, "That's not where we are on this. You're coming in as an eleventh-hour director." So Michael had to keep the peace as best he could between Sydney and me.

From Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency by James Andrew Miller. Copyright © 2016 by Jimmy the Writer, Inc. To be published on Aug. 9, 2016, by Custom House, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Excerpted by permission.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.