The re-teaming of mega giants Cruise and Spielberg is always a monumental event, and there’s no denying that Spielberg’s take on H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is one of the most anticipated events in the summer. Pair them up for an even bigger press confererence, and, well, you get the picture. The pair spoke to a packed press conference in New York:
Question: Mr. Spielberg, prior to ET you began a script for a scary alien invasion movie that you sort of turned around and made a happy alien invasion movie. At the time you said you didn’t want to make a scary any more. What’s changed since then and did any elements of that film – which I think was about a family during an alien invasion also – make it into War of the Worlds?
Steven Spielberg: There wasn’t anything hugely changed in my live that made me do a scary alien movie. Maybe it was just the idea that everybody over the years said here was the guy who can’t make a scary alien movie that goaded me into thinking why can’t I try my hand at the kind of film that Ridley Scott made when he made the first “Alien” which is one of my favorite scary science fiction movies. It’s just something that I always wanted to do. We’ve talked about this for a couple of years when we were looking for another project to do together. I told Tom that I wanted to do this book since I read it in college before I was even a filmmaker. I wanted to do some version of it at some point.
Tom Cruise: So you went from ET phone home to ET gone gangsta.
Steven Spielberg: So no, there wasn’t a conscious thing. It’s just a great story. It’s a great piece of 19th Century classic literature. It began the entire revolution in science fiction and fantasy, in my opinion – Jules Verne and H G. Wells. And it was something that I really respected the first film in 1953-54 and I just wanted to make a version that was a little darker and a littler closer to the original.
Question: Did any of the elements from that film from before ET, I think it was called Night Skies, make it into this movie?
Steven Spielberg: No. Nothing from Night Skies was used in this film.
Question: Father figures have really become a theme in your movies (Steven). I was just wondering if you, Tom, enjoy putting your stamp on playing a father and to Mr. Spielberg, did you enjoy reversing the arc you had in Close Encounters where this is a guy who fights for his family instead of abandoning them to go with the aliens?
Tom Cruise: First of all I have to say that I love how Steven Spielberg deals with families in his movies. I find them to be very real, unique. That scene in Close Encounters with the son in the bathtub…I’ve always personally wanted to be a father growing up and when we started talking about the story we started talking abut how it’s about a father and his family, I couldn’t wait to play this character and see what it was …Steven Keop wrote this great character and Steven, how he directed me. I loved when he called me and said we’re going to have the (car) engines in the kitchen. I want the 350 GT engine in the kitchen. He has such impeccable notes. That’s why I always show up early in the morning and I like just hanging out because I just feed off…it happens very quickly creatively with Steven. His ideas. He discovers things very quickly. We’re always working on the film but it happens very fast. Anyway, I couldn’t wait to play a father in this film.
Question: And Mr. Spielberg, about the (changing role of the father)
Steven Spielberg: It wasn’t something I was consciously trying to do. Close Encounters is about a man whose insatiable curiosity develops into an obsession that drew him away from his family and, only looking back once, made him walk into the mother ship. Now I wrote that before I had any kids. So I wrote that blithely. Now I have seven kids. Today I would never have the guy leave his family and go onto the mother ship. Today I would have the guy do everything he could to protect his children. So in a sense, War of the Worlds does reflect my own maturity in my own life growing up.
Question: The film speaks to me on a lot of levels, mostly about refugees and their plight. Is that a theme in the film for you?
Steven Spielberg: Well, it is. It’s an unfamiliar theme to all of us because we don’t often see images of American refugees unless it’s after natural disasters like a hurricane and people fleeing approaching hurricanes in the Florida Keys. We see many images of that. And of course, the image that stands out in my mind the most is the image of everybody fleeing Manhattan across the George Washington Bridge in the shadow of 9/11, which is a searing image that I will never get out of my head. This is partially about the American refugee experience because certainly Americans fleeing for their lives being attacked for no reason and having no idea why they’re being attacked or who is attacking them. Now we went to great lengths not to explain or give any reason behind these particular attacks.
Tom Cruise: One of the things that Steven, when we first started talking about the story…I get the great pleasure of hanging out with this guy. And I get the pleasure of making movies with him. The things he does and the choices he makes, like the subjective choice to never let the audience look over that hill (in the battle scene) and see what is happening…
Steven Spielberg: And that was a huge temptation, by the way. When I first though of that sequence, I imagined them going over the hill and seeing the actually War of the Worlds and I had to pull back and not commit to that because I though it was much more personal to the point of view of this family not to be able to see everything Hollywood lets you see in most science fiction movies.
Tom Cruise: I’ll give you the actor/fan’s point of view, because I’m always a fan first of what Steve does. Seeing him develop these ideas and working from the script that David Koepp -who did an astonishing job – but you take that scene in the basement which lasts maybe 20 minutes…to be able to choreograph and sustain that level of tension is something….when I’m working with different filmmakers, I’ll always go back to Steven’s pictures and study his editing to see how he’s telling that story because he gives you the environment, but from a character point of view and story it’s always on that story line. So I often go back and study his stuff and I’ll go back to this again and see how he developed that story line in the basement. Even though he created that stuff, there was stuff on the day that he just came up with and changed the whole think.
Question: How much did the political situation today have to do with your situation to do this film and was the happy ending kind of your thoughts for hope for the future?
