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July 2004
Collateral: Press Conference interviews with Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Director Michael Mann

By Todd Gilchrist

Collateral: Press Conference interviews with Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Director Michael Mann

Michael Mann is widely regarded as one of the industry's most gifted makers of intelligent crime films. Tom Cruise is known worldwide as one of the biggest "movie stars" in the business. When you put them together, you get "Collateral", a white-knuckle, thinking-man's thriller with enough box-office moxie to stomp any of its potential competition. Add Jamie Foxx and Jada Pinkett-Smith to the equation, and you've got a multi-ethnic cast whose collective talent is virtually without peer. The fearsome foursome recently sat down in Los Angeles to discuss this, their latest project with blackfilm.com, and revealed more than a few details about their personal lives as well.

Tom, you look much younger in person than you did in the film.

Cruise: Yeah.

Was that character choice intimidating for you? Will you acquiesce to advancing age or fight it?

Cruise: No. When it happens, I'll go all the way. No worries. It was cool. You know, Michael Mann came up with that look. He asked for some pictures and so I looked at them and we went over different colors. I thought it was perfect for Vincent. It was fun.

Did you enjoy playing a villainous role like Vincent, which is a departure from others you've played in the past?

Cruise: It was different. I always look for a challenge and something that's different. This definitely had every element and promise of being that. I wanted to work with Michael Mann and these guys, Jada and Jamie. It was very challenging, really challenging. The ambition Michael had for this picture- you know, when Michael sent the script he sent different stills, almost an art motif of things he was thinking about, and what he wanted to explore. It was just something else because his vision of LA and what he sees has real emotion, has real poetry. I knew it was going to be a lot of fun and it was.

Is Vincent's appearance natural or simply a disguise he puts on?

Cruise: He definitely thinks about that suit. I know we thought a lot about that suit (laughs). A lot about that suit. He definitely wears that suit.

Mann: It's not really a disguise, but it's anonymous. If somebody actually witnesses him and police ask for a description what are people going to say? A middle-aged, middle-height guy wearing a middle grey suit and white shirt. It describes anybody and nobody. In terms of Vincent's trade craft, which Tom mastered, and lots of different aspects of the trade craft including a whole bunch of things that aren't even in the movie, just to achieve that level of verisimilitude of a guy like Vincent that Tom did achieve, one part of that trade craft would be being anonymous. Denying specificity when someone describes you.

Jamie Foxx, was there any part of this role that you applied to your experiences as a black man?

Foxx: The one thing I drew upon a black experience in Max is I don't want to tell on you. I just want to get to the crib. I just want to go home.

Cruise: I think that's a human experience (laughs).

Foxx: The one thing I said to Michael Mann, there's this thing about calling the cops as a black man. I've done it before. My neighbor's alarm goes off and I call the cops and I forget that I called the cops. I got my beanie on and I'm in my front yard and they come get "me". And I'm out there explaining what I'm doing. I live here. So in that sense, just that underlying thing that I really want it all to go away. So that's the feeling, that Max is kind of exhausted. He's not the kind of guy who wants anything bad or good to happen in a day. I just want the day to get over so I can get home and do whatever I do.

What was each of your craziest taxi experience personally?

Pinkett-Smith: I guess New York City. My girlfriend and I hail a cab. The cab pulls over. I don't know if he thought it was just me getting in the cab but there were two of us. I start to get inside the cab and my girlfriend comes up behind me and the cab just pulls off, with me halfway inside. That would be a pretty crazy experience getting in the cab. "Trying" to get one (laughs).

Foxx: Tijuana. I went to college in San Diego and we would go to Tijuana because it was cheaper for college kids to go there. They have no rules. You can put as many people as you want in a cab. On two wheels, we flew all the way to the club.

Mann: I was in a cab in New York and the guy asked me where I'm going. I said I'm going to the hotel. He found out that I was going to get married the next day. He said, 'why do you want to do that? Why do you want to get married?' He asked me a whole bunch of questions. Then he turned the meter off and said, 'let's go for a ride in my car.' He tried to talk me out of getting married.

Cruise: Was that when you were marrying Summer?

Mann: No. The one before my wife, which didn't work.

Cruise: (laughs) Did he talk you out of it?

Mann: No.

Cruise: Mine is just New York. I was dropping this girl off and for some reason (the driver) decided to race another cabbie at 4 in the morning. I said, can you get there quickly and he just took off, ripping through red lights. It was fun. I gave him a good tip.

Tom, have you chosen a replacement director for Mission: Impossible 3 yet?

