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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

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One of the things changed from the novel was having the aliens laying dormant for eons rather than coming out of the sky...

Cruise: I was there when he came up with that idea. It was instantaneous. Because the machines are lying dormant. So many of the scenes are very realistic...what each of you believe is real as far as alien life forms on other planets. Is it out there?

Spielberg: Yeah, it's definitely out there. You know that. I think we all know that we're not alone in the universe. I can't imagine that anyone believes that we're the only intelligent biological life form in the entire universe. I certainly can't imagine living without that belief that there's life...that the universe is teaming with life. But I'm a little less sure in my Œ50s then I was in my late Œ20s whether we actually have ever been visited. I used to answer this question back in the days of Close Encounters in the Œ70s..wow, was I convinced that we had been visited. And you know why I'm not as convinced right now? Because of the millions of video cameras that are out there today that are picking up less photographs videos of UFOs, alleged UFOs, that have been picked up in the Œ60s and Œ70s and Œ80s. Why is it that there's 150% more video cameras on the face of the planet today, why we see less from there. Maybe we're in a cold spell or a UFO drought.

Cruise: I think it's supreme arrogance to think that we're the only in all the universe and universes. I'm a very practical person unless I meet them someday. I don't know. It was fun, because of course, when we were on the set, all of us..me and Steven...we'd all go okay the aliens would come down here and we'd be very intense in between the takes and Steven, Dakota and I and Tim would all look at each other and go "Aliens...ooooooo" Spielberg: Something about Tom had said something about this is whistling in the dark because we actually scared ourselves.


What was the most difficult thing for both of you making this movie?

Spielberg: Physically, the most difficult scene for me was the scene I worried about the most because it involved the safety of several thousand local extras where we were shooting in Athens up the Hudson River and that was the ferry scene. That was the most difficult scene for me because we had to have thousands of people running and I was terrified of someone falling, tripping, being stepped on, being run over and thank god because we had such a great stunt coordinator and we had so many dozens of stunt people actually inside the crowds, and we had many safety meetings with the crowds. Nothing bad happened, but I was on edge for four days because of the fast amount of crowds, at night, running on very narrow streets. So that, for me, was the most anxious time in filming and I couldn't wait for those scenes to be over and I was happy every time we finished a take and everybody was okay.

Cruise: One thing I just want to add to that which is kind of astonishing to me, having obviously made a lot of movies, produced a lot of movies, was how accurate and quickly Steven shot those sequences. It's kind of stunning. For me, what was the most difficult. I don't know really. Honestly, I had a lot of fun making the movie. There wasn't a day...the most difficult, hardest day was the last day of shooting because it was over, because I really do sincerely working with Steven. I have great admiration, which you know, and I just knew that I was going to miss it. When David Koepp wrote this screenplay, I had to say it was the best screenplay I'd ever read. I told David this. You could just see a man inspired. The story flew off the pages...I actually received 84 pages and I could tell with Steven; Steven was like "OH, I'm going to send it to you" and I was like "How is it how is it How is it how is it How is it how is it?"I can be quite an excitable person. I don't know if you know that about me. (laughter) He said "Oh, just read it and call me afterwards". I read 84 pages and when it was over...I tell you I was jumping on the couch! (laughter) Spielberg: I don't know. The first thing we both asked David was when do we get the rest and David was like "oh, it will show up in two months"

Cruise: When we ask when he's going to have it "oh, a couple months" and there it was. So thank you, David Koepp. Thank you, sir.


You both worked with children before, but this is Dakota Fanning who is just unbelievable in this movie. Impressions of working with her? Remind you of Drew Barrymore? Tom, you worked with her..what impressed you most?

Spielberg: I think we all agree that Dakota Fanning has a gift. She has an incredible extraordinary gift that thank goodness she does not question and she absolutely does not know how to answer questions about it. And that's also her gift. That she's unaware of how talented she is and how quickly she understands the situation in a sequence, how quickly she sizes it up, measures it up and how she would really react in a real situation and tells you the truth every time I say "action". She just tells you the truth. It's extraordinary to see how consistent she is in her pure, unadulterated honesty. Cruise: she's just ...she's lovely. You look at the sequence....the Beach Boys sequence..you can hold her in two shots of masters. She's just enormously talented and so fun to work with also. Steve and I had so much fun..it was her birthday and we had pink balloons and Cold Stone ice cream. Because you can have a laugh with her too, where you work and... just see that very unique talent. Also, she's just a really terrific person. She has impeccable manners too. She'd write thank you letters and it's just very sincere. Spielberg: She communicated with all my kids. All my kids are huge fans of hers. My little girls were sending her notes and she was answering every one of them and sending them right back through me. We had a whole mail service going between my two daughters and Dakota the whole movie. It was amazing. I have to tell a story. SHe really knows how to play with this guy. So we're going to do a scene and it would all be blocked and Dakota would say "Is it okay if I stand right here" (moves in front of Tom) (laughter) This little routine began...

