Ten years ago, a media event took place that changed the public’s perception of one of its most beloved stars. And while he has continued to see success, his image has never recovered — and it’s possible it never will. I’m referring of course to the jump heard ’round the world: Tom Cruise’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Freshly in love with Katie Holmes, a relationship long speculated to be the result of a “wife search” sanctioned and lead by the Church of Scientology, Cruise visited his friend Oprah — and a very on-board audience who loved every moment of the interview — and discussed his newfound happiness. And he did so by grabbing Oprah’s hands, standing on the couch, and retrieving Holmes from backstage to show off his prize.
Some things go viral and when we look back years later, we see they weren’t such a big deal. This is not one of those things. This is just as awkward as it was in 2005.
People responded. And the response was an embarrassment. While the studio audience was incredibly stoked, the viewers at home — and online — were weirded out. This display of emotion was so intense, so striking, that it rang false. Or, if not false, definitely kind of creepy. It was too much. So, the memes began.
ScienTOMogy: Dane Cook spoofs Tom Cruise by scientomogy
Cruise would continue to have box office success thanks to the Mission Impossible franchise — though for a few years his star dimmed a bit. (Anyone remember Lions for Lambs or Knight and Day?) But the public’s image of him has never been the same. Never again would he be dreamboat Tom Cruise, universally beloved celebrity. He has been since and will remain the overly intense guy who either must be hiding something or has lost the ability to act like a regular person.
Critics have blamed bloggers and internet culture for their abuse of the clips, like the above, ultimately leading to the backlash that still exists against Cruise, but it was more than just a couch jump. This was also a time when the internet was giving the public more information than ever before, meaning most of us were learning about Scientology for the first time. We saw this video on YTMND, we could read about Operation Snow White and other scary stuff, and we would soon all be able to read this still terrifying Katie Holmes W magazine interview. If you missed that interview back in 2005, it’s still a great, creepy read. Holmes answers every question with a robot-like focus on how perfect Cruise is (whether that was the question or not) and is often answered for by a Scientology handler. Cruise’s Oprah exuberance was clearly contagious — here’s one example:
…A security guard lumbers into the dressing room and presents Holmes with a giant silver box tied in a thick purple ribbon. A small crowd gathers to watch her gleefully tear open the package and pluck out a Chanel diamond necklace—a gift, naturally, from Cruise. “He’s my man! He’s my man!” she screams, then jumps up on her chair to do an impression of her fiancé’s now-famous sofa shtick from Oprah.
People begin to cheer. “This is your moment!” cries the manicurist.
“I can do splits too,” Holmes says, jumping down and splaying herself across the floor. On that note, I suggest, we should probably get the photo shoot started.
“On that note,” she replies, “I love him.”
And when the two split years later, no one was surprised by tales of Holmes’s harrowing escape — and no one saw that as mere media hyperbole. Our eyes had been opened to the fact that movie star Tom Cruise was also perhaps weird public figure Tom Cruise. And he likely always will be.
What came first: the couch or our discomfort? Oprah may have been the impetus, but Cruise was hardly a victim of mean memes and viral videos. He was a victim of a public that had become too difficult to fake it in front of.