Cruise: The director for Mission is just something I'm looking at right now. I'm just evaluating and taking time. I'm looking at everything right now. I'm now just kind of putting it on hold and promoting Collateral and just evaluating.

What made this story essential to tell in Los Angeles? Why not move it to Toronto or Vancouver?

Mann: The idea of shooting an intense film like this in LA at night precedes the Collateral screenplay. It's something I wanted to do after the last two films that I made that were both that were historically accurate- extraordinarily real subjects and characters. So I had an appetite for doing a film like this before I got the Collateral script. In fact, there were two screenplays, both of which were set in New York, both of which we moved out here. There was never any question of us not shooting in LA. California and LA has got to compete with Canada because there should not be runaway productions. It hurts all of us. It hurts the film crews. The craft people we work with. The productions should be staying here.

How was that experience for the actors, to be closer to home?

Pinkett-Smith: It's nice. You know. For me, it's just where is a great project taking place? It just so happened to be in LA.

Foxx: The great thing about it in my experience is working with Tom Cruise and Michael Mann, I got a chance to invite some of my friends down that are actors who have not gotten a chance to work on a big budget kind of movie and [the filmmakers] were cool enough to say bring 'em on down and let them look over our shoulder. And as I say, Tom Cruise is the most well-adjusted millionaire you'll ever meet in your entire life. Michael Mann, who's known for his intensity, but we had a great chemistry on this film. I think it has something to do with being in LA. We felt really comfortable doing it. It gave me a chance to tell my friends, I'm working with Cruise, man! Come on down. (Cruise laughs.)

What's unique about this action film compared to others out there?

Cruise: Michael Mann. Michael Mann.

Mann: Thank you. That's nice. We don't look at these things as action films. We don't decide what genre we're going to do today. We don't see it as an action film. We see it as a drama. It's as extreme as it can be because in this one night where these guys have been, whatever their expectations and dreams are for the future, if they even have them. Everything is going to change. They are not going to be the same people after tonight that they were before tonight. That's an idea that's a dramatic idea. Then we worked very hard to build the characters and make them real and three-dimensional as possible, just the way you are in your own lives, with as much specificity as we could build in. Then we do the dramatic scenario and that's really it. So we don't really think of it in genre terms.

Jamie, do you consider yourself a standard-bearer for comedians by taking dramatic roles like this?

Cruise: I'm going to answer one first. Here's the thing about the kind of talent Jamie has: talent is talent. You look at Foxx. You talk about him as a standup comedian. Before that, he's a classically trained musician. He's a singer. He's a songwriter. You should hear his music. His ability at comedy to create characters and have insight into people and he makes jokes about it but it's also about something and it shows the unique insight into people. And you see that he's a comedic actor. And it's not just that he's played dramatic roles before this. He's carrying the movie here with Collateral with the humanity. It's a very difficult role. I think talent is talent. Michael Mann, as a filmmaker, was smart enough to put the three of us together in the movie. One of my favorite scenes in the movie was with Jada and Jamie. That scene captures two people meeting each other. That is the high bar. It is such a difficult thing to accomplish. I remember talking to Michael about that early on. You have to care about her and that relationship from one scene. It's very difficult.

Mann: It's a tricky piece of narrative engineering because you meet them in the front and you have to remember her. She has to make such an impression on Max and us that she has to be alive to you all the way through the end of the picture. You have to really think about it. You have to make a very, very strong impression about two people who just happen to meet and have the intimacy that's only possible amongst total strangers who know they'll never see each other again, they think at the beginning movie. So I think it's an amazing piece of work. Jamie's a renaissance man, he's a man for all seasons. He can do anything.

Do you feel like you're in the position to impact or inspire other actors of color?

Foxx: I'm not one to run away from that question. I had guys on the set that were colleagues of mine. Brothers that were saying, 'Man, we just want to see the work.' Work is coming now. In the 80s and 70s, it was Richard Pryor, that was it. In the 80s, it was Eddie Murphy. In the 90s, things started to open up. You look at Will, you look at Denzel, you look at Chris Tucker, you look at Martin. It's starting to open up now. The one thing that they're a little jealous of is that I do get a chance to do those roles. In my life, all the slots were taken. Chris Tucker, he had the slot sewn up quickly. Will they got the slots sewn up as far as the comedic aspects of it. Now this is like my thing I've been lucky enough to have. I was thrown Michael Mann, Tom Cruise saying we believe. You've got to have somebody who believes that you can actually make it happen. As far as the comedian thing-

Cruise: Then you've got to deliver, otherwise it's like, 'I believed in you, man. What happened?'