Cruise: So we'd start teasing each other.

Spielberg: Dakota had a close-up and the camera's right here and I say "Action" and Tom puts his head like (puts his hand in front of his own face) They had this little sparring thing going.

Cruise: She was just fun. You can just really..

Spielberg: You talk to her like we talk to each other. You don't talk to her like a child. And by the way, I never talk to children as though they were children, especially in my professional work. I never talked to Drew like she was 6 or 7 years old. There are certain kids that are so smart that they understand what you're saying. You don't have to perform for them at their level.


The box office has been in a slump. What do you think that theaters need to do differently to help the box office?

Spielberg: I don't believe this is the exhibitor's responsibility. The exhibitors don't have to tweak their theaters. We don't have to find a new platform or medium to communicate our stories with you. We don't necessarily have to build screens three times bigger. We don't have to IMAX out this world. We just have to make the kind of movies that you want to see. If the box office is in a slump, I don't believe it's because people are watching cable or playing their video games so much; I really don't believe that. I believe that when the right movies come along, people will show up for it.


Are you stunned or puzzled by criticism that love or religion might distract from the movie?

Cruise: No. I really don't pay attention to it. It doesn't bother me, you know what I'm saying? I just really don't pay attention to it. I do my work. I live my life. It's never affected anything before. It doesn't matter. What do I do? I make my movies. And I live my life the best way that I feel that I can. I can't control what people are going to say or do. They can say or do what they want. But it's not going to change the way I live my life?


Would you personally run toward the tripods, or away?

Cruise: I would run. [Laughs]

Spielberg: Run! [Laughs.] I don't know. There could have been another kind of movie. There could have been a 1980's-Tom Cruise-version of War of the Worlds, where Tom Cruise runs toward the tripods.

Cruise: And then I get in a jet.

Spielberg: Get some sidewinders...

Cruise: I don't know what I'd do. It's different with kids. You'd run with them.


What happens when the two of you disagree?

Cruise: We've never actually had a disagreement. I so respect his opinion, his judgment, that when he has an idea, I'm always interested in exploring it.

Spielberg: Yeah, we've never had a disagreement. And also, what usually happens in the whole process, is that I'll give Tom an idea, and to Tom, an idea is a gift. When he hears an idea, it's a total surprise, and he'll cover thousands of acres and figure out a way to take that idea and make it his own. And I'm the same way. Tom will come to the set‹he's never like, "I want to do something that's not in the script,"‹but he'll be like, "Hey, can I kinda just try this? I have this idea I want to throw out. Can I try this song to my daughter, because I haven't been able to understand what the nursery rhymes mean? But can I try a song that I like, that might be associated with cars, since I'm the car guy in the movie?" That was Tom's idea. He brought that to the movie. Those are the kind of ideas that I try out. Movies, they evolve. You start with a screenplay, and then you evolve from there. And so every single day, there are 15, 20 moments of discovery. That makes the movie come to life.

Cruise: Those are the fun moments. That's why I do show up early. I like to hang out and to let Steven see me on the set, and it gives you ideas, and it gives him that time and that room for ideas. Sometimes when we're making a movie we'll watch scenes from other movies just for fun, on the set. "Full Metal Jacket." We didn't listen to "Full Metal Jacket" when Dakota was on the set. It was like, "Is D on the set? Is D on the set? Okay, D's in school! ŒFull Metal Jacket!' That scene from ŒThe Fly!'"

Spielberg: It's just a way of cleaning the palette. One of the biggest problems in making movies‹I'm sure other filmmakers have told you this at press conferences‹is that directors tend to lose their objectivity. You get halfway through a film, and you forget why you're making it, what the story's all about, and you've got to read the script again. So sometimes those little moments of taking a break from the picture while the cameraman is widening the shot, and just going off and watching a great scene from a European or American motion picture is a great way to clear the air. Every cast member says that you have unbelievable energy. Is there a secret to your boundless energy?

Cruise: My interest in life, quite honestly. I'm interested in life. I'm someone who will get excited about living. I'm interested in people. There are things in my life, in Scientology and tools that I've spoken about before, that help me to overcome barriers and problems, and that has been extraordinary in my life. I have the privilege of doing something that I love. I do see it as a privilege. I'm truly proud of the life that I have. Spielberg: And I have half his energy, and I'm still going strong.


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