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An earnest Tom Cruise

For the gung ho star of ”A Few Good Men,” his unabashed optimism keeps the actor revving in high gear

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Tom Cruise is standing in the doorway of nobody’s living room on a bright, hot November day at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and I’m surprised. Negotiating to see him has been like arranging to meet the President, so it never occurred to me that he’d answer the door himself. Yet here he is, sweet-faced and smiling, directing me to a chair in the hotel room, offering me a drink, being a perfect gentleman. He dances over to the bar and begins fixing me a glass of water. He looks good — white T-shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, a brown tweed jacket with disconcertingly wide lapels, scruffy hair, color in his cheeks, eyes like the sea when it’s cloudy and green.

We’ve never met, Cruise and I, but we have a mutual acquaintance, the director Sydney Pollack, for whom I’d worked, and who’s about to begin shooting Cruise’s next picture, The Firm, based on John Grisham’s best-seller. Cruise wants to know about my connection to Pollack and begins lobbing questions at me.

”You worked for him?” he asks from the bar. ”What did you do?” ”When was it?” ”What’s your relationship to him now?” I find myself surprised that such a smiley puppy dog of a young man can be so relentlessly nosy. ”Is he married?” Cruise continues. ”For how long?” ”Does he have children?” ”What’s his wife like?” I begin to feel uncomfortable, telling a perfect stranger about someone else’s business, even if that stranger is Tom Cruise.

He has taken a seat on the couch across from me, his knees spread wide in a manly position, his elbows set comfortably on his thighs, and he’s talking and smiling and laughing and talking — trying to get me to call Pollack from the hotel room after the interview (”Tell him you just interviewed Tom,” Cruise says) — when suddenly I notice the glass he’d put in front of me. It isn’t just a glass of water, it’s a towering parfait made of mountains of tinkling ice and clear spring water. I’m embarrassed: How could I have let Tom Cruise make me this — this bribe.

So I say, ”Let’s start,” and he says, ”Okay, let’s go,” and he slaps his knees with his palms, and rubs his hands together, and kind of bobs up and down in his seat like a guy about to get the million-dollar question.

One obvious topic is A Few Good Men, Rob Reiner’s new film (based on Aaron Sorkin’s play), in which Cruise plays Daniel Kaffee, an amoral Navy lawyer who has languished in the shadow of his enormously successful attorney father and now finds himself faced with a life-changing dilemma: Should he defend two loyal Marines charged with murder, or should he plea-bargain the case and get off easy? With the help of a passionate internal affairs officer (Demi Moore), Kaffee suddenly comes face-to-face with his own passivity, his lack of commitment, and his fear of failure.

EW: How was it working with Rob Reiner?

TC: Incredible

EW: And Kevin Bacon (who plays the prosecuting attorney in the film)?

TC: Terrific. He’s terrific in the movie, too, isn’t he?

EW: How about working with Demi Moore?

TC: It was excellent.