- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

NEW YORK CITY — Director Steven Spielberg says he and star Tom Cruise probably both saw their new movie, "Minority Report," as a grand experiment.

"Here's a guy," he says of Mr. Cruise, "who feels he has nothing to lose. I feel the same way. The fact is, it's fun to experiment. We sort of walked along the edge of that together."

The two recently promoted "Minority Report" in interviews with the press at the Mark Hotel. Mr. Spielberg had skipped the press interviews for "A.I." last summer, although he was within strolling distance of the site in Beverly Hills. Mr. Cruise had chosen to remain semielusive during interviews in New York at the end of 2001 for his release "Vanilla Sky." This time, reporters were speculating that the failure of both "A.I." and "Vanilla Sky" to catch on in a big way may have contributed to the pair's availability and conviviality.

"Minority Report," set in Washington in 2054, casts Mr. Cruise as John Anderton, the chief of an experimental "pre-crime" unit that has proved foolproof in stopping intended murders. It is guided by the intuition of a trio of psychic young people called "pre-cogs." Premonitory flashes identify potential victims and perpetrators on the surface of miniature balls that roll down a series of tubes, rather like the televised lotto system.

Unfortunately, a day arrives when Anderton discovers his own name on the perp ball.

"This is about a well-intentioned attempt to streamline law enforcement at some point in the future and prevent crimes from ever happening," Mr. Spielberg says of the pre-crime concept. "In desperation, they have turned to what I would call magic, the whole world of psychic phenomena. But the question arises, what personal freedoms must be given up to accommodate these crime-stopping techniques?"

The filmmaker was reluctant to equate authentic threats with a system of fictional apprehension. "The prevention problems confronting the CIA and FBI are very real. They seem to have been given more latitude for surveillance and for picking out the dangerous elements in our society. That's important right now. It's just coincidence that this movie involves similar issues," he says.

Of all the new wrinkles anticipated in the movie, Mr. Cruise says the futuristic transportation system envisioned for Greater Washington has the greatest promise "as long as you could come off it and still go driving places in a conventional way."

"When you're on the Mag-Lev, as it's called, you're being driven by an awesome computer system sometimes horizontally, sometimes vertically, which is very cool," Mr. Cruise says. "I also liked the stun gun. You look at where retinal screening is going, and I think that should help in terms of preventing crime.

"I was reading the other day about some scientist who had devised a program to predict human behavior in certain settings. There was something about testing it in airports. I would certainly welcome systems that improved things like transportation and highway safety and personal protection. But people need to be more aware of the ramifications when they involve questions of privacy and personal freedom."

The movie derives from a 1956 short story by Philip K. Dick. It had lingered in development for at least a decade, originally with other directors and performers. The screenplay eventually tailored for Mr.. Spielberg and Mr. Cruise by Scott Frank, best known for "Dead Again," was ready two years ago. Production was postponed when Mr. Spielberg decided to heed the appeals of Stanley Kubrick's family and shoot "A.I.," an unfinished project that the late director once had urged his younger colleague to take over, back in 1994.

"Tom totally understood. He had been in Stanley's last picture, 'Eyes Wide Shut.' The circumstances were completely extraordinary," Mr. Spielberg says.

The director, 55, recalls that he and Mr. Cruise, who turns 40 on July 3, missed an auspicious collaboration in the late 1980s. "We almost got together on 'Rain Man,'" he says. "I had to pull out because of a scheduling conflict. Dustin [Hoffman], Tom and I had done a lot of work on the script together."

Asked what makes a movie star, Mr. Spielberg replies, "We do," meaning professional filmmakers. "We see a lot of faces, a lot of people," he explains. "For whatever reason, we needed to bring Tom into our world. We crowned him, and the audience approved. He didn't do that himself.

"At this stage, it's easier to account for the success. Tom has tremendous presence. He's honest. He looks his audience right in the eye. He's dynamic. He takes chances maybe more as he gets older. For instance, the part he played in 'Magnolia.' I would never have imagined Tom saying yes to that. It blew me away."

Mr. Cruise, still sporting the plastic brace across his upper teeth that recently accompanied a cover photo on Entertainment Weekly, chuckles at the suggestion that he and Mr. Spielberg might bring an undercurrent of professional rivalry to the set.

"I never think in those terms, ever," the actor says. "Steven's a filmmaker. I'm the actor. It's just that relationship. Hopefully, I bring what I've learned and what I want to explore to a project. Steven is the storyteller, but there's nothing pretentious or vain about the way he works. In fact, he shoots so fast that there's never a lot of downtime. His imagination is staggering.

"He brought so much to this conception that wasn't in the original story or early versions of the script like the display screen where I can see documents and then discard them with a wave of the hand, what we call 'scrubbing the image.' He was the one who thought it would be best to project only 50 years into the future, not hundreds of years, in order to keep this vision of the future more accessible."

The actor seems genuinely weary of curiosity surrounding his personal life or financial status. Asked about actress Penelope Cruz, he muses, "OK, do I say it's personal, or do I just go on?"

He is willing to discourse on common-sense economics. "The financial deal is never the reason I make a movie," he insists. "I learned very early on in the movie business that if a movie makes back its money and a little more besides, they'll let you go out and do it again. When I make a film, I am concerned about protecting the privilege of working again. So when I'm paid a lot, as we all are, outrageous sums really, I expect a lot of myself and the people who work for me."

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