Tom Cruise has a messianic glint in his eye as he makes his way through the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills. Like a politician running for office, he stops and shakes the hand of every employee he encounters en route to the room where our interview is to take place.
"Great to see you. Lovely to see you again," he says to all and sundry, looking each one straight in the eye, shaking their hands and grinning somewhat alarmingly. Just ahead of him, a burly security guard is casing the room. Unlike his boss, he does not respond to any form of eye contact.
It's been nearly two years since Tom Cruise's professional life was up for discussion. In that time, his personal life has been where the focus has lain, given a series of very bizarre actions and utterances from the actor which caused many to wonder if he had not only lost his marbles, but also his star power. He was fired from Paramount studios, who began to see him as something of a liability thanks to some of his public comments about psychiatry, Scientology and post-natal depression. Then he met, married and had a baby with the actress Katie Holmes and the focus on TomKat, as the media dubbed them, intensified. He looks very thin and tanned as he sits down to talk about his new movie Valkyrie, in which he plays the role of a Nazi officer who leads a plot to assassinate Hitler.
The movie has had a very difficult birth and its release was delayed several times this year by MGM -- never a good sign. However, the result is pretty enjoyable, even if it is never really possible to forget that you are watching Tom Cruise playing a Nazi.
This morning in Los Angeles, Cruise seems both tetchy as well as eager to please and to give the 'right' answers. "Ireland, Ireland, ah yes, what a wonderful place," he says in a mock Oirish accent, hugging me and giving that scary/intense look.
"We had such a wonderful time there when we were making Far and Away. I'd love to go back and make another movie there. Beautiful country. Yes."
When Forbes magazine named Cruise the world's most powerful celebrity in 2006, he was riding pretty high, earning a minimum of $60m per movie. He had offices on the Paramount lot and an enviable deal with the studio, and the (qualified) respect of his colleagues.
Then, his fervour for Scientology got somewhat out of control and he began to pick fights with people he didn't agree with, lashing out at the psychiatric profession, which his church considers "evil" and attacking Brooke Shields when she spoke of her post-natal depression.
Meeting Katie Holmes and leaping on Oprah Winfrey's sofa proclaiming his love for the actress made it seem as though he had lost the last of his marbles. From that point on, Cruise became a punchline on late night television. I ask if he thinks if Valkyrie will help to redeem his career and reputation?
"What do you mean by that?" he asks in a sudden flash of anger. "The experience of making the film was an intense one, just by the nature of its subject. I didn't know a lot about the subject before so obviously you feel a kind of pressure from that perspective. Yes, there's been a lot of controversy and stuff that didn't really have to happen. It's kind of got blown out of proportion, you know what I mean?" he says more gently. For the remaining 45 minutes he talks almost without pause, in rambling sentences which don't always make sense.
So what else is he working on now that this project is finished? "I have a bunch of films I'm waiting to see. I'm looking at scripts and developing things and waiting, waiting to see," he says vaguely.
"But remember, I've always taken on challenging roles. When I think back on it, when I did Born On The Fourth Of July, and this is pre-internet, it was quite controversial playing that character at that time. The studio didn't want to make the movie, even with Rain Man. We had three different directors come on board.
"You know, when I did Interview With The Vampire, with Anne Rice and that, eventually, that ended up very well, at the end. But people were like, 'What was it like shooting in New Orleans and all of the Anne Rice fans?'
"And then Kubrick and Vanilla Sky, you know the nature of that kind of character. But certainly, Valkyrie being about Germany and during this time period, it has an inherent controversy. But it was all true. And I felt, as the director Bryan Singer did, a great responsibility to make sure that we had the spirit of the Resistance within this piece."
Cruise has known a lot of extremes in his 46 years. Born in Syracuse, the only son of an abusive engineer father who kept losing jobs, the family was forced to move house several times a year. By the time Tom was 12, he had been enrolled in 15 different schools. He also suffered from dyslexia and this was not diagnosed until he was an adult. His mother left her husband and raised Tom with his two sisters. They were often hungry.
A multi-millionaire from acting by the time he was 25, and one of the most famous faces in the world for more than two decades, Cruise is now arguably at the other extreme end of his fortunes. The winner of three Golden Globes and three Oscar nominations, he is also a committed family man. The father of two teenage children he adopted with Nicole Kidman and two-year-old daughter Suri, with Katie Holmes, he says he is in his element, being a parent second time round.
"It all came right back to me," he laughs. "It was actually nice because it was Kate's first time, although she had nieces and nephews. I've been around kids my whole life. But it's different when they're yours. So I feel like I was a very helpful husband, you know and excited about it. You forget that movie-tired is different than parent-tied. Working on a movie, you can work 48 hours with crews. You know your job and how you just can getit done."
The media attention which they have received as a couple would have driven most people insane. Instead, Cruise says the pressure and focus of the media has made them closer. He also gives the impression that he reads everything that's written about them in the media.
"Kate's a very sure and confident and strong woman. Kate gets it. It's not pleasant, a lot of the stuff you guys write. It's not something you go, 'Oh, boy, I'm really excited about this' and certainly, when it hit an extreme, I was very surprised. And then you kind of go, 'Okay, I could have handled a couple of moments better'.
"But her family are incredible people and certainly my children are incredible. So this focus on us in the media is something that actually kind of brought us even closer."
The interview over, he happily stands for a photograph, then leaves abruptly with his security detail and his publicist, returning to the lobby, shaking hands and greeting all about him as he makes his way back to his limousine and disappears back to his home in the Hollywood Hills. hq