I keep reading that Tom Cruise is the Last Great Movie Star, as if he’s some noble but endangered animal. I think his people must be putting it about as part of the PR for Top Gun 2, though Lord knows what his peers make of it. Think of Tom Hanks, Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep, De Niro… all of them Oscar winners (unlike Cruise) and all with a better claim to being the Last Great Star.
Tom Cruise himself seems comfortable with the idea. He walks and talks like the L.G.M.S. – controlled, confident, impeccably dressed with just a hint of a helpful Cuban heel. But the higher his star rises, the odder it seems that no one mentions the cult he belongs to, or how it behaves. Former members of the ‘Church’ of Scientology have testified to bullying, blackmail, slave labour and a form of child abuse: separating children from their parents. This is the call-out era. No one can so much as retweet a joke without being cancelled. So where are the crowds with placards outside Top Gun: Maverick at the LA multiplex?
It’s not as if Tom’s a casual or junior member. In Scientologist circles he’s a sort of Hercules, half-man, half-god. He lives, at least part-time, in a two-storey penthouse of an apartment block built by a Scientologist, just a few feet from the organisation’s global HQ. His sisters and two older children (all Scientologists) live on the third, fourth and fifth floors. His very bestest friend, and two-time best man, is Scientology’s CEO, a pint-sized troll called David Miscavige, who runs the Sea Org, Scientology’s managing body. Miscavige is by all accounts (including his own father’s) a rage-filled narcissist with a hair-trigger temper. His former spokesman has said that his boss regularly screamed at him and beat him over 50 times.
‘I have never met a more tolerant, a more compassionate being,’ said Cruise of Miscavige in 2004. That was the day Miscavige presented Cruise with a special medal invented just for him, the Freedom Medal of Valor, for ‘bringing freedom to mankind’.
And where is the outrage over Shelly Miscavige? Shelly is David’s wife and, like her little troll husband, she was born into Scientology’s elect and was sent away aged 12 to serve its founder on his boat. In 2005 Shelly began to express concerns about the cult, and shortly afterwards she simply disappeared, says Mike Rinder, Scientology’s former director of special affairs. She did some admin work without her husband’s approval, explains Tony Ortega, another ex-Scientologist, who now investigates the cult: ‘He [Miscavige] just blows his stack. He had the biggest temper tantrum of all time. A week later, she vanished.’
Some say Shelly is being held against her will at a church compound in San Bernardino County, California. ‘She is not missing and devotes her time to the work of the Church of Scientology,’ says her lawyers. ‘Shelly? She’ll never be free,’ said her father-in-law, Ron, to 60 Minutes Australia.
This week, the Hollywood excitement was that Top Gun 2 might pass the $1 billion mark. Remember the #FreeBritney movement? Would this be just the moment to #FreeShelly?
Tom Cruise doesn’t do many interviews anymore. He seems to prefer appearances, like an ex-president or minor royal, though he’ll make an exception for a reliable favoured few. A few weeks ago he had an uncomplicated chat with the BBC’s Ali Plumb. Right before the recording cuts out, Tom leans forward, stares deep into Ali’s eyes and whispers something to him.
In some ways it would be terrific if Ali had had the chops to ask Cruise where his old friend Shelly is, or about the beatings Miscavige doles out, but it would also be pointless. It’s clear what Cruise thinks. Anyone with misgivings about Scientology is a ‘Suppressive Person’, according to Sea Org law, contaminated by the evil alien Xenu. And if you’re an SP, then you deserve any punishment you get. There’s a video online, designed for young Scientologists, in which Tom talks about SPs. An interviewer, off-screen, asks him if he’s ever met one and he starts cackling with incredulous disdain. The contempt on his face and how intoxicated he is by his own relative power is mesmerising.
In the 2015 HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, one of Miscavige’s fixers, Marty Rathbun, confessed that he’d been deputed by Miscavige to break up Tom and his second wife, Nicole Kidman, over fears she wasn’t a super-keen Scientologist. Part of his mission, said Rathbun, was ‘a re-education programme’ for Cruise and Kidman’s adoptive kids, Isabella and Connor, to ‘conclude that their mother was a Suppressive Person’. Each to their own, you might say. One man’s alien Xenu is another man’s Satan. But if your guru tells you to turn your kids against their mother, then it’s time to turn against him, I’d say.
It’s unlikely Tom has the bottle. For all his cockiness and focus, he is a brittle man. He was bullied at school and by his father, Thomas Cruise Mapother III. He has trouble controlling his anger. ‘I was so scared of Tom,’ says his Mission Impossible 3 co-star Thandie Newton. ‘He was a very dominant individual. He wasn’t horrible. It was just… he was really stressed.’ I think he thinks that without Scientology he’d fall apart.
I grew up with Tom Cruise. All of us Gen X-ers did. Top Gun, Cocktail, Rain Man… I’m fond of him and I hope one day he escapes, not just for his sanity, but for his career. Since Miscavige reeled him back in after his marriage to Kidman collapsed, Tom Cruise has largely stuck with the action-man schtick: Mission Impossible, Reacher, Top Gun, all abs and running with the odd cocky grin. I don’t expect the Sea Org want their Hercules playing a weakling. But at heart Tom Cruise loves the movies; he dreamed about being an actor as a child. I hope one day he wins an Oscar, but unless he ditches his parasitical best friend, I doubt he ever will.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.
You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10