Tom Cruise plays Captain Nathan Algren in the amazing new epic film, The Last Samurai, from director Edward Zwick. In the Warner Bros. feature, Algren is hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the country’s first army in the art of modern warfare. As the Emperor attempts to eradicate the ancient Imperial Samurai warriors in preparation for more Westernized and trade-friendly government policies, Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by his encounters with the Samurai.
ComingSoon.net sat down to talk to Cruise who says he’s always been fascinated by other cultures. “One of the great things about being an actor is I get to travel to these places,” he says. “I get to learn about the people and that is the most enjoyable thing to me, to learn the history of other people and how people live in their daily lives, and even though the language is different, you find that common ground of joy, happiness, pain. It’s the humanity and it really gives you a sense of we’re all in this thing together here, that’s why we gotta help each other out and I really enjoy that.”
Cruise says that he put quite a lot of time in preparing for the project. “It took me almost a year to physically be able to make this picture. I love what I do, I take great pride in what I do and I can’t do something half way, three quarters, nine tenths. If I’m going to do something I go all the way. And I didn’t know if I could do it, honestly. If I could find that kind of physical elegance and movement that the Samurai have. I looked at Hiro [Sanada] and Ken [Watanabe] and there’s a natural grace of them as actors. It was a year preparing, not only physically, but it was developing the character because the transition that the character makes, I kept copious amounts of notes so that I could remember, for the training sequences, where Algren starts and where he ends up. I had to study the American-Indian War. I’m an American, I thought I knew a lot about the American-Indian Wars and that time period in our history, which I was blown away at how little I knew. And also the Japanese history during that time period, how the country came to this moment. Also I went and revisited the Civil War again for myself just because Algren had lived through that time period and I collected a small library.”
Physically, Cruise went through a lot of training to get into top shape. “I couldn’t touch my toes when I started. I put on 25 pounds for the picture, I was 25 pounds of muscle heavier than I am right now. I worked with a great stunt coordinator, Nick Powell, who built me up very slowly. He did all kinds of Chinese sword work to build up my forearms and my shoulders just to be able to make that movement, the rotation. A lot of stretching and just training and doing the sequences, building it up and learning the moves and working, working, working, working. Working on it the same way that Aldren did in the training. I spent a year being able to do that. You see the first time that he moves in the village, and then by the end of the movie there’s a grace that I was going for. And I have to say the guys I worked with were excellent.”
We asked Tom what it was like working with a mostly Japanese cast. “They were very generous with me. I felt their support and we’d done so much research, they validated the research that we had done. I think they were a little surprised how extensive it was, the wardrobe, the sets, the history that we knew. And Ed wanted to know different ceremonies that you see in the film. It informed the film, it informed us about their culture. That’s something we discovered through rehearsal when we were making the film. I’d always say, ‘What do you think? How do you feel?’ I like a sense of family. When I’m making a film, it’s not about me. It’s about the movie, it’s about us together, working together. So I really depend on that kind of support from everyone. When it comes together, the film is much easier to make when everyone’s going in the same direction, working together. It’s a great feeling and I really felt that from Ken, from Hiro, from everyone involved. When I was speaking Japanese, Hiro actually came in and worked with me on my accent. They gave that kind of support throughout the entire film. I was excited the first day of rehearsal to meet the Japanese actors. I was very excited, I’d seen the tapes, Ed had met them and I was really excited to meet them. What’s it going to be like? I want to learn more about their culture. You just find that you have so much in common. It was great fun, great fun.”
In the film, Cruise’s character is put in a house which includes a child that he grows close to. He says that he was able to work well with young Japanese actor. “He doesn’t speak English, so we would draw pictures to each other back and forth. We had a wonderful communication together so he started imitating me, making all these things. I found out that he wanted to fly airplanes and he liked that I flew airplanes, so we were drawing each other airplanes back and forth. And he’s just a character, you know, he’s just an absolute character, wonderful.”
The role also required a lot of stunts and Tom put a lot of trust in the stunt crew. “The movie needed that level or realism and it was part of the challenge for me to be able to do it, and I got through it. You’re talking about those battle sequences that are twelve hours a day, so I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing how to take care of myself and pace myself. This movie was a marathon, so I’ve gotten very good at scheduling the scene and preparing myself for it, saving the energy, conserving the energy, knowing when to go for it and having the available reserves to be able to do that. You have to think about that because at the end of the day, you might be doing the close-up and working on this scene and you’ve got to be prepared, you’ve got to have it available.”
The film is definitely Oscar material, but Cruise just wants you to walk out of the theater with some kind of experience. He hopes that “each audience walks away with an experience from the movie, whether it’s a thrill-ride, or an epic or romance or a thriller, and I would like them to have that feeling they’re going to go see a different world in the same way that I did as a kid. I want them to know that they’re going to go to a time and it is authentic even though the story is fiction. The timeframe in which it takes place and the humanity in the picture is real.”
Next up for Cruise is the Michael Mann-directed action-thriller Collateral. In the film, Jamie Foxx plays a Los Angeles cab driver forced to serve as a chauffeur to a contract killer (Cruise) on a string of hits. Ruffalo stars as a detective on the trail of Cruise’s character. He says the project is actually untitled at the moment and that Mann is “a great guy and he’s a great filmmaker. I’m really having a blast.”
After he finishes that pic, it’s back to the character of Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible 3. He says that they are “still working on the script” for the third film in the franchise. Cruise also talked about the challenges involved in making a M:I movie. “‘Mission’ is always tough to do. That’s the challenge of it and I hope I can [do it] because I like producing those movies. They’re just fun to produce. But if I can’t figure it out, then I won’t be able to figure it out.”
The Last Samurai, which is getting sneak previews this Saturday (check your local listings), opens on December 5.