Let's get this out of the way first: Tom Cruise will never again reign as Hollywood's No. 1 box-office Napoleon. The $20 million paychecks for flicks that end up grossing $300 million? Those days are gone, regardless of how many Les Grossman projects we may see.
That said, don't write Cruise off:
Because Grossman—a fictional bald, foul-mouthed movie producer he first played in Tropic Thunder—is breathing new life into Cruise's career. It's just not the level of oomph the actor used to enjoy.
Older folks who remember Cruise dancing in his socks or proclaiming a need for speed may find the adoption of a fat suit as a pathetic bid for relevance. But they're not the only ones watching.
Post-millennial teens and twentysomethings have never experienced Cruise in his leading-man heyday—and yes, I am talking about the stuff he did before the Mission: Impossible franchise. In Grossman, all younger people see is Ethan Hunt putting on a fat suit—a leading-man type showing he doesn't take himself too seriously.
And they get it. They laugh.
In fact, they've collectively hopped on YouTube to watch Grossman videos more than—and this is not a misprint—1 million times. It's image-management genius.
"In this era," publicist Anthony Mora muses archly, "with reality-TV trainwrecks becoming celebrities, Les Grossman might be just the ticket."
(Older folks seem to be liking Cruise better these days, too, but for different reasons. "He seems more normal—he's married with a kid, not jumping on couches like he used to," says media coach, crisis PR guy and social media expert TJ Walker. "He's also back in the fold with a lot of [powerful Hollywood] people.")
What would it take for Cruise to climb back to the No. 1 status he used to have? Well, he'd have to show us he has more to offer right now than, say, Johnny Depp, Matt Damon or George Clooney, all of whom have been enjoying bigger star power over the past few years, according to the Davie Brown index.
Says David Eichler, a publicist who has worked with stars and studios, "Tom is going to have to do something of substance—Jerry Maguire, Born on the Fourth of July—to get people to care again."
In other words, take off that fat suit—and leave the guns and explosives to someone else, at least, for a while.
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PHOTOS: Les Grossman showed up to the MTV Movie Awards, you know.