With Sunday night’s Golden Globe nomination for ”Magnolia,” Tom Cruise might seem like a favorite to win a little gold statuette come Oscar night (March 26). Playing a creepy sex guru who strips down in front of a reporter, the actor shows off his range as well as his undies. ”This part is an actor’s dream,” admits writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. ”You get to be on stage and spout off, you get to have your ass kicked in an interview, then you get the traditional going to your dying father’s bedside scene. It’s like a sushi menu for an actor, and I think he saw that and ran with it.”
Yet Cruise has already had two close calls with Oscar (”Jerry Maguire” in 1997 and ”Born on the Fourth of July” in 1990), only to walk away empty-handed. And, despite his losing streak, the notoriously media-wary actor isn’t working to curry favor with the public this time around. Cruise reportedly had it written into his contract that he wouldn’t promote ”Magnolia” for fear his superstar wattage would outshine the rest of the film’s ensemble cast.
But in this case, shunning the media may pay off. ”I think it’s a smart move for him to let the performance speak for itself,” says Hollywood Reporter columnist Martin A. Grove. ”In the past, Tom Cruise has suffered from superstar syndrome, which means he is perceived as being so commercial he doesn’t get awards consideration.” Unlike Tom Hanks, who has managed to walk the fine line between box office froth like ”Sleepless in Seattle” and serious films like ”Philadelphia,” Cruise’s more challenging films have either been critically panned (”Eyes Wide Shut”) or overshadowed (”Mission Impossible” was released the same year as ”Jerry Maguire”).
By laying low, Cruise will not only avoid bad buzz from fans hoping for a typical Cruise film but will also force Academy Award voters to focus on him as an actor, not a celebrity. And a whiff of low-profile humility may impress other thespians, who make up much of the voting block. ”When you look at it from their point of view, actors will recognize that here’s a star who is willing to do a smaller role and work with an auteur director and not exert the control Cruise is famous for exerting, and they may like that,” says Grove. Anderson has a simpler explanation for why Cruise should win: ”Come on, he’s God!”