Entertainment news is a bit outside my wheelhouse, but I wanted to take a moment to hash over something I realized when reflecting back on the hilarious 2008 movie Tropic Thunder. I saw it in theaters at the time and thought it was a great, funny and well-written parody of the war movie genre with plenty of shots across the bow at Hollywood itself. The standout performance of the film is Tom Cruise playing disgusting Hollywood mogul Les Grossman.
Fat, hairy, balding, and a huge asshole who likes to dance. Cruise stole the show despite the actor being barely recognizable in the movie under heavy makeup and wearing a fat suit. Now here we are ten years later and Cruise’s over the top depiction of a Hollywood studio executive just doesn’t seem quite as funny anymore. In the era of #metoo, Les Grossman seems less like a parody and more like a satire, a hidden message bled into the comedy, one that hid in plain sight until the fall of Harvey Weinstein.
Thinking it over a bit, I remembered an interview with Ben Stiller around the time that Tropic Thunder came out. He was saying that they wanted Tom Cruise in the movie, but that they had a much more appropriate role for him in mind, something more suitable for Hollywood royalty like him. Stiller said that Tom was very adamant about playing the role of Les Grossman, that this was the only role he wanted, which didn’t make much sense as some people say his career was in a slump at the time — as Mission Impossible 3 had not done well, and Cruise was getting a lot of bad press over a leaked Scientology video he appeared in.
Doing a bit of googling as I prepared to write this article, I discovered something even more interesting. Tom Cruise apparently came up with the character concept himself, suggesting it to the Tropic Thunder crew. Producer Stuart Cornfield said when being interviewed for a retrospective that, “Tom read the script when there was no Les Grossman and said, ‘I think you need another villain other than just the 12-year-old drug king. What about some greedy pig studio executive who really represents the gross part of Hollywood?'”
“I had been talking to Tom about being in the movie. He read the script and actually came up with the idea for the character,” lead actor and director Ben Stiller added.
Tom Cruise came into the studio and his scenes were filmed in three days, with crew standing by with water at all times because of the danger of dehydrating while buried inside a fat man suit and makeup. Crew members were a bit freaked out listening to him rehearse his lines, saying the vilest things imaginable. All these years later, Les Grossman seems less like a well-executed role performed by a talented actor, and more like a message about Hollywood from one of its quintessential insiders.
Cruise certainly knew Weinstein, but of course, in retrospect, the question becomes just how much did he know? Was the actor trying to throw shade on the Hollywood mogul due to some kind of falling out between the two, or was he trying to warn others in the industry to stay away from Weinstein? We may never know, but the resemblance in appearance and personality between Cruise’s invented fictional character and the real-life sexual predator are impossible to deny.