Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cruise, Wahlberg, and Afghanistan

Seriously committed artists – actors, writers, etc. – work hard at their craft. But not combat hard. In the last few days, statements from two of Hollywood’s hardest-working actors highlighted just how important it is to acknowledge that distinction.

With unfortunate timing, rumor hit the internet just before Veterans Day that megastar Tom Cruise, in his deposition for a defamation lawsuit, affirmed his lawyers’ claim that his film work was akin to serving a military tour of duty in Afghanistan. “[T]hat’s what it feels like,” Cruise said, “and certainly on [his most recent] movie, it was brutal. It was brutal.” Many fans expressed their offense on social media at the suggestion that a movie star’s work, no matter how demanding, is comparable to a year or two in the hellhole that is Taliban-infested Afghanistan.

That rumor “is a gross distortion of the record,” Cruise’s attorney said in a subsequent statement. He made it clear that an unreleased video of the deposition shows that Cruise wasn’t being serious. “As the video shows, he and the lawyer were laughing at his answer, and, when asked in the next question if the situations were comparable, Tom said, ‘Oh, come on,’ meaning of course not.”

Fair enough. But then Cruise went on to compare himself to Olympic athletes: “There is difficult physical stamina and preparation. Sometimes I've spent months, a year, and sometimes two years preparing for a single film. A sprinter for the Olympics, they only have to run two races a day. When I'm shooting, I could potentially have to run 30, 40 races a day, day after day.”

I hesitate to speak ill of Cruise, because he drops the hammer on $50 million lawsuits anytime he feels he’s been defamed. As comedian Russell Brand recently put it to Conan O’Brien, “[Cruise] is a glorious man and he’s very kind and sweet – that’s what you say if you want to continue to work in the film industry.” I readily concede that his Afghanistan comment was taken out of context; tabloids have a habit of skewing celebrity quotations to suit their profit margin. But in combination with his Olympian comment, Cruise came off looking rather arrogant in the deposition.

By contrast, actor Mark Wahlberg took the stage at a film festival on Tuesday, after the world premiere of his upcoming Lone Survivor, to talk about the war drama, based on the bestselling memoir from Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell about a raid gone horribly wrong in Afghanistan. He told the audience that “For us to talk about what we went through up on that mountain as actors is just so fake and so false considering what these guys did and what they went through.”

Wahlberg became more emotional as he went on. “For actors to sit there and talk about, ‘Oh, I went to SEAL training,’ I don’t give a f--- what you did. I don’t give a shit if you’re getting your ass busted. You get to go home at the end of the day, you get to go to your hotel room, you get to order f---ing chicken.”

“I’ve done other movies where I trained for four-and-a-half years,” he continued. “I did The Fighter… f--- all that. I’m a very lucky guy to do what I do, and I’m proud to be a part of this, but [the reality is] just so much bigger than what I do.”

In a thumbs-up review of the film, The Hollywood Reporter noted that “Wahlberg, at 42, is significantly older than Luttrell…, but he still has the right stuff to convince the audience as a tough and super-fit SEAL whose breaking point is far beyond the norm.” Not only that, but his humility and appreciation for the sacrifices and demands expected of our soldiers – particularly the elite SEALs – give Wahlberg a sort of moral credibility with the audience as well.

This is not to say that Tom Cruise is unappreciative of our soldiers – although his lawyers might be, since they’re the ones who initially brought up Afghanistan – only that his comments give the impression that Hollywood’s biggest star lives in an egocentric bubble, whereas Mark Wahlberg spent his self-effacing film festival appearance singing the praises of unsung heroes. I’ve written about Wahlberg’s admirable humility and sense of perspective for Acculturated before. This just confirms it.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 11/14/13)