December 2003
The Last Samurai: An Interview with Tom Cruise

Alberlynne “Abby” Harris

The Last Samurai: An Interview with Tom Cruise

In what will certainly be considered one of the best films of the year, The Last Samurai provides an in-depth look into the Japanese culture as America and other outside nations began to impute their philosophies on Eastern traditions. sat with Tom Cruise as he described the preparation and discipline involved in developing the film.

AH: In the film, your character searches for an inner peace. Have you personally been able to find that same peace or are you still searching?

TC: Yes I have been able to find that, definitely. It’s well known that I am a scientologist and that is helping me find that inner peace in my life and it’s something that has given me great stability and tools that I use. It’s also something that enables me to help others in a way that I have always wanted.

AH: What impressed you about Japan besides the Samurai culture?

TC: As a kid when I was growing up I remember vividly being at a Drive-in. I was six or seven years old and I was on the roof of my family station wagon and across the screen was the Sahara Dessert. I always wanted to see other places and learn about how other people lived. As I traveled I saw different people, even living in America there are different cultures; its American but that’s a generality. When I go to Japan, it’s so different. I am absolutely fascinated and in awe of the culture. I find it aesthetic and the people are fascinating. I wanted to know more about the people and how they lived, how they got to where they are today. When you study the sword; that is the greatest sword ever made in the history of this world. It is both a powerful weapon and it is also aesthetically superb. It is an amazing culture and I have always been fascinated by it. One of the amazing things as an actor is that I get to travel to these places and I get to learn about the people. That is the most enjoyable thing to me. You find a common ground, even though the language is different. It really gives you a sense that we are all together in this and that we need to help each other out.

AH: You committed a lot to time to this film; can you explain why you decided to put forth such an effort?

TC: I put a lot of time into everything that I do, interestingly enough. This film is different in that it took me almost a year to physically be able to make this picture. I love what I do. I take great pride in what I do. I cannot do something halfway. If I am going to do something I go all the way. I did not know if I could find that physical elegance and movement that the Samurai have. There is a natural grace. It was a year preparing, not only physically, but also developing the character. I don’t make a film unless I feel I have that kind of time. Every film I do, there is a lot of preparation.

AH: What kinds of things did you study to prepare for the film?

TC: I had to study the American-Indian Wars. I thought I knew about the American –Indian Wars, but that time period in our history; I was blown away by how little I knew. I also studied Japanese history during that time period and how the country came to this moment. I also revisited the Civil War for myself.

AH: Did you find the politics portrayed in this film as a metaphor for society today?

TC: Wars do not resolve conflict, ideas do. You look at how history keeps repeating itself. We are in a time where we have great technology, we have very sophisticated ways for communication and travel, yet there is still famine and there are still wars. You have to look at what we are doing wrong and change the operating base at some point. So it is a metaphor for that. The film is a romantic adventure, but it also has content and we never wanted it to be pretentious in that way.

AH: Can you tell us more about the fight scenes?

TC: I could not touch my toes when I started. All the training…I had done stunts before, but I knew I would have to carry fifty pounds of armor and that is a tremendous amount of pressure to have on your knees when you have to bend and move. I put on twenty-five pounds of muscle and I worked with a great stunt coordinator, Nick Powell, who built me up very slowly. There was a lot of stretching and just training and learning moves, the same as my character did. The balancing took a lot of time.

AH: How have the values of the Samurai translated into your personal life?

TC: Those values are very important to me. I think that they are very important to have in life. The Samurai were the artists of their time. They were educated. They were educated to be leaders and to lead and to help people. Helping someone is the most gratifying thing in the world.

AH: What is it about this movie that you want audiences to know?

TC: Each audience walks away with an experience from a movie. I would like them to have that feeling that they are going to see a different world that I did. I love movies and this movie is going to take you to a different place and time and yet, you cannot help but connect. The timeframe and the humanity in the picture are real.

Like a record album, every film has its audience and I’ve made very diverse film. I am very proud of this film. I will do what I can to support it. So much of my life has gone into my films and I want people who want to see the movie, to go see the movie and I know what it takes to make a film and the responsibility that goes along with that.