As Hollywood whispers about an uphill box-office battle for his twice-delayed World War II drama ''Valkyrie,'' it also eyes his role in summer comedy ''Tropic Thunder'' as his ace in the hole for regaining his mojo
Tom Cruise
Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Tom Cruise wants you to believe he’s normal. Movie-star normal, at least. With help from Oprah Winfrey, the 45-year-old actor, whose personal life has taken a beating the last three years, began his public rehabilitation on May 2 with a two-day appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show that included a cozy chat from the confines of his Rocky Mountain estate. And it came just in time: Much of Cruise’s press over the past year has centered on the turmoil at his fledgling studio United Artists (inaugural effort Lions for Lambs bombed last fall), the troubles surrounding his World War II movie Valkyrie, and some quirky Scientology recruitment videos that became the butt of everyone’s jokes after they surfaced online earlier this year. Not exactly the stuff that a $20 million star needs, but with 10 months to go until the twice-delayed Valkyrie debuts, Cruise is clearly trying to remind audiences why they liked him in the first place.

But there’s a snag: Plenty of people have already written off Valkyrie as a misguided joke. One source close to the film says the studio is ”very concerned. They need this movie to work in a big way. Tom is really good in it, [but] he’s playing a German — and there are inherent difficulties in that.” (A spokesman for UA couldn’t be reached at press time.)

Regardless of how Valkyrie fares, Cruise still has important friends in high places. Ben Stiller cast him as a bald, overweight, comically obscene movie producer in this summer’s Tropic Thunder, and the part could prove to be the comeback role of his career. ”After everyone sees this movie they are going to have a different opinion [of Tom],” predicts one insider. ”They’ll consider him for parts they wouldn’t have before.” According to industry sources, the actor knows it. He’s already told his agents at CAA to seek out funny scripts, he met with Judd Apatow on the set of Knocked Up, and he’s still signed to star opposite Stiller in the long-gestating buddy comedy Hardy Men. ”[That] would make a lot of sense,” says one insider. ”It’s a lot easier for people to like you when you create a likable, charming role.”

NEXT PAGE: Are Mission: Impossible 4 and a thriller with Denzel Washington in the cards for Cruise?