tom cruise and risky business -- 8/03/18

Today's selection -- from Power House by James Andrew Miller. Tom Cruise gets the role of Joel Goodsen in the movie Risky Business:

"Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was nineteen when he started his movie career as Billy in the 1981 film Endless Love, which was followed the same year with a supporting role in Taps and then continued in 1983 with The Outsiders. He turned heads in all three films, but it was his level-jumping first leading role as Joel Goodsen in Risky Business, released in l983, that would bring him national attention, [and] launch his stardom. ...

I wanted to make movies since I was four years old, and I had seen a lot of movies. Suddenly I'm in Taps and I thought, If I never get to make another movie again, I'm going to study how they're made. I was able to go to each department. We had Owen Roizman, who was the cinematographer, and I had known his amazing work from seeing his movies. Harold Becker did a wonderful thing by sharing his movies, and of course I was familiar with Stanley Jaffe's movies. I remember once they knew how interested I was in cinema, Stanley, Harold, and Owen were so generous because they answered all my questions, and I must have asked a million of them. At the time, we had dailies, and they brought me in and showed me rushes of my work and the other actors' work and said, 'Listen. These takes are going to be in the movie. So you've got to try to watch it as though you're the audience and not yourself.' There were all these wonderful lessons about how to prepare films. ...

I had just come to CAA. A lot of the movie stars had outpriced themselves in the marketplace. Studios were getting wind of the youth film market and they were using more and more unknowns, so I got this idea: sign all the young top talented people out there I believed in, put them in the best projects, and make them movie stars.

There was an actors' strike, and in that period of time Taps got put on hold. I put a few people up for the roles but none were cast. They had done an all-out search across the country, and found a lot of really talented young people. ...

Paula called me and said she desperately wanted to sign Tom and said, 'If he asks about me, would you mind putting in a good word?' I said, 'Of course.' I was happy to do it. I always liked Paula.

[Sean] Penn goes, 'Come out to L.A. and stay with me,' so I stayed in his guest house for a couple of weeks. I remember he said, 'You've got to check out CAA,' because I wasn't signed with any agent.

Tom came out to L.A. and was staying with Sean Penn, and Sean told him about me. At the time, I was working with the cov­ering agent on Risky Business and was trying to find an actor for it. I met with Tom on top of one of these buildings in Century City, and we had an amazing lunch together. He borrowed a sports jacket -- he didn't own a sports jacket. I remember that he had this very fascinating intensity in his eyes -- and he was warm, polite, and caring. We found common ground -- it's important to find common ground -- when we talked about our families, and he had played Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls in dinner theater in New Jersey, and probably ten years or so earlier I had played Adelaide in Guys and Dolls in the USO tour. We both had also studied with Sandy Meisner.

As I got to know him, I thought, This guy is more than a heartthrob. He's going to have a real career. He's determined, he's focused, and he wants to be a movie star. A lot of the younger people were anti-movie star. They didn't want to be. He definitely wanted to.

I got Sean Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Bad Boys and it was all very exciting. I had so much faith in Sean to do almost any role, and I really cared about him. During this time, I had also had a lunch with Steve Tisch, the producer.

We went to the Palm for lunch, and he said, 'We can't cast Risky Business' I immediately said, 'Tom Cruise is perfect for it.' He said, 'Yeah, they won't see him. Nobody thinks he's right for it.' It turned out people thought, based on his earlier roles, that Tom was too blue collar to play an upper-middle-class kid from the Midwest. I said, 'Steve, I don't ask favors of you very often, but I'd like one now. Just meet him. He happens to be in town. Don't send him to anyone else. I want you to meet him, then tell me what you think, because I really believe in this guy's talent and I believe he can do this role.' He said, 'Okay, Paula, for you I'll do it.'

I had heard about the project the year before, and remember thinking when I was reading it, Am I ready for this? Can I carry a film? What's it going to be like having a starring role? Interestingly enough, I felt at the time that I was ready.

Of course when he walked into our office at Warner Bros., pretty much all he had to do was smile and then we got it.

So now Steve calls and says, 'I met him, and we're testing him tomorrow for the lead role in Risky Business.' I said, 'Okay, give me the lowdown. Who's he testing with? I don't want him to go in right after lunch; I don't want him to go at the end of the day; I don't want him to be first.' I had a strategy about everything. Steve said, 'It's just going to be him and this young actress Paul wants to see named Rebecca De Mornay.' Tom tested, and boom, the rest is history. ...

I brought him up to the office, had him meet everybody, sold my heart out, and everybody was like, 'Okay, take a shot, let's see what happens.' This was a new thing, signing these new young actors. Tom was nineteen when I signed him. ...

Cruise's name came up late in the game. We had been casting Risky for many months. I can't recall who brought him to our at­tention. He was on location working on The Outsiders. Coppola gave him twenty-four hours' leave to audition for us.

He came to our office at Warners in the afternoon for a read­ing. I was impressed by his confidence. Once he stopped himself in the middle of a scene, chose a different approach, and started again -- a rather bold move for a nineteen-year-old actor. It was apparent to me that Tom had the potential to fulfill two charac­ter requirements: he could play both strong and vulnerable. And he could be both naive and sexual. We had read scores of actors. I had many points of reference. I knew there was something spe­cial here.

"Because he was scheduled to fly out the following day, we ar­ranged an early-morning screen test with Tom and Rebecca De Mornay to take place at Steve Tisch's house. Jon Avnet shot the test with his home VHS camera and deck. (Some of the test is included in Risky's twenty-fifth anniversary DVD.)

"I drove to pick up Tom at 5:00 A.M. In the dark, I waited out­side a nondescript apartment building in a bleak L.A. neighbor­hood. Nobody came out. I only had the address; no apartment number or phone number (and it was pre-cell phones anyway). By 5:20, I was about to call it quits. Either I had the wrong ad­dress or there was some snafu or the guy was flaky, No way of knowing. I convinced myself to give it five more minutes. At 5:25, I started the engine, thinking about getting some breakfast with Avnet and Tisch. I killed the engine. Five more minutes, I thought. That's it.

"Eventually Tom appeared. I was a little pissed. I thought, This screen test had better be pretty damned good. It was. So it was a really small amount of patience that allowed film history to take its course.

If Paula Wagner hadn't been as persistent and as supportive of Tom, he quite simply wouldn't have been in Risky Business."


James Andrew Miller


Power House: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency


Harper Collins


Copyright 2016 by James Andrew Miller


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