Foxx: But the comedy thing was that I came in through music. I was going to be the next Lionel Ritchie. I had the curls. Then what happened was, at the Comedy Store, they were doing comedy so I acted like a comedian. I went up and held the microphone how Eddie Murphy would hold it or Richard Pryor, and I started acted as if I were a comedian to get to In Living Color and to get to these other things, to get to this point.

Tom, can you talk about the development of your character?

Cruise: It was kind of an anti-social character. It was months of talking with Michael and finding that point of fracture. Where does it all go wrong for Vincent and where does it start? You know. We just kept creating layers. Normally, I always do a lot of research for a character, particularly something like this. That back story has to inform every scene. With Michael, he had pictures of where I came from. We discussed a lot of different aspects of where I live and how I became the way I became as Vincent. So it will emotionally inform the movie and start to look at where does this fracture happen. Vincent is impinging on Max. I'm driving that car from the back seat and then bring my attention to the things I have to do to get my job done. When you're making a movie, it's not like oh, it's going to happen here. It evolves out of this creative process, which Michael is excellent at.

Mann: We don't know if it affects you all. We have our intent and we hope it works. There's always an element of did it or didn't it work. What we intended to do was put you, the audience in a state of mind where they start to pose a question. Not come to a conclusion. Pose a question. After we establish Vincent as a professional and kind of immaculate in his presence: is there something wrong with this guy tonight? We didn't want answers; we wanted just the question posed leading to the very end of the film. It started with the paroxysm of regret after he shoots Daniel. What was that? Then there's more unexplained things. The sibling rivalry. Why does he deviate to get into a sibling rivalry with Max for the affections of Max's mother, and then win? Then it goes on with the story about his father. By the time Max is seeing beyond the end of the gun and seeing into Vincent for the very first time after the shootout at the Korean club, Fever, and starts to see Vincent as damaged goods, now Tom is able to play being impacted upon by what Max is saying and Max is saying why haven't you killed me yet? That's a really big question. So you start to feel this one night, Vincent, who's the antagonist, who's the mover of all these events, there's something happening with him. He's cracking up.

Cruise: That stuff is things you just find. We spent a lot of time, where, when, why didn't he? When you start working on something you're really just asking questions. And we kind of say, 'Well, I really want to pose this question. Where did this happen?' Then as you're working on it you just discover those moments.

What were the challenges of shooting the majority of the film inside a cab?

Pinkett-Smith: It's just, for me, the biggest challenge was trying to create a substantial connection with Jamie's character the first 15 minutes. And here I am in the back of a cab trying to do this, looking at the back of his head and trying to create this connection, this situation. I loved being in the cab because it gives such an authentic feeling. It's less that I'll have to imagine because I'm in the cab, we're driving on the street, so the environment is there. But I did find it to be a little of a challenge but in a very good way. And it really helps to have the real space there. That only helps perpetuate that authentic feeling. So I really appreciated being on the street in a real cab, because a real cab has a certain way the seats are and the way that it smells and the way it feels. Not being on a soundstage in some box that they're pushing. It really helps to create the authentic feeling of the scene and where it comes from. To me, it was great. I really enjoyed it. It was challenging, but it was great.

Cruise: We had a bunch of cabs made, different kinds that were supposed to be tested for sound so that I could hear Jamie, he could hear me, so we could talk in a very relaxed natural way. I say supposed to, because the first time we worked the bugs out of it.

Foxx: (to Cruise) Did you fall asleep? I fell asleep a lot when we first started because the big motor that was driving us-

Cruise: Oh yeah, the fumes.

Foxx: I was going to sleep at like 9, I gotta work with Cruise, I'm going to sleep early in the morning. So I was fresh and I'd get in the car- yeah.

Cruise: A couple of times, I'd say, 'What? What did you say? Did you say? Foxx, did you say your line? Did you say it?'

Mann: We built 17 cabs. Some had no fronts, some had no sides. Some we didn't use at all. What actually worked out was that the sequence where they're supposed to be in a real cab with someone, either myself or Gary Jay with the camera on his shoulder in one of the seats. But the interesting thing about cabs is that you have to view it as an opportunity because if you have two people, they're both facing the camera, but whenever we elect to, the man in the backseat can have his own thoughts coming across his face because the other guy's not necessarily seeing him. So he can have two communications. One to the driver, Tom's reactions to Jamie, or Tom can have reactions which are, particularly in the first scene, when Jamie says that he's starting a limo company, how long have you been driving this cab, 12 years? He's gonna start a limo company next month, but it's going on for 12 years. Tom raises his eyebrow at one point and Jamie doesn't see it. And you can only do that when you have both people facing the same direction. So it actually becomes an opportunity.

Tom, what's been going on for you outside of work?