Steven Spielberg: I have hope for the future. I’m probably not the best person to tell stories that leave you with nothing to hope for. There are all sorts of metaphors you can derive from this story and I tried to make a film that was as open to those interpretations as possible. I wanted to make it suggestive enough so that everybody could have their own opinion.
Question: This is the second time you’ve worked together including Minority Report. I want to know which one was easier for you?
Tom Cruise: I have to tell you that it just gets better. The experience of working with Steven gets better.
Steven Spielberg: This one was 100 percent character. Minority Report was certainly 50 percent character and 50 percent very complicated storytelling with layers and layers of murder mystery and plot where if any of the actors had even suggested to the audience that they knew what was going to happen next the audience would have picked it up like that because audiences are so smart today. They pick up things that are, you know, so far out of left field that we the filmmakers can’t believe the audience has picked up on them. So we’re always concerned about giving away too much of the plot in Minority Report. This was a character journey. Everything we talked about was character and who these people were and in a sense, that made it simpler. It freed us up more to explore the behavior of the characters more than we had in Minority Report.
Question: Picking up on something Mr. Spielberg said earlier, I wonder if you could talk about the unique ability of science fiction to put across social and political ideas in a more oblique way.
Steven Spielberg: Science fiction to me is a vacation. It’s a vacation away from all rules of narrative logic. It’s a vacation away from physics, basic physics and physical science. You can leave all the rules behind and just kind of fly. As a race human beings can’t fly so we envy the birds. Science fiction gives you a chance to soar. That’s why I keep coming back to science fiction because there are absolutely no limits to where the imagination can go. Now the challenge of science fiction is that to tell a credible science fiction story you have to then turn around and impose certain limits on yourself. You can’t let the story get too fantastic. This movie could have been much more like Independence Day or Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. It could have been much more about the army versus the extra terrestrials with lots of battle scenes and soldiers blowing things up. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to, in a strange way, a kind of a cousin to Saving Private Ryan, but in the genre of science fiction. It’s much more of a personal point of view and we worked hard to make all the characters to b as realistic and normal as we are. That was very important to me. But science fiction as a genre is the great escape for movie makers. I just think that the whole field of science fiction and science fiction stories inspires young people to really think and imagine that anything is possible.
Question: I’m sorry, but I have to ask a Katie question…Tom you had such a totally romantic proposal and had a press conference at the Eiffel Tower to talk about it, I was just wondering how you are going to top that for the wedding?
Tom Cruise: Do I have to top that? We haven’t decided on anything yet.
Steven Spielberg: 20 minutes went by. (Holds up his watch) That’s great. 20 minutes went by before it happened. (big laughs)
Question: What do each of you believe is real when it comes to alien life forms on other planets. Is it out there?
Steven Spielberg: Sure it’s out there. You now that. I think we all know that we’re not alone in the universe. I can’t imagine anyone believing that we’re the only intelligent life form in the entire universe. He universe must be teeming with life.
Tom Cruise: I think it would be pretty arrogant to think that we’re all alone in the universe, but personally. I’m a pretty practical person so unless I meet them some day, I don’t know.
Question: What was the most difficult scene for both of you, for you as an actor and for you as the director?
Steven Spielberg: Physically the most difficult scene for me was the scene that I worried about the most because it involved the safety of thousands of local extras when we shot the ferry scene at the Hudson River. That was the most difficult for me because we had to have thousands of people running and I was terrified of someone falling, tripping, being stepped on or run over and thank God we had such a great stunt coordinator. We had so many extra stunt people inside the crowd and safety meetings with the crowd, so nothing bad happened. But I was on edge for four days because of the vast amounts of crowds at night running on very narrow streets. So for me that was the most anxious time during filming and I couldn’t wait for those scenes to be over.
Tom Cruise: For me the most difficult…I don’t know really. Honestly I had a lot of fun making the movie, I can’t say…there wasn’t a day. The most difficult day was the last day of shooting because it was over. That was a tough day because I really do, quite sincerely, love working with Steven. I have great admiration for him so I just knew I was going to miss him.
Question: You’ve both worked with children before, Talk about working with Dakota Fanning. Steven, does she remind you of a young Drew Barrymore?
Steven Spielberg: I think we can all agree that Dakota Fanning has a gift. She has an incredible, extraordinary gift and thank goodness she does not question and she actually doesn’t know how to answer questions about it. That is also her gift, that she is unaware of how talented she is and how quickly she understands a situation in a particular sequence that she is in and how she sizes it up, makes her decisions as to how she would really react in real situation and then gives me the absolute truth every time I say action. She just tells you the truth. It’s extraordinary to see how consistent she is in her pure, unadulterated honesty. And you talk to her like you would anyone else on the set. You don’t talk to her like a child. I never talk to children like they were children, especially in my professional work.
Tom Cruise: She’s lovely and she’s just enormously talented and is so much fun to work with, also. She’s a very unique talent and a really terrific person. She has impeccable manners, too. She writes thank you letters.
Question: Tom, are you stunned or puzzled by criticism that love and religion might have distracted from the movie?
Tom Cruise: No. I really don’t pay attention to it. It doesn’t bother me. There really isn’t anything else to say, I do my work. I live my life. It’s never affected anything before. It’s what I do. I male my movies and I live my life the best way that I feel that I can. I can’t control what people say or do. And it’s not going to change how I live my life.