If ever there was an actor that knows how to control a room full of clambering media, it's Tom Cruise. Charming, hypnotic, a man who knows how to court the press and publicise his image, whatever that may be.
In a Beverly Hills hotel room, Cruise apologises for his slightly dishevelled appearance. "I've been filming all night", he says smiling. Dressed in black, his tired demeanour doesn't prevent him from discussing topics that range from scientology, to literacy and his latest film The Last Samurai, for which some are hinting that this biggest of movie stars may finally be recognised with an Oscar nomination.
But if Cruise is at all concerned about award recognition, he isn't about to show it here. "I just enjoy what I do. Success and awards are great, but the accomplishment of it is the doing of it. If I got something from my peers, people who understand and make movies, then that would be wonderful, but it's not why I do what I do. I just really feel privileged to make movies, and that's why I do it," Cruise says.
He is now on a mission to sell his latest film, The Last Samurai, set in 1876, in which he plays a tormented soldier, who has fought in both the American Civil War and Indian Wars, battles that have left him emotionally crippled. Fate intervenes and leads him to Japan and a relationship with a Samurai warrior and his family that changes his life forever.
Cruise says that working on this exotic epic reminded him of the first time he saw Lawrence of Arabia as a child. That's when he first dreamed of becoming a part of that mythical world on the screen.
"When I was growing up I remember vividly being on the roof of my family's station wagon, and across the street was the Sahara Desert. I always wanted to see other places and learn about how other people lived. I began to travel and saw different cultures even within America."
When he started visiting Japan in preparation for The Last Samurai the country didn't let him down.
"I was absolutely fascinated and in awe of the culture. I found it ecstatic, the people fascinating and I just wanted to know more about their history, how they lived, and how they got to where they are today," he says.
Cruise has a reputation of taking his work seriously and that was especially true of The Last Samurai, which he worked on for close to three years. While the actor denies that he worked especially hard on this film, compared to others, he says that this production had its own set of problems.
"It was different in that it took me almost a year to physically be able to make this picture. I love and take great pride in what I do... I go all the way," he says.
Cruise admits he had serious doubts about taking on one of the most physically and emotionally daunting films of his career. He recalls having spent a year just physically developing the character, as well as the transition that the character makes throughout the movie.
"I have copious amounts of notes that I remember for the training sequences and where we start and where we end up."
The Samurai ideals of loyalty, courage and sacrifice had a strong appeal.
"Those values are very important to me and important to have in life. I look at the Samurai because they were the artists of their time, who were educated to be leaders and to lead and actually help people. What I think struck me when I read Bushido is compassion . . . If there's no one there to help go out and find someone, to help - that hit me, because I try to lead my life like that."
Thematically, The Last Samurai explores Cruise's character's search for an inner peace. It chimed with his own life experience.
"It's well known I'm a Scientologist, and that has helped me to find that inner peace in my life and it's something that has given me great stability and tools that I use," he says, broaching a subject he rarely discusses with the press.
"It's also something that has enabled me to help others in a way that I have always wanted to. We study technology that is applied and really enables people to educate themselves so they can become literally rehabilitated. We have, you know, programs that rehabilitate criminals and a successful drug rehabilitation program, that has helped hundreds of thousands of people get off drugs, and can go back to society and have happiness and not feel that they have a disease, but to feel that they are able. So there are a lot of things in my life that have given ME that inner peace."
Cruise adds that it helps in all areas of his life whether it be acting, family life, with his wife, actress Penelope Cruz, or ex-wife, Nicole Kidman.
"When you're happy, life is easier to deal with, and it's not less interesting... it grows, and it gets better."
As to the future, Cruise may be hinting that he will not be starring in Mission Impossible 3 any time soon, but he is currently shooting Michael Mann's Collateral which will probably undergo a title change. In a change of pace, Cruise plays a contract killer.
"I've been so fortunate to go from Ed Zwick to Michael Mann, both of whom are on top of their game, who have total command of what they do, and these two pictures couldn't be more different and unique in their characters. When I started out I was thinking: 'You're never going to work again!' or 'Will I work?' and 'What's going to happen?' And now, I'm having a blast."