Cruise: No. I have been busy. Busy hangin' out with my kids, releasing Collateral. I have got the Cameron Crowe picture that we are producing, Elizabethtown with Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst and Susan Sarandon. That's going really well. And just working on things. Working on Mission and a few other pictures. I haven't had a break yet. I will. I will take time. But I haven't gone on vacation yet. But I am having a good time. Life is actually very good.

How about the rest of you? How is your summer going?

Pinkett-Smith: I am just excited about my band. That's what I've been doing. I finished the tour with Britney and I am planning to hopefully jump on the Rock The Vote tour. Because I am really passionate about getting out there and getting people registered to vote in this election. Just educating people about what's happening.

Did you and Jamie make music on the set of the film?

Foxx: We can (laughs). With the supervision of her husband. She has a joint. It's crazy. She's got a joint called "Taste My Fruit" and it's crazy-

Pinkett-Smith: It's cool. We got to share because he had a number one song out and I was like 'Jamie, check this out. I just did a club remix. Tell me what you think about this.' We'd go back and forth.

Cruise: She didn't even tell us she had a band. One night I came over and she just started singing. And I heard she was going on tour. I was like 'What?' All these nights we had been sitting around in our down jackets-

Michael, what challenges did shooting exclusively at night present?

Mann: Motion picture film could not see the world that these characters inhabit, the world of this motion picture. It just can't see it. It can't see at night, the environments, the red desert or depopulated refineries. Just at the moment when Max and Vincent are going to become personal for the first time and talk about themselves, as a backdrop set it off, film could not see that stuff. And so we had to invent and modify visual technology to be able to see it. And it's a very painterly, very interesting medium you can manipulate a lot more than film as well. The scene where Mark Ruffalo shows up at the crime scene, you're seeing two miles away, downtown, a little American flag on top of a building. You couldn't see any of that. It's not just the seeing though. It lends itself to taking the atmosphere and real landscapes and pushing them, to move, to drive a scene and affect a scene and affect the way you feel about these characters. It's all story driven. And LA is unique in that sense because it provides us with those places and kind of a landscape of dreams, but there's less of those dreams. They're somebody's idea in 1958 about what's the sci-fi apartment building of the future. There's the '58 idea and then it became a Hispanic neighborhood and now it's a Korean neighborhood and coyotes are walking through it. And that's L.A. That's what's unique about the city.

Do you prefer to shoot with digital cameras to film?

Mann: For this movie, it was great shooting in digital. It required a lot. It was like having a camera that's attached on an umbilical to your refrigerator at home. So it wasn't portable. And half the time, I heard it drop, kick it off the back of the van and [say], Give me a camera with some film in it.' But it enabled me to be very painterly with building the scene. It's counterintuitive to photography in every conceivable way. Throw a light meter away, I don't need it. It's right there on a high def monitor. But it required knowing exactly what you want because what's available is a much broader spectrum than a motion picture film.

Cruise: You could get lost in it. Spend all your time looking through the eye.

Mann: The advantage to the acting is that instead of, typically if you're in the car, you've got a 400 foot magazine which is 3 minutes and 45 seconds of film. Just when things are getting good, you've got to change the mag, change the film. Then everybody starts coming around and touching up makeups and hair and all this stuff and you basically lose concentration all over.

Cruise: But we could just keep going.

Mann: We'd just keep going, so it's worth using 55 minute tape. A lot of the takes that Tom and Jamie were doing, we were able to benefit from the continuity of rolling through it, going right back and doing a three, four page scene, going right back and do it again, do it again, do it again. We were building- - what happens is a certain spontaneity that comes off the repetition. And all of a sudden, you just hit gold. These are takes that were 17 minutes long, 18 minutes long and you just get these moments that just worked. In that sense, I like the way it works with actors.

Jamie, people are already mentioning Oscar nominations for your performance in the upcoming film Ray. Are you feeling any added pressure?

Foxx: Well you know, a lot of people say 'Don't jinx it. Don't say Oscar.' I say 'Hey, say it!' And the only reason I say that is if you are playing basketball for the Lakers or whatever team, you want to go to the championship, and if you look at the Oscars, that would be what you consider the championship. Now as far as looking at that as the only reason you do your career? No. I've been fortunate; I am the one of the luckiest guys in the world. And when you get LA buzzing, like LA is buzzing- I got billboards up on Sunset and Highland and a couple of other places- that's when it feels good, when other people are acknowledging you. I hosted the ESPYs and Tom Cruise showed up and Denzel was there and Sharon Stone, all these people are kind of noticing. At the end of the day it's not about how many awards you won. It's the moments and the marks you leave. And the admiration from the people that you have been looking at for however many years comin' up in your career. So that's what makes it good for me. I'm just going to keep riding it, and then if any of these movies can get those acknowledgements, that's great. As far as Ray Charles is concerned, Ray Charles got a chance to view the movie in his own way before he passed away. So people should know that. And his is a story not too hard to tell because Ray Charles is a great man.

