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Why Paramount Really Dropped Tom Cruise

Everyone will be making jokes about whether it's "risky business" to do another Tom Cruise movie. In fact, the end of the 14-year Paramount/Tom Cruise relationship is by no stretch the end of Cruise's movie career. Nor is it a case where a star's off-screen conduct is the central issue, according to Gregg Kilday, film editor at The Hollywood Reporter. He spoke with NPR's Marc Silver about the story:

What does Hollywood make of the story?

The popular press is looking at this as another story about Tom Cruise's goofy behavior. But within Hollywood, it's being viewed very much as a negotiation that wasn't successful -- a deal gone sour between Tom Cruise and his camp and Paramount. While it's unusual for a company chairman like Sumner Redstone to come forward and say, "His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount," no one is really buying that as central reason that the two sides couldn't make a deal. There may have been some annoyance with Cruise about his conduct, but I think if they could have got him at the price they wanted, they would have lived with that annoyance.

How is the Cruise camp characterizing the breakdown of negotiations?

Cruise's contention is he was developing other sources of financing and decided to step away from the deal. And this comes within the context of a lot of studios, particularly Paramount, not wanting to pay as much for stars.

Did Cruise hurt himself by speaking about Scientology's anti-psychiatry stand, for example?

He certainly has a right to [speak about Scientology]. Whether it's a smart move when you're out promoting a movie to talk about something as potentially divisive as religion and politics is something that can be argued. A lot of people would say it isn't: The focus should be on the movie and being as appealing to as many people as possible. At same time, you had a star like Jane Fonda who in the 1970s was one of the most divisive figures in America and at the same time, was one of the biggest movie stars. A lot of people who said they never would see her movies because of her politics would never have seen them anyway.

Redstone's comment about Cruise was harsh. Is that out of the ordinary?

It's certainly unusual. Even when people are parting ways and haven't been able to reach a deal, the standard Hollywood protocol is to acknowledge the success they've had in the past together and to wish each other well.

Is there a precedent for Redstone's comments?

There's always a precedent for something. In the studio era, when stars were under contract to the studios, there were many cases where studios very publicly disciplined stars like Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland. It's less common in the modern era, where stars are much more free agents.

What were stars disciplined for back in the day?

Usually stars were assigned to a given movie. If they objected to a movie or refused to show up, they were put on suspension. Olivia de Havilland's case became famous because she sued Warner Brothers and got her suspension overthrown. At the time, Warner Brothers would extend a traditional seven-year contract by the amount of time a star was suspended.

Is there a feeling that Cruise has lost his appeal?

In the case of Tom Cruise, there's an anecdotal sense he's lost some of his fan base. But how much that affected Mission Impossible III is impossible to say -- there's one school of thought that the movie itself, rather than bringing something new to the franchise, just repeated the action tropes of the first two movies. Even if Cruise had not gotten any criticism for any extraneous behavior, the movie might have run out of steam anyway, and it still did make nearly $400 million worldwide.

So is his career faltering?

It's a complicated equation with lot of moving parts. The fact is, he is getting older. Most male stars, particularly folks who've had big successes in action movies, as they get older have to figure out ways to transition into other kinds of parts. In some of the dramatic things Cruise has taken on -- Born on the Fourth of July, Magnolia -- he's shown he is capable of doing that. On the other hand, it is hard to generalize about anybody's fan base, particularly when you attract such a large audience. In the past Tom Cruise fans who would show up to see him in one of his broad-based movies didn't automatically go see an artier film like Magnolia. A lot of what happens depends on what parts he chooses.

Can he indeed go into the business of making movies for himself?

Cruise says he's identified two equity funds willing to invest in his company. That reflects another trend in Hollywood --- a lot of private equity money is coming into town, investing in both studio and independent films. That's something Cruise might decide to take advantage of.

But not with Paramount?

His camp is saying they don't rule out making movies with Paramount. There are a lot of things in development. Some could shift to another studio. But at same time, if they are movies that Paramount wants to make and Cruise and Paramount agree on a deal, he could make them at Paramount.

What are Cruise's plans now?

At the moment Cruise himself is not committed to a movie that has a start date within the next couple months. He has a lot in development. Whatever impact all of this has is affected by what movies he chooses to do.

Would one wrong move sink him?

For stars of his magnitude, their fate and career are not determined by individual films. You'd have to have a serious downturn in a number of films or the industry stop wanting to do business with you. Tom Cruise has to be considered one of the major stars in Hollywood. But no stars in Hollywood have absolute carte blanche unless they're willing to finance their films 100 percent.

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