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June 2005
War of the Worlds: Press Conference interview with Director Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise

War of the Worlds: Press Conference Interview with Director Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise

With all the recent hoopla concerning his romance with Katie Holmes, one may forget that Tom Cruise has a big film coming out on June 29th and it's called "War of the Worlds", which happens to be directed by Steven Spielberg. This is the second time these two have worked together since "Minority Report". In a recent press conference in New York City, Spielberg and Cruise talked about the film and working with each other again.


Back when you were prepping ET, it began as a different movieča scary alien invasion movie and you sort of turned it around and made it into a happy alien movie. At the time, you said that you didn't want to do a scary alien movie. What's changed since then and did any of the elements of that film about family also make it to War of the Worlds?

Spielberg: You're asking what's changed. There wasn't anything huge that changed in my life that made me do a scary alien movie. Maybe even the idea that everybody over here said "Well, he's the guy that only does scary alien movies... I thought well why can't I try my hand at the kind of film that Ridley Scott made when he did the first Alien, which was my favorite scary science fiction movies of all time. It was just something that I had always wanted to do. I wanted... (to Tom)..we talked about this for a couple years looking for a project to do together that I told him that I wanted to do War of the Worlds ever since I read the book in college before I actually became a filmmaker. I wanted to do some version of it at some point.

Cruise: So you always planned to have ET phone home and bring some of the, you know, ET gone gangster. That's what happened with that.

Spielberg: But no, there was nothing really conscious. It was just that it's a great story. It's a great piece of 19th Century classic literature. It began an entire revolution in science-fiction and fantasy in my opiniončJules Verne and HG Wellsčand it was a film that was something that I really respected when it was first made by George Paw in 1953 and 1954, and I just thought that we could make a version a little closer and darker toward the original novel.


Did any of the elements of that film Night Skies make its way...

Spielberg: No, nothing from Night Skies made its way into this project. Cruise:


Father figures are common things...did you enjoy playing a father and to Mr. Spielberg, was this your idea of reversing what you did in Close Encounters with a guy who goes with the family rather than abandoning it.

Cruise: First of all, I have to say that I love how Steven Spielberg deals with families in his movies. I find them to be very real, unique. I've always wanted to personally be a father growing up, and when we started talking about the story and we started talking about it being about a father and a family. I couldn't wait to play this character and see what is it...and then David Koepp wrote this great character and then Steven how he directed me in that role. He called me and said we were going to have the 350 GT Engine in the kitchen, you know, and I want the...he has such impeccable notes and that's why I always show up early in the morning and I always just hang out because I just feed off of..we'll be around and he'll just discover..it happens very quickly creatively with Steven. His ideas and he discovers things very quickly. We're always working on the film. But I don't know, it happens very fast. But you're asking...I couldn't wait to be a father in this movie.

Spielberg: Well, I was never really conscious of that. I know that Close Encounters certainly, because I wrote the script, it was about a man whose insatiable curiosity...more than just curiosity.. he developed an obsession and the kind of psychic implantation drew him away from his family and only looking back once, walked onto the mothership. Now, that was before I had kids. That was 1977. So I wrote that blithely. Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and go on the mothership. I would have the guy doing everything he could to protect his children, so in a sense, War of the Worlds does reflect my own maturity, you know, in my own life growing up and now having seven children.


The film speaks to me on a lot of levels, mostly about refugees and their flight. Is that a theme in the film for you?

Spielberg: Well, it is. It's an unfamiliar theme to all of us because we don't often see images of American refugees, except after local and national disasters like hurricanes and people fleeingčand approaching hurricanes in the Florida keysčor we see many images of that. And of course, the image that stands out in my mind the most was the image of everybody in Manhattan fleeing across the Brooklyn Bridge in the shadow of 9/11, which is something that is a searing image that I haven't been able to get out of my head. This is partially about the American refugee experience, because it's certainly about Americans fleeing for their lives...uh...being attacked for no reason..having no idea why they're being attacked and who is attacking them.

Cruise: You know, one of the things that Steven, when we first started talking about this story... I've had the great pleasure to get to hang out...I like making movies with him because I get to hang out with Steven. I just want to hang out with Steven! You know. I know we're not making movies but also because I like creating films with him. The things that he was talking about it in terms of it being a subjective experience, and the choice to never go over that hill and see what's happening over that hill.

Spielberg: That was a huge temptation, by the way. When I pre-vis'ed that sequence, I pre-vis'ed going over that hill and seeing the war of the worlds quote unquote and I had to pull back and not commit to that, because I thought it was much more personal to the point of view of this family, not to be able to see everything that Hollywood gets to see in most science fiction movies.

Cruise: Yeah, and then to...you see...I'm giving you kind of the actor/fan experience..because I'm a fan of Steven's films first and then his actor. Seeing him develop these ideas and working on the script with David Koepp. Is David here by the way? Where's David Koepp! There's David Koepp (claps) The great David Koepp! An astonishing job, I think, on that screenplay. You look inside that basement for twenty minutes, okay? To be able to choreograph and sustain that kind of tension is something... When I'm working with different filmmakers, I'll always go back to Steven's pictures and study his editing, see how he's telling that story, because he gives you the environment but it's kept from the character point of view and story. It's always on that story line, so I often go back and study his stuff again, look at those sequences, and then see him develop that scene in the basement. Even though he pre-vis'ed stuff, there's stuff on the day that was just..he just changed the whole thing on the day or the night before. Spielberg: David's back there. You're confessing this in front of David.