Were there any behind the scenes hijinks on Collateral?

Mann: There was nothing funny that ever happened.

What about Jamie crashing into a Mercedes (which is in the film)?

Foxx: Now, it's I killed Tom Cruise.

Cruise: Yeah, I'm dead. Tom won't be here at the junket. He's dead.

Foxx: I made a mistake. It wasn't on purpose. Michael told me to drive past-

Cruise: He was just gonna take off the side view mirrors of a couple of the cars-

Foxx: And Tom was like... Mr. Cruise is about safety. I'm thinking about this in my mind. He's like, 'What about safety, Jamie? Just make sure everything's safe.' I'm like, 'I got this.' And I go head first into this Mercedes and he is in the back seat. About a billion dollars of man goin' up and down and Michael Mann, I'm sure, is goin' nuts. Michael Mann's probably loving it. It looked crazy.

Cruise: As long as you don't take your foot off the accelerator.

Mann: All I heard was these two guys driving away after wrecking two cars, laughing hysterically-

Tom, what kind of consideration do you give to the kinds of roles you play now as opposed to those earlier in your career?

Cruise: I don't look at it that way. I look at roles that I am interested in and just different type of characters. That's what I want. I take characters that I feel are of a personal challenge to me. And definitely Vincent is a character I haven't played before. I like acting because creatively you do your work, but it is really a team sport. It's that kind of communication and create together. It's with Michael, with Jamie, we had these scenes together. With Jada, it's all of use together. When you are working with people who are professional and talented, it is fun. So the juice for me is making the movie. Everything that happens outside of that is part of it. But really, I love what I do.

Mann: I'm going to jump in. One of the biggest compliments I can pay Tom- who is one of the most recognizable people on the planet and has been a huge movie star for a long time- is that when he comes to work, he is an actor coming to act. He takes it 100% seriously and with 200% commitment. So if I say to Tom, 'We are gonna start at 9:00 am,' Tom is there at ten to nine. And the more difficult it gets, the more exciting it is and the more he projects himself out there and is absolutely out there on a tightrope without a net. And that's the only place that good work is done. The same with Jamie, the same with Jada. So aside from the external perception which from my point of view is I'm a director, I come to work and I got three actors and we all go and work, we're all doing it. We're just doing it. So the honestly of that process, and I confess my prejudice, produces this characterization of a very complex, very fascinating Vincent.

How did the actors create chemistry with each other for their respective roles in the film?

Cruise: I will just never forget when he came in, Michael was there and it just happened. Then after the meeting, Michael looked at me like "This is gonna be great." When Michael talked about Max and who was gonna play Max or even Jada's character, he wanted that chemistry between these people. These two men and their relationship. But it was just there. The more you worked on those characters and created characters, remember we did the test? Michael was working on putting us together for the first time as characters and we were doing lighting tests. Foxx was there, but he sits in the front and I'm sitting in the back. I could just see Michael looking through the thing and his thumb starts going [twitching]. You just know, you could feel it, this is exciting, he could see his movie and his characters and his actors workin'.

Mann: Sometimes when you are directing, you just know. The first visual I had of these two guys- one is in the front seat, one is in the back seat of the cab- I said, 'Oh, this is not bad. This is really good.'

Cruise: It was exciting. And I could feel it. And as an actor, I love movies. I have seen all of Mann's movies. It's something you want to look at and study, his. Because he designs his pictures from the ground up. And really has tremendous command of the medium and the story telling. So for me to be able to have this opportunity to work with him so intimately on this film and see from really the beginning how he worked on this particular piece and the characters and the casting. To the moment where we are there in wardrobe sitting there in that cab... Because I was curious. It's in a cab, looking at the drama in the scenes, how are we gonna hold that compression? How are we gonna create that tension? And he started taking the camera and he'd have me sit over to the left at certain times of Max. What does that do? I could just be Vincent in the back, but even that director's looking where he's going to put his lens, how the lighting is going to be to create that kind of tension or emotion in the scene. And Michael just saw his movie at that moment. When stuff like that happens, it is just a great thrill, it's a buzz. That is what we are all reaching for. Also the clarity of what he is reaching for. He is great at communicating that to us. So that we are all working toward the same goal of storytelling. It was a really incredible experience for me.

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