Why Katie Holmes -- and Not Tom Cruise -- Could See a Post-Divorce Career Boost

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Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise

Insiders reveal the reasons that Holmes is likely to benefit, but the action star needs to work hard to avoid damage from Hollywood’s most high-profile split.

This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

The speedy end to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ five-year marriage has prompted new intrigue: Just how will the past two turbulent weeks impact the actors’ careers? According to scores of insiders surveyed by The Hollywood Reporter, they might be pleased with their prospects.

Agent and manager sources believe Holmes’ career could receive a small boost while Cruise’s could be hurt in the short term -- especially by recent media coverage of Scientology -- but eventually would be repaired as it has following his past personal troubles. Ultimately, say insiders, it comes down to the choices Cruise and Holmes make in the next few months, from which acting jobs they pick to the way they discuss the divorce in the media.

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“Tom is a force of nature -- I don’t think this is going to do him any harm at all,” says crisis PR consultant Howard Bragman. As for Holmes? “This is going to bring significant attention to her first choices out of the box. And I think this actually helps her,” he adds.

Holmes, 33, already has a handful of projects lined up, including the recently completed independent drama The Seagull, based on the Anton Chekhov play and co-starring William Hurt and Allison Janney. She also is set to begin production on Molly, an indie film she co-wrote and is co-producing that revolves around -- perhaps beneficially -- a single mother and her daughter.

There is a near consensus inside Hollywood that Holmes’ personal reputation has improved because she has been portrayed as a heroine who, with the help of her father, attorney Martin Holmes, masterfully handled the divorce while fighting strongest for (and winning) custody of the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, Suri. That perception could aid Holmes should she consider branching out with a lifestyle company or another endeavor that would play up her motherhood.

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Holmes already has a toehold in the fashion world via the label Holmes & Yang, which she shares with stylist Jeanne Yang. Holmes could chart a path similar to that of Jessica Alba, whose Honest Co. is an eco-friendly online retailer that targets mothers, or Gwyneth Paltrow, whose lifestyle company Goop.com offers everything from recipes to clothing. Holmes filmed an appearance on Lifetime’s Project Runway: All Stars just days after filing for divorce June 29.

“The divorce makes her look like a very protective mother,” says a top manager, adding that Holmes could capitalize on that image. “Whether that is her producing something in the mother space or creating a clothing line, I think she looks like she is doing what is best for her child.”

For Cruise, 50, the outlook is a bit cloudier, according to sources. There is a view that in the near term there could be fallout -- similar to the career dip the actor experienced in the mid-2000s after he made controversial comments about anti-depressants on NBC’s Today and famously jumped on Oprah Winfrey’s couch. In 2006, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone essentially booted Cruise and his production company off the Paramount lot, citing in part the actor’s behavior. But a string of strong creative choices -- from playing a broad comic role in a fat suit in Tropic Thunder to re-establishing his action chops in Knight and Day -- helped lead to the global success in December of Paramount’s Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, which grossed $694.7 million worldwide, best in the series.

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“If he can bounce back from the prior shitshow -- the couch -- he can bounce back from this,” says one talent manager. “Despite all the crazy stuff about him, people still want to see his movies. But I think how he handles [questions about the divorce] will be telling. If he responds in a defensive way, I think it could make things worse.”

Cruise is certainly not invulnerable. His most recent film, Rock of Ages, has grossed a disappointing $48.6 million worldwide. And his next project, Paramount’s Jack Reacher, is a bit of a risk: a gritty, violent action pic based on a 2005 novel by Lee Child that is set for release Dec. 21. That project is important for Cruise because if successful, it could lead to an action franchise that could carry the actor into his 60s. Paramount released the first trailer for the film July 3, at the height of media frenzy over the divorce, and, as of now, the studio will not alter its marketing campaign in the wake of the divorce or media coverage of Cruise’s devotion to Scientology. He’s shooting Oblivion for Universal, and Cruise attorney Bert Fields (who handled the divorce settlement with Dennis Wasser) says the actor is “deciding which of three projects will be next.” Fields adds, "Tom is sad about the divorce, but his career couldn't be better."

So far, Cruise and Holmes, both represented by CAA, have said nothing beyond a joint statement July 9 announcing a quick divorce settlement and expressing respect “for each other’s commitment to each of our respective beliefs” and their support for “each other’s roles as parents.” As far as Bragman is concerned, this was the appropriate route. “I don’t expect a catharsis interview,” he says, adding that both Cruise and Holmes should focus on their work.

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With the divorce settled, media coverage of Scientology likely will die down as well, much as it did when Cruise moved on from his marriage to Nicole Kidman in 2001. In the meantime, several sources say Cruise should just focus on what he does best: being a movie star. Since the Jack Reacher trailer debuted, fans of the novels have begun griping that the 5-foot-8 Cruise is too short to play a character written as 6-foot-5.

Says Bragman: “If the controversy is whether he’s tall enough to play a character, that’s good for him. That’s a controversy he would embrace.”

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller