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Fifteen Years Later: Tom Cruise and ‘Magnolia’

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Great writeup.

Given where the two men were at that stage of their lives — Cruise undergoing Kubrick’s emotionally taxing two-year test and Anderson confronting his own father’s death — it’s likely they talked about their shared pasts. The evidence: when Cruise asked Anderson to write a part for him, his standard request when he met a new talent he liked, the filmmaker flew back to Los Angeles and turned up six months later with the part of Frank “T.J.” Mackey, a bitter stage performer who has a wrenching meltdown beside his dying father, Big Earl.

Well, not quite. Anderson’s original script was more sympathetic to Frank and Big Earl than in the final cut. In Anderson’s draft, the pair reconcile with the dad soothing his son: “You are not what you think you are.” But when Cruise played the role, there was no spoken redemption and only a glimpse of Mackey making peace with his pain. The final film is colder, more cutting, and closer to Cruise’s childhood than to Anderson’s bond with his own father — it’s so close, in fact, to Cruise’s own life that both he and Frank Mackey had lopped off their father’s surnames before becoming famous.

Cruise leaped into his three-week stint on Magnolia almost immediately after Kubrick said “Cut.” He was in a rush to squeeze in Mission: Impossible II (2000) that same year — he did, after all, have his own production company to think about, and it’d been starving to get him back on the big screen. Now fifteen years into his career and with an incredible run of five $100 million–plus hits in a row (Eyes Wide Shut wouldn’t flop until months after Magnolia wrapped), Cruise wielded his clout as a box office titan. He had the muscle to pick the best roles and, having already worked with most of the great directors, the might to invest in Hollywood’s next generation. P. T. Anderson was about to discover what Cameron Crowe had already learned: signing Tom Cruise made you the studio’s best friend and gave your film more money, more time, and more trust.

Magnolia was a great movie, and Tom Cruise was great in it. 

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