Entertainment

Column: Admit it, it felt good to hear Tom Cruise get angry about COVID-19 safety


Someone recently recorded Tom Cruise having a full-blown meltdown about crew members who were caught violating social distancing protocols on the set of “Mission: Impossible 7” and all I want to know is: Can we put it on some sort of national emergency broadcast loop?

“I don’t ever want to see it again — ever!” he shouts in the audio recording made public Tuesday by the Sun. “If I see you do it again, you’re f— gone. … That’s it! No apologies. You can tell it to the people that are losing their f— homes because our industry is shut down.”

The 3½ minutes of rage, occurring on the set of Paramount’s seventh entry in the high-stakes “M:I” franchise, currently filming outside London, is definitely a lot. Punctuated with multiple profanities, Cruise’s dressing down of crew members who were, apparently, standing too close to one another, is reminiscent of his role as the raging Hollywood studio head in “Tropic Thunder.”

It was no doubt deeply upsetting to those on the receiving end and a reminder of how explosive film sets, and certain people on them, can be.

“We are the gold standard,” Cruise yells. “They’re back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us!

“I’m on the phone with every f— studio at night, insurance companies, producers,” he continues, “and they’re looking at us and using us to make their movies. We are creating thousands of jobs … . We are not shutting this motherf— movie down. Is that understood?”

Like I said, a lot. But with COVID-19 cases continuing to skyrocket, leaving death and economic destruction in their wake, it may be exactly what we need.

It is certainly what many of us are thinking, in one form or another, all the time. At least the crew members in question were masked. But after nearly a year of death and destruction, how is one supposed to react to those people who still refuse to even do that? Those who don’t seem to understand that until we get the pandemic under control, people will continue to lose their jobs, their businesses, their homes? Who somehow think that helping to save lives and livelihoods is optional?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just hit play on your phone and have Tom Cruise do it for you?

Clearly the nicer, kinder, more reasonable tone of medical experts, public officials and other celebrities calling on citizens to do their bit to stem the pandemic’s tide is not working. This country was told, urgently, that gathering with other households for Thanksgiving would mean increased deaths by Christmas, and here we are, regularly hitting 3,000 deaths a day.

In the late summer and early fall, Californians were cautioned repeatedly to not let down their guard, to wear masks and continue social distancing, or rising infections would force a reinstatement of tighter restrictions. And here we are, back in stay-at-home mode, with restaurants once again limited to takeout and the retail industry’s hopes of bottom-line-saving holiday sales seriously dampened if not downright crushed.

As for the entertainment industry, well, Warner Bros. recently announced that all its 2021 films would appear on HBO Max simultaneously with their debut in those theaters that are open. And though film and television production has, to a certain extent, resumed — cautiously, expensively — it is with the understanding that the coronavirus is quite capable of reversing that, on one project or industry-wide, overnight. “Mission: Impossible 7,” admittedly an ambitious international venture, has already been shut down by COVID-19 twice.

So maybe it’s time to drop the whole “Hey, come on, we’re all in this together” approach in favor of the : approach.

Especially since the real consequences of acting irresponsibly during a pandemic don’t show up immediately — COVID-19 does not strike down those at a maskless event immediately, like lightning. Or even at all; the virus can make its way through asymptomatic participants only to kill some distant family member or co-worker several stops down the infection chain.

So it’s good to have a scary, real-time consequence like Tom Cruise screaming at you for potentially endangering lives, livelihoods, the U. S. economy and the world as we know it simply by standing too close to someone else.

Because each and every time someone flouts coronavirus safety measures, that is exactly what he or she is doing.

No doubt, all those baristas, grocery store clerks and hotel managers who are regularly abused for simply asking customers to abide by mask and social distancing guidelines would love it if Cruise dropped by to provide a little backup.

Not everyone was thrilled by the actor-producer’s rant, of course. On social media, some labeled it abusive, yet another instance of an entitled man screaming at people not in a position to scream back. And if you listen to the tape to the end, you can hear a softening in Cruise’s words (“I care about you guys”), as if perhaps he is thinking that too.

But here’s the thing: Enforcing social distancing and other safety protocols on a film set, or anywhere large groups of people are doing things they once did with no thought to spacing or masks, is hard. Leaving enforcement up to the film and TV industry’s newly created COVID-19 compliance officers is unfair.

While some in that role may be obvious figures of authority, others are relatively low-level crew members certified through an online course. Technically, they may have the power to admonish violators and even shut down production, but their position in the on-set hierarchy is unclear. Certainly it is nowhere near the heights of a star like Cruise, who can better afford to risk pushback and public criticism. Who is in a position not only to affect procedures on his own film but also — as he noted with equal parts anxiety and grandiosity in his rant — to influence other filmmakers and studios to commit to production by creating a model for on-set safety.

Yes, there is a certain irony in the fact that it’s Cruise, with his, er … unique personal history, including bizarre couch-jumping volatility — and production-risking insistence on doing his own stunts — who is screaming out this warning. After all, production on “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” was forced to go on hiatus after Cruise broke his foot while roof-jumping (though the film was completed on schedule).

But Cruise has also saved more than a few lives in the past — rescuing passengers on a sinking boat, the victim of a hit-and-run accident and two young fans being crushed during the London premiere of the first “Mission Impossible.”

With any luck his recent outburst will help save a few more. Especially if someone can turn it into a PSA or a poster — instead of Rosie the Riveter saying “We can do it,” there’ll be a masked Tom Cruise threatening, “If I see it again, you’re gone.”

Available in versions rated PG and R.




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