War of the otherworldly: Cruise's faith in Scientology threatens film

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The Independent Culture

Is Hollywood's biggest male star losing it? In the past few days, Tom Cruise has been hauled over the coals for allowing his devotion to Scientology to overshadow his film career, ridiculed for a seemingly loopy appearance on Oprah Winfrey's daytime chat show and accused of conducting a sham romance with the younger actress Katie Holmes strictly for publicity purposes.

Is Hollywood's biggest male star losing it? In the past few days, Tom Cruise has been hauled over the coals for allowing his devotion to Scientology to overshadow his film career, ridiculed for a seemingly loopy appearance on Oprah Winfrey's daytime chat show and accused of conducting a sham romance with the younger actress Katie Holmes strictly for publicity purposes.

Ordinarily, such chatter would be no more than background gossip in a town that thrives on gossip, little or none of it substantiated.

But Cruise's recent behaviour has been so spectacularly off-the-wall that it has prompted senior executives at Paramount Studios to call crisis meetings and consider cancelling the third instalment of the Mission Impossible series, due to shoot next month.

One website, Arianna Huffington's newly launched "Huffington Post", reported this week that the film had already been canned. Yesterday's New York Times quoted an executive at Paramount's parent company, Viacom, saying the issue was under active discussion but no decision had been made yet.

The negative buzz surrounding Cruise began earlier this year on the set of his blockbuster, Steven Spielberg's retelling of War of the Worlds, when he insisted on having a Scientology tent on the set. Ordinarily, studios impose a strict ban on religious proselytising during filming, and Cruise only got his way after Spielberg and others intervened.

More recently, Cruise has used press interviews to promote Narconon, a drug rehabilitation programme invented by Scientology's founder, L Ron Hubbard, which has been thoroughly trashed by mainstream drug-addiction experts.

In his Oprah appearance last week, he pranced around the set like a puppy dog, fell to his knees and professed ardent love for Ms Holmes, with whom he has been linked for all of one month. He also rubbished Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants - a big no-no in the Scientology universe - to overcome post-partum depression and intimated that the real problem was the emptiness of her existence.

In all the brouhaha, it has not gone unnoticed that the poster for War of The Worlds bears a distinct resemblance to an L Ron Hubbard book cover, with a fantasy-type image of a clawed Martian hand grabbing Earth in its palm. It is no secret that Cruise, along with a clutch of other Hollywood stars, is a committed follower of Scientology. According to members of the church, he has reached the sixth of eight Operating Thetan levels - he is trusted enough to know almost all of the "secret truth of the universe".

The biggest change may not be religious but star management. Earlier this year he fired his long-standing publicist, Pat Kingsley, and his new team is led by his sister Lee Anne De Vette. After his Oprah appearance, his publicistswere reported to be bombarding him and his sister with calls begging them to "tone it down". His team has denied his relationship with Ms Holmes,who became a star as a teenager in the television show, Dawson's Creek, and is set to appear in cinemas this summer in Batman Begins, was anything other than genuine.

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