How much did the political situation today have to do with your decision to make this film right now and the happy ending giving a hope to the future?

Spielberg: Because I have hope for the future, which is probably why I'm not the best person to tell a story that leaves you with nothing to look for. But I just felt that this movie is a reflection and there are all sorts of metaphors that you can certainly divine from this story and that's really...this movie I was hoping would be more like a prism. Every body could see in a facet of the prism what they choose to take from the experience of seeing War of the Worlds, so I tried to make it as open for interpretation as possible, without having any body coming out with a huge political polemic in the second act of the movie. I think there are politics certainly underneath some of the scares and some of the adventure and some of the fear, but I really wanted to make it suggested and not that everybody could have their own opinion. But I certainly think I gave you enough rope to hang me with.


The director of the Fantastic Four said something interesting that he was going to WHOOP your asses at the box office.

Cruise: I'd like to see that picture do really well, and I want all the movies to do well. It doesn't matter to me. I'm going to go see that picture. I can't wait.

Spielberg: I want to go see it with my kids. This is the second time you work together after Minority Report in 2002. I want to know which one was easier for you and why?

Cruise: I have to tell you personally that it just gets better, the experience working with Steven.

Spielberg: This was 100% character. Minority Report was certainly 50% character and 50% very complicated storytelling..layers and layers of murder mystery plotting where if any of the actors or Tom even gave a suggestion that he knew what was going to happen next, you the audience would have picked it up like that, because audiences are so smart today. They pick up things so far out of left field that we the filmmakers can't believe that audiences had picked up on a tiny clue, so we were always concerned about giving away too much of a plot on Minority Report while we were working together, and we were working like writers on a script in our director-actor relationship, making sure that the story has been told, you know, well. This was "explorential". This was a character journey and everything we talked about was about Tom's character, Dakota's character, Justin Chatwin's character, Tim Robbin's character...all about who these people were an in a sense, that freed us up to explore the world we didn't get a chance to explore in Minority Report.

Cruise: I had a lot of Minority Report. I had even more fun on this one. And the next one, is going to be even more fun.


Science fiction has looped into your career on a number of occasions. Can you explain what it means to you as a vehicle to talk about issues that may be important or if it's more subconscious?

Spielberg: Well, I think that science fiction is not a subconscious thing at all. Science fiction to me is a vacation. It's a vacation away from all the rules of narrative logic. It's a vacation away from basic physics and physical science. It just lets you leave all the rules behind and just kind of fly. We as a human race, we don't fly. We envy the birds. I envy Tom because he actually flies jet planes, and I don't do that because I'm too afraid to fly. But most of us who don't, science fiction for me gives me a chance to really soar and this is why I keep coming back to science fiction. There are absolutely no limits to where the imagination can go. Now the challenge of science fiction is to tell a credible science fiction story, you have to then turn around, having said all that, and impose certain limits. And I've imposed limits on my self. There are a lot of directors that could have taken this story that didn't, because it would have made it almost too fantastic. This could have been much more like Independence Day or Earth vs. Flying Saucers or it could have been much more about the army vs. the extraterrestrials. There could have been huge battle scenes and tripods going down and soldiers blowing up. I didn't want to go there. I wanted this in a strange way a little more of a cousin to Saving Private Ryan in the genre of science fiction, in the way that it's more of a story told in a first personal point of view, so I did impose limits and David Koepp imposed limits on how we shaped the screenplay and how we caused all the characters to seem as realistic and normal as we are. And that was very important to me. But science fiction, as a genre, is the great escape for moviemakers.

Cruise: No, I just dig going to science fiction movies, always have. You look at science fiction and the role that science fiction has actually played in our culture because they were dreaming and pushing for the space race. It was the science fiction writers during that pulp fiction era that were writing about space, and then creating that trying to get them to not think about blowing each other up. Let's get the race going. I find it fascinating when we were preparing Minority Report, the research that Steven had done. Now, the scrubbing the image, actually Steven came up with that idea. I don't know if you've noticed but now, they're doing that. They've created that.

Spielberg: Science fiction can sometimes suggest in cool ways of exploring the universe. The astronauts are completely inspired by science fiction as kids and they want to join the space program. Science fiction has done a lot, I think, to encourage the people who really have to spend the money at NASA to go out into space. Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey did amazingly positive prep work in that field but also...

Cruise: I wonder if the astronauts are going to use War of the Worlds to try to raise money to go out to make sure we don't get invaded.

Spielberg: I don't know. It all depends if we're going to take the Reagan Star Wars thing out of mothballs and put that up again. I just think that the whole field of science fiction, as Tom was saying, and science fiction stories, it really inspires young people to think and imagine and think that anything is possible. My movies go from historical dramas to science fiction. I love going back and forth from history where I really am contained and I have to pretty much be more of a reporter, a photojournalist, then an imagineer, and science fiction, where I don't have that many constraints on where we take these stories.


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