The message came two months ago. My mission, should I choose to accept it, was spelled out: travel around the world with Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg for three weeks on the giant promotional tour for War of the Worlds (which opens tomorrow). We'd fly to Tokyo, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Marseilles, London, Madrid, New York and finally Los Angeles, touching down in each city just long enough to hit the red-carpet premieres and perhaps sample the local cuisine before jetting off for the next city.
And since the message didn't self-destruct, I figured I was the one who would be given that exhaustive tour itinerary. Either way, what the hell -- if it's a war of the worlds, you might as well be positioned on the front lines for all the action.
I accepted. After all, what could go wrong with this juggernaut on Cruise control?
Our first stop in Tokyo was a baptism by fire. Sweltering 40-degree heat was only a minor inconvenience compared with the frenzied hordes of Japanese clamouring to get a glimpse of Cruise or Spielberg at the Roppongi Hills Arena premiere. All around us, there was hyperventilating and fainting -- and those were just the reporters. One hyper-giddy Tokyo journalist was so stunned when he finally came face-to-face with Cruise that he was literally rendered speechless. His cameraman had to prod him back to life, and even then, the young reporter could only spurt out a sentence of pure gibberish . . . something about Tom Cruise living on a Japanese space ship in outer space.
Cruise patiently indulged the question, but it was clear things were getting lost in translation.
I later joked to Spielberg that this War of the Worlds premiere was the biggest thing to hit Tokyo since Godzilla. He laughed, and added that it was somehow fitting to launch War of The Worlds in Tokyo, "since this city has a history of being attacked by large alien creatures."
After barely escaping the crush of Japanese fans, we piled into the waiting limos and were whisked to a secluded area of the Narita airport, where the private jets were waiting to take us to Germany. After being escorted through a private-security checkpoint -- where even Japanese custom officials were pushing for autographs and snapshots -- we dashed across the tarmac and boarded the planes. "First we take Tokyo, then we take Berlin," I remarked to Cruise above the roar of the engines. He flashed that megawatt smile and laughed.
"This is only the beginning . . . the next few weeks are going to be amazing!"
The 15-hour flight from Tokyo to Berlin consisted of nap time, a lot of laughs, DVD selections by Tom's bodyguards ( Traffic) and a friendly race between the two teams of pilots over the nighttime skies of Siberia. According to Cruise's bodyguard, if the jets need refuelling, there's a remote outpost situated in the Siberian wilderness for just such a purpose. Thankfully, no such pit stop was required, but I'll keep that factoid in mind for future reference . . . just in case. Arriving at Tegel Airport at 3:30 a.m., our planes were met on the tarmac by German officials and a waiting motorcade of limos that sped us to the luxurious Adlon Hotel. A good night's sleep was going to be needed by Cruise if he were going to face the German media.
The next day's press conference was a bit tense. Unlike the Tokyo press conference, which consisted of mostly rambling raves from star-struck reporters, the Berlin media were poised for combat. Pointed questions were raised regarding Germany's opposition to Cruise's religious faith, the Church of Scientology. The German media were equally fixated on how Cruise would deal with alien visitors when they come. And the Germans seemed pretty insistent that the aliens were indeed coming. They must know something we don't.
To his credit, Cruise handled the German media graciously and with a sense of humour. The premiere that night, held at the Potsdamer Platz Theater -- built on a former area of the Berlin Wall -- was in stark contrast to Tokyo. Fans turned out in the thousands, but there was none of the usual screaming from the crowds. The Germans were far more sedate in their requests for photos and autographs -- which Cruise dutifully signed for nearly three hours. As my German cameraman said to me, "The Germans think they're too cool to acknowledge celebrities . . . even if all the Beatles reunited in front of them, they'd still stand there stone-faced with arms crossed."
After a short detour to Rome, where Cruise visited with girlfriend Katie Holmes on her Batman Begins promo tour, everyone jetted to Paris. It seemed as if it would be just business as usual in the City of Light. But at a press conference held at the Gare de Lyon train station, Cruise quietly announced that he'd popped the question to Katie Holmes earlier that morning at the Eiffel Tower. Jaws dropped. You could've heard a pin drop in the room. The few seconds of stunned silence were immediately broken by the press scrambling for their cellphones.
