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Originally published Thursday, June 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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What's going on with Tom Cruise?

"Do you want the truth? Can you handle the truth? " asked starlet Katie Holmes on Saturday night as she introduced her new boyfriend, mega-star...

Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — "Do you want the truth? Can you handle the truth?" asked starlet Katie Holmes on Saturday night as she introduced her new boyfriend, mega-star Tom Cruise, to fans at the taping of the MTV Movie Awards.

Of course, the seeming truth about Cruise, 42, has been up in the air for the last few weeks, ever since his couch-hopping, arm-pumping performance as a fool in love on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on May 23. Analyzed like the Zapruder film by Hollywood's chattering class, the "Oprah" bout, his May-December romance with Holmes, 26, and his May 26 "Access Hollywood" appearance (where his focus was Scientology) have led to open theorizing about a midlife crisis on the part of the star — to say nothing of worries about a full-scale public-relations meltdown. Compounding the tension is an ongoing high-pitched battle with the new Paramount administration over the budget of Cruise's franchise "Mission: Impossible III," slated to begin principal photography in weeks, if the studio agrees to continue going forward.

On Saturday night, the slightly subdued actor seemed determined to turn back the clock, and transform himself back into the Cruise America knows best: its most calm and collected movie star. The actor had very noticeably crashed Holmes' "Batman Begins" junket on Friday. By Saturday, the pair had reverted to movie-star elusiveness, arriving on Cruise's futuristic motorcycle, with black helmets obscuring their famous features. He shunned the red carpet and holed up in the dressing room beforehand; he skipped any media appearance in the green room.

The re-emergence of Cruise's pragmatic, predictable side seemed to signal a return to business as usual — no doubt accompanied by a sigh of relief in executive suites. When the business is Tom Cruise Inc., that is significant. While Cruise's domestic box office has softened recently, he remains the biggest movie star in the world, an international film behemoth.

During the MTV awards, Cruise kept to the more traditional movie-star playbook, kissing Holmes chastely and self-consciously. Later in the evening, he appeared more jovial and relaxed when bantering with his 11-year-old "War of the Worlds" co-star, Dakota Fanning, as they presented an award.

The actor's apparent return to form seems a calculated attempt to shift the public focus to his upcoming movie, "War of the Worlds," the reason he's ostensibly been making the "Oprah"/"Access Hollywood" rounds.

Along with his displays of romantic enthusiasm, Cruise has also used his recent media forays to discuss Scientology more openly. In years past, he's addressed questions about his faith, but not elaborately.

In its recent weeklong Cruise extravaganza, "Access Hollywood" permitted the actor a hefty chunk of time to enthuse about his religion, and spout off about a Scientology bête noire, the evils of psychiatry ("You have to understand that with psychiatry, there is no science behind it, and to pretend that there is a science behind it is criminal.")

Although Hollywood reacted in panic last year to Mel Gibson's evangelical zeal tied to the release of "The Passion of the Christ," it has generally responded to Cruise's Scientology fervor with determinedly closed-lipped tolerance.

As Cruise was about to embark on an international tour to promote "The Last Samurai" last year, the studio, Warner Bros., became increasingly nervous about him touting Scientology, particularly in Germany, where the group was under governmental surveillance. According to three sources involved in the production, it fell to his longtime publicist, Pat Kingsley, to suggest that mixing movies and religion might not be the wisest course of action. Within two months, their 14-year relationship was over.

Cruise, who declined to talk to the Los Angeles Times for this story, has publicly denied Scientology had anything to do with the rift. Of Kingsley, he said during his recent stint on "Access Hollywood": "I give people ... lots of chances ... and if they're not doing it at a certain point, it's like, 'Hey ... I fire them.' "

Kingsley, a veteran of the public-relations powerhouse PMK/HBH, declined to comment.

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And when Cruise discusses Scientology, people apparently listen. According to his sister and spokeswoman, Lee Anne DeVette, church recruitment goes up. "That definitely happens," she says. "Tom wears a pair of Ray-Bans and the sales of Ray-Bans go up. Tom goes on 'Oprah' and he's her highest-rated show since 1997. That's the nature of who Tom is, and how big Tom is and how much he has affected people."

Still, De Vette, also a Scientologist, stresses that Cruise isn't purposely proselytizing. "It's that Tom truly wants to help people, and if he finds something that works and helped him, he's more than happy to tell people about it."

She adds that journalists aren't required to learn about Scientology before they talk to Cruise, but rather presented with an opportunity to get up to speed on his beliefs. "Some take it up, and some people don't. Every time I've invited someone in the past, they've been like, 'Are you kidding? I'd love to go over there. I'm curious about it, and I've always been afraid to ask.' "

"I think it's weird that (journalists) put up with it," says Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. "What it demonstrates to me is how degraded the position of entertainment journalism is, that it not only succumbs to conditions like byline approval and photo approval, but also Scientology boot camp."

Cruise will soon begin his global publicity tour for "War of the Worlds," starting with a premiere in Tokyo on Monday. The film, directed by Steven Spielberg, is being released by Paramount and DreamWorks SKG.

Marvin Levy, Spielberg's personal publicist, says of the way Cruise's discussion of his beliefs has dominated the recent public discourse: "Obviously, we'd like more attention paid to the movie." Asked whether he thought Cruise's religious fervor would affect the global publicity, he said: "I don't think it helps," before adding, "I don't think it hurts too much. I hope the focus will be back to close to 100 percent on the movie. Anyone is entitled to express their opinions on anything. You try to balance out a time and place."

Spokesman and sister of Tom Cruise

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