Could Hollywood’s biggest movie star benefit from a run on the small screen?
Tom Cruise continues to be one of the last remaining bankable film stars in an era where studios appear to see more value in familiar, established characters than in the people playing them. But the actor’s domestic box office appeal has undeniably waned of late — even before “The Mummy” bombed domestically this past weekend.
Because his non-“Mission: Impossible” films have been lacking the event-level sheen that his movies once had, some industry insiders believe it could be wise for Cruise to follow the path that other film stars have recently blazed from the multiplex to the couch.
“Today, we are in a golden age of TV, where so many movie stars and celebrities — Reese Witherspoon, Kevin Spacey, Nicole Kidman — have found artistic and creative fulfillment acting on television,” Jen Rudin, an award-winning casting director and author of the memoir “Confessions of a Casting Director,” told TheWrap.
“Tom Cruise could certainly strengthen his career if he found a great role in a one-hour drama that would let him go under the surface and go deep,” she continued.
Indeed, this year’s Emmys conversation is loaded with names that have previously landed above a movie’s title on a one-sheet: Kidman and Witherspoon (“Big Little Lies”); Spacey and Robin Wright (“House of Cards”); Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange and Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Feud: Bette and Joan”); Winona Ryder (“Stranger Things”); Anthony Hopkins (“Westworld”); Billy Bob Thornton (“Goliath”); and Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer (“Wizard of Lies”).
Kidman, of course, was once married to Cruise and starred with him in several films. She shared above-the-title billing with him in Stanley Kubrick’s final film, 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”
One of the most successful film-to-TV stories belongs to Matthew McConaughey: The A-lister’s acclaimed turn in HBO’s “True Detective” in early 2014 helped keep him in Oscar voters’ minds through awards season, and he won a Best Actor Oscar for “Dallas Buyers Club” that year.
Irving Yacine Belateche, a part-time lecturer at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts who has written scripts both for major film studios and TV channels including HBO, told TheWrap that Cruise would be a natural for prestige television.
“Tom Cruise would have tremendous success on TV,” Belateche said. “He’s a well-known and well-liked star with broad appeal. And if he chose a show that appealed to an older demographic, one that was weaned on him when he dominated the box office, there’s no doubt he’d garner a large audience.”
He points out that Cruise’s high level of stardom means he could truly challenge himself with risky material and still be guaranteed plenty of viewers. That was the direction Spacey took with “House of Cards,” in which he plays the simultaneously charismatic and despicable President Frank Underwood.
Cruise has been widely praised for his big-screen portrayals of difficult characters, like a mens’-rights motivational speaker in 1999’s “Magnolia.”
“His audience — that same large demographic — would tune in to see him, regardless of the type of show,” Belateche continued. “He could pick something offbeat, if that’s how he chose to enter TV, and still find success, depending on the quality of the show. It also helps that his older-skewing demographic is the same demographic that prefers watching television to heading out to a movie theater.”
A rep for Cruise told TheWrap no one was available for immediate comment.
Not everyone sees TV as a silver bullet for the star, who will return to theaters with “American Made” on Sept. 29 and is currently in production on the next “Mission: Impossible.” Bill Mesce, author of “Inside the Rise of HBO,” says that Cruise’s “career does seem to be having its stumbles.” But the writer questions whether Cruise could smoothly transition into a “Big Little Lies”-style series.
“Whatever his box office score, he still has a Hollywood Big Star charisma that might be too big for the small screen,” Mesce said. “He has proven he’s got stronger acting chops — [as seen in] ‘Magnolia,’ ‘Rain Man’ — than he’s usually given credit for. But even in those roles, he has a star wattage that might be too bright for TV.”
Peter Exline, who has worked as an executive for Warner Bros., Mace Neufeld and Michael Douglas, is even more adamant that such discussions are premature, recent blips notwithstanding.
“There’s absolutely no reason for Tom Cruise to do a television show,” Exline told TheWrap. “He’s one of the most powerful actors in the movie business with his own production company.”
In agreement is Larry Auerbach, associate dean of industry relations at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, who doubts TV will ever quite kick its stigma as the inferior medium. He said of Witherspoon and Kidman’s decision to do HBO:”I don’t think either one of them was ever in Tom Cruise’s category.”
“If I were him, I wouldn’t [do TV] unless there’s no motion pictures on the horizon for a long, long time,” Auerbach continued. “I don’t think he’s ready for television — he’s still an attractive leading man.”