Cameras immediately surged in on Holmes -- who was sitting off to the right of Cruise -- for her reaction shots. She mouthed "I love you" to Cruise from across the room, and he did the same back. Within minutes, the press conference was over and we boarded the bullet train to Marseilles. Cruise told me later that he had been planning the engagement for a while, and figured the Eiffel Tower would be the most romantic locale since neither of them had ever been there before and it would always stand as a symbol of their love. By the time we all arrived in the south of France three hours later, the Cruise-Holmes engagement was the top story on all the news broadcasts. Marseilles was overrun with photographers and camera crews desperate to photograph the newly engaged couple and her five-carat diamond ring.
And just when it seemed nothing could top Paris, along came the London red carpet in Leicester Square. Moving along the press line, Cruise was unexpectedly doused with water by a fake reporter brandishing a fake microphone. It was the squirt heard 'round the world as, once again, Cruise became the top story on all the European newscasts. The squirting footage was played, replayed, slowed down for analysis and dissected like the Zapruder Kennedy assassination film over the following days. Cruise would end up thanking me profusely for my eTalk Daily promo T-shirt that he used to dry himself off with before gamely continuing with his red-carpet duties.
Two days later, the huge heat wave across Europe has followed us down to Madrid, where temperatures have now soared to nearly 45 degrees. But the heat was also on Cruise's team of bodyguards, who saw their numbers doubled and security precautions tightened as the advance team scoured the crowds waiting to meet him. They scrutinized every item, every movement, every gesture. When I suggested to Cruise that probably the most dangerous stunt he's ever done has been walking these red carpets, he looked perplexed and then let out a gigantic laugh of relief. It seemed to break the tense mood that had dogged him since the London red carpet. By the time the Cruise motorcade -- flanked by a police escort -- rolled out of the Madrid premiere, he was back to his old self. He swung out of the limo's open window and waved goodbye to the crowds from the roof of the speeding car. It was a classic Cruise moment.
When we touched down in New York two days later, Cruise was all grins as he showed off his new fiancée to the American media. The two lovebirds once again smooched, cooed and cuddled like school kids on the red carpet outside the Ziegfeld Theater. Radio shock-jock Howard Stern told me he and his girlfriend Beth were going to go one further and start humping on the red carpet, just to upstage Tom and Katie. Bomb-sniffing dogs were brought onto the red carpet before Cruise's arrival, as was even more security protection than in Europe. Cruise and Spielberg exchanged hugs and other guests such as Donald Trump, Tim Robbins, Alec Baldwin and Bruce Willis praised the genius of Steven Spielberg.
Later that evening, I remarked to Spielberg how the various adaptations of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds seem to arrive at turbulent moments in history. "That's so true," he said. "When Wells initially wrote the book in 1898, he was writing metaphorically about the end of British imperialism and the foolishness of colonialism. Then, with the Orson Welles radio broadcast of 1938, it was during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regime. By the 1950s film, we were smack dab in the middle of Cold War paranoia. And today, we're in the midst of global uncertainty [created]by the Bush administration."
Cruise's appearance the next morning on The Today Show, however, catapults him back to top story on the news when he engages host Matt Lauer in a heated debate over pharmaceuticals and the merits of psychiatry. Once again, War of the Worlds would take second place to the media's insatiable appetite for everything and anything Cruise.
As I write this, I am flying from New York to Los Angeles for the last stop on this tour. Terribly sleep-deprived and jet-lagged after flying around the world -- when all is said and done I will have circled the globe 1½ times -- I stopped changing my watch to new time zones because it became a pointless exercise very early on. The concept of time has ceased to exist these last three weeks -- photographers and TV reporters have become our only contact with the outside world, with their flashing white lights that circle around us as the only beacons of terrestrial life. I feel like we have become the aliens.
One thing's for certain, however: If aliens ever really did invade Planet Earth, it's doubtful they could ever garner as much media attention as Tom Cruise.
Special to The Globe and Mail