When the news of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes split broke, I was saddened for all involved, especially their daughter, but certainly not shocked. I immediately thought back to the infamous W magazine article on Katie from August 2005 (http://www.wmagazine.com/celebrities/archive/katie_holmes), soon after they started dating, where a seemingly smart, articulate girl, was suddenly regurgitating lovesick, juvenile stock phrases and mantras not at all in accordance with the questioning and deferring to her “best friend” of six weeks, reported Scientology handler and new mouthpiece, Jessica Rodriguez. I couldn’t help but wonder if those influences (Tom’s control, Scientology, strangers) had anything to do with their demise. It was such strange behavior. It was if someone had put a spell on her. Something I was vaguely familiar with…
Media outlets from all over the world converged on Rome to cover the nuptials of the year. There were hordes of television crews, reporters, photographers and fans and Tom welcomed it. He sold plots outside the castle where they would wed for $10,000 a pop and encouraged his most famous pals, colleagues and acquaintances to attend, even inviting his nemesis Brooke Shields. He wanted this to be a who’s who and, boy, was it ever. I was there too. My employer at the time, Us Weekly, sent me along with a team of others to cover every moment of the A-list, action-packed weekend.
It started, as most do, with the rehearsal dinner, which was held at a local restaurant in the heart of town. I had never seen so many gatherers outside of one spot. The streets were blocked off, police and security blanketed the area and thousands of spectators were clamoring to catch a glimpse or get a shot. I couldn’t move. It was like being in the mosh pit of a rock concert. I half expected Bella, the forgotten daughter, to be passed back soon. Fans kept jumping up to see over the rows and rows of heads in front of them, trying desperately to view the passageway that security blocked off. There was a great deal of murmuring and speculation, “Who was invited? When would they arrive? What would they be wearing? Would she be there?” She, of course, was Suri, the only offspring of Tom and Katie, the one, perfect child so good-looking that people alleged was not real, conceived in a lab, a Scientology sorceress created to take us all down.
The decibels of the crowd reached a fever pitch. Shrieks and yelps so loud, I was temporarily deafened. Cars had started to arrive. They were followed by a hush as the spectators held their breath and covered their mouths as they nudged and pointed with each door that opened. Soon, they erupted again.
“Will! Jada! Jenny, Jim, Jennifer….”
One by one, the bona fide celebrities popped out of the chauffeured driven cars. Dressed in their finest, flashing megawatt grins and perfectly placed and whitened teeth.
Then, out of a black Escalade parked at the top of the cobblestone street emerged the family of the hour. In true Tom fashion, he had the driver stop yards in front of the restaurant so he and his fiancé—the one from Dawson’s Creek, the one sixteen years his junior, the one who dreamed of marrying him—could make the grandest of grand entrances. They trotted down the hill, not an intentionally misplaced hair out of place, Katie navigating the tricky pavement perfectly in five-inch stilettos, Suri nestled in Tom’s arms. Like any other soon-to-be betrothed couple, they were beaming. But these two had a little something extra it seemed. There was an aura about them; it was if they were lit from within. (Perhaps Tom had them genetically engineered for this very event.) The spectacle was intoxicating. These were true superstars. They managed to transcend everyone in their orbit without speaking a word.
The party was private but we would later learn that they rented out the restaurant, holding an “intimate” dinner for 80 of their nearest and dearest. The feast was family style—Italian, of course. Naturally, Tom was close with the owner (who isn’t he friends with?) so he chose to have the event there. The rest of the details were scarce but I imagined how Tom likely held court telling hilariously detailed, animated stories, complete with intense stare culminating in his signature toothy grin and gargantuan guffaw, from his days on the set of Top Gun and Jerry McGuire, captivating everyone’s attention, his guests hanging on his every word, delighting in the front row seat to Hollywood’s inner sanctum. I envisioned Katie, or Kate, as he called her, recounting how Tom proposed at the Eiffel Tower, gushing about her romantic man, his poetic words and the stunning view and pictured precocious little Suri entertaining everyone with her quirky expressions and innate charm.
Once they were inside the restaurant, I retreated to the Hotel Hassler, where the couple was staying in order to obtain the obligatory reporting (Were they holding hands? How did they seem? What did they say?) as they returned to their penthouse suite above the Spanish Steps. I was happy to get in from the cool air, shoving and shrieking. I met one of my colleagues and we grabbed a table in the cozy, quaint lobby bar, securing some champagne. We’d been working round-the-clock since we touched down days before and had earned it. Since the dinner wouldn’t be finished for another hour or two, we were off the hook for a bit. After filing my findings, I kicked off my shoes, curled up on the couch and ordered a cheese plate, dishing with my coworker about office gossip while nibbling on Rome’s finest formaggio. Eventually, the screaming commenced, which meant only one thing: the Cruises were back.
Bracing ourselves for the cold and the crowds, we rushed outside. After a frenzied flash, our subjects were whisked into the hotel and disappeared amidst a sea of bodyguards and attendants. I returned to our banquette, jotted down some notes and took a sip of my bubbly as I overheard a familiar voice. It was distinctive. It was from the Bronx. It was Jennifer Lopez.
When I looked up, sure enough, sitting at the next table were Jennifer, Marc Anthony, Brooke Shields and Leah Remini. Trying not to look too stunned, I smiled sweetly and averted my gaze.
