By Stephanie Zacharek
By Charles Taylor
By Chris Klimek
By Chris Klimek
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
This time, however, it wasn't just the geeks linking to his video — it was MSNBC and USA Today.
"It's hard to imagine now, but six months before I posted that Tom Cruise video, that viral spread was practically impossible," Baio says. "That was a pivotal point, 2005."
A weird thing happens when people watch a viral video. In catching up with a cultural touchstone, the clip everyone's talking about at the water cooler, we assume we're on top of the whole story. After all, we've seen what everyone else has seen. Whatever gets edited out isn't part of the conversation.
Tom Cruise and Oprah talked on TV for 43 minutes. "Tom Cruise Kills Oprah" was 15 seconds. Even the longer YouTube clips of Cruise on Oprah's couch clock in at only four minutes. Yet it was the latter two that were shared, discussed and remembered.
With all context gone, we're judging soundbites of Cruise on a screen. We forget he was experiencing a live, long and loud interaction — a literal stage performance before a raucous crowd.
Harpo Studios seats 300 audience members, all of whom answered a questionnaire months before, listing their favorite actors. The show's producers try to match up their spectators with their guests. It's a recipe for good TV. "They want the bat-shit people," Tugman explains. "All those people that were in there were most likely picked because they're Tom Cruise fanatics."
That's why Tugman could hear their screams from the next studio over. It was his first day on the job, but during the next 200 episodes, it was the loudest audience he'd ever hear except for the crowd for George Clooney.
If you track down the full Tom Cruise episode on YouTube — only one user from Spain has bothered to upload it across four videos, thanks to the site's roughly 10-minute cap — the room is deafening. Oprah's first words to the live audience are, "OK. Let me just say you all are going to have to calm yourselves." They don't. They're on their feet jumping up and down. She has to ask them to settle down twice more before Cruise even walks onstage, and then the screams get even louder. Oprah starts screaming, too. If you listen closely, you can hear Cruise says, "Wow! Is it like this every day?" "No," Oprah says, shaking her head. After a full minute goes by, Oprah starts to look annoyed. "It's too much," she commands the audience. "Sit down, sit down."
Like a gladiator at the Coliseum, Cruise plays to that screaming room. When a fan in the crowd pumps both his fists in the air, Cruise pumps his back. When kneeling on the floor makes the audience holler, he simply keeps doing it.
"The energy in that room was just pandemonium, and that had to enable him," Tugman says. "He could be thinking, 'Oh, I'm making such a great example of how much I'm actually in love, I'm going to take it further and further and further.'"
Cruise also was playing to the daytime TV viewers at home, predominantly female like the studio audience. He flatters them. He brings up being raised by women, how he loves to treat women right. The women wanted to hear that he was in love, and Cruise — who had just been anointed the 3rd Greatest Movie Star of All Time by Premiere magazine, beating out Paul Newman at No. 6 — was finally ready to loosen up and tell them.
Oprah was thrilled. Cruise was giving his first unchecked TV interview, well, ever. She ups the energy by getting physical, ruffling his hair with both hands and grabbing his legs and arms as she presses him with personal questions about his public girlfriend of a month: Is it love, will he marry her, has he asked her father, does he want more children? She clutches both of Cruise's hands, pulls her face close to his, and asks if he will propose to Katie Holmes today. Cruise gives a reasonable answer, "I've got to discuss it with her," and Oprah leans back, disappointed.
When Cruise finally stands and grabs her shoulders — the moment that was remixed into "Tom Cruise Kills Oprah" — it's while jokingly begging if they can talk about his new movie, War of the Worlds.
It's a performance reminiscent of his Oscar-nominated role six years earlier as Magnolia's Frank T.J. Mackey. In that film, Mackey gets into a showdown with a pushy interviewer and deflects questions by showboating. When Mackey gets antsy, he does a backflip in his underwear. When Cruise doesn't want to say if he's marrying Holmes, he distracts attention by falling to one knee — a crowd-pleasing move Mackey stole from Elvis.
Neither he nor Oprah thought they were about to tape something that would have a life that stretched far, far beyond the people who watched her show on May 23. The crew didn't, either. After the interview, they didn't gossip about Cruise — they went to the season wrap party, where Oprah gave everyone a trip to Hawaii.
"There really was no water cooler talk," Tugman says. It wasn't until after the show aired that Tugman realized he'd been a witness to pop culture history: Tom Cruise scaring Oprah by jumping on a couch. Says Tugman, "I heard about it as more of an Internet thing and was like, 'Oh my God, I was there for that.'"
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!