But I knew what we had to do. We had to try for comment. After all, that’s why we were there, why the magazine had paid big bucks to send us over, stay at the luxurious St. Regis and expense the crap out of Rome. My colleague and I exchanged knowing looks and went in for the quote.
“Hi,” I said, as calmly as I could manage, just a simple, everyday hello to one of the world’s biggest stars. The kind of greeting you’d give your neighbor: friendly, polite and nonchalant. Right. At this point, I was accustomed to interviewing stars at events and on the red carpet and did so nerve-free. But over drinks in an intimate hotel in Rome during arguably the biggest entertainment weekend of the year was quite another thing. I gathered myself, pretending I was speaking to Jenny from my block, not the block. Leahi Remini and Brooke Shields joined in. Just a bunch of girlfriends: Jennifer, Leah, Brooke and Natalie sipping champers and chatting, your typical Saturday night.
They knew we were reporters as we had identified ourselves and, although they didn’t want to comment, were very sweet. We eventually excused ourselves from the group, not wanting to overstay our welcome and made our way back to our table, which was close enough to see them but far enough away that we couldn’t hear.
Within moments, several huge men appeared and surrounded each exit. As soon as they were at their posts, the bride and groom walked into the bar. They had changed clothes and were wearing almost identical dark jeans and grey cashmere sweaters. They joined the star-studded table to a reception of cheers and applause. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was witnessing this, but, moreover, couldn’t believe Katie was spending the night before her wedding with near strangers. I was actually sad for her. I couldn’t help but think she should be with her family and loved ones, not faux friends no matter how famous. After catching a quick glimpse, I put my head back down to give them their privacy. But, apparently, one look was one too many.
No sooner had they sat than one of the burly bodyguards came up to our table and informed us that we had to move. Were there more people coming down? Of course we would make room for them. No. There were no others but our presence was not welcome. With that, another guard came over and soon both men were helping my cohort and me up. They quickly escorted us to the end of the room; we were now ten tables away from the wedding party with no one in between. None of the women seemed bothered by us but Tom, the man who sold plots at a castle and courted the media, the man who spends over two hours on a press line, was bothered by our mere existence. To some extent, however, I understood. He didn’t know us and didn’t want anyone intruding on a special moment during a very special time in his life and I respected that.
But what happened next was so bizarre; it will haunt me forever. Very aware that the groom was none too happy with us being there, we made it a point not to look at the other table. We had gotten our fill anyway and were knee deep in office drama, making the other crack up with our accounts of the workplace weirdos. As I was listening to my coworker recount a story about a particular person’s most recent outburst, I noticed something moving in the background. When it persisted and I became too distracted to listen, I glanced up to see what it was. It was Tom, crouched down, placing one elbow on his knee and then alternating quickly with the other elbow to the other knee, swaying his body and his head back and forth, side-to-side in a ridiculous rhythm. It was like a mix between a seductive dance and a robotic trance. He was clearly trying to get my attention. Tom Cruise was trying to get my attention! If only it hadn’t been in such a creepy manner. Traveling from his spastic body to his face, our eyes met.
In what I can only describe as a sadistic stare off, his eyes locked on mine and I swore I saw laser beams shoot out. After several seconds, which felt painfully longer, I untrained mine from his. I didn’t know what to do next, whether I should laugh, cry or… run. What was that? If he really wanted us to leave that badly, why hadn’t he sent his swat team to remove us again? Or why didn’t Mr. “Shake Hands with the People” just ask us himself? Instead, he used his voodoo to put a spell on me and tried to remove me by burning a hole into my soul. Whatever it was, it was weird. And it worked. I stayed for a few moments as not to look too obvious and then got up and left with my colleague—quickly before we were sacrificed to Scientology.
It was clear that Tom likes control and will go to any lengths to obtain that over another. Like many successful stars, politicians and businessmen before him, his stratosphere status and extreme wealth have allowed him to create an inner circle of enablers. Individuals who agree with him, play by his rules and protect him and his perfect image. If Katie wanted to be part of his world, she had to follow suit. Blinded by her love, the fantasy of her childhood dream coming true and the diamonds, private planes and Barneys shopping sprees, she was a goner from go, willing to do whatever it took to be Mrs. Tom Cruise, including converting to Scientology. Presumably, once the honeymoon phase was over and the boundaries, barriers and limits outweighed the romantic notions, Katie tired of playing her most famous role. The spell on this particular fairy tale had finally worn off.
But Tom’s princesses will be okay. After all, they have the means in which to continue to live a very privileged life, it’s evident that Suri doesn’t lack for love from either parent and like Nicole Kidman (who spoke publicly about the sacrifices she had to make being married to Tom in a 2008 Glamour magazine article, saying, “I felt it was my job to put on a beautiful dress and to be seen and not heard.”) before her, Katie will likely find healthy, normal love, more proportional to Toledo than Telluride, and may even marry again and have a few more kids.
And, Tom will stay Tom. He’ll remain committed to his craft, continue to make blockbuster films and, eventually, pluck another rising starlet, give her the world, prompting her to fall hard, fast and foolishly and forgo her values, opinions and friendships for a life as the wife of the most famous man in the world.