Kevin: Have you ever read one of those gossipy blind items about an unnamed Hollywood executive who allegedly tried to coerce an actress into some disgusting sex act, and you thought, “Hmmm, I bet they’re talking about Harvey Weinstein”? Well it turns out you were right, as the New York Times this week reported the totally non-shocking revelation that an amoral bullying creep – who also looks like Chet from the end of “Weird Science” – was less than chivalrous with women he had power over. But while most of Hollywood – which usually never tires of patting itself on the back for its “courage” and “bravery” – was either enabling his abusive misogyny or was too afraid to stop it, in retrospect it appears that none other than Tom Cruise gave us our first glimpse into Weinstein’s monstrous side in the 2008 comedy “Tropic Thunder”:
In “Tropic Thunder” Ben Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, an action star in desperate need of a hit, who finds himself stranded in the jungle with several other prima donna costars during the filming of a Vietnam War epic. While the movie is filled with comedy ringers like Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Danny McBride, and Bill Hader, the biggest laughs are generated by an unrecognizable Tom Cruise, who completely takes over the film in his few scenes as the appropriately named studio head Les Grossman.
Like the fictional Speedman, Cruise himself was also at a low point in his career after Paramount severed ties with the star when “Mission: Impossible III” ONLY made $400 million at the box office. Perhaps this accounts for his hilarious score-settling depiction of Grossman as a vulgar megalomaniac, who has no qualms about letting Speedman (who he describes as a “dying star … heading for a black hole”) perish if it means he can recoup his investment in the over-budget film.
According to this Grantland oral history, Cruise was highly involved in the development of the character, with the star wanting to portray a “greedy pig studio executive who really represents the gross part of Hollywood.” Gee, I wonder which gross pig studio executive Cruise could have possibly been thinking of at the time?
Now while Cruise has never appeared in a Harvey Weinstein-produced film, he was heavily courted by the former Miramax head to star in the film version of “Cold Mountain.” According the 2005 book “Down and Dirty Pictures” by Peter Biskind, the negotiations eventually broke down in part due to misgivings Cruise had about Weinstein’s trustworthiness, with the star feeling like he had been treated “shabbily” by the producer by the end.
This would have likely occurred shortly before Cruise met with Stiller in 2002 and read the “Tropic Thunder” script, back when the Les Grossman character didn’t even exist. But I’m sure the fact that – according to Stiller – Cruise was the one who came up the idea of including a “gross” studio head as a secondary villain, not too long after his unpleasant experience with Weinstein, was a complete coincidence.
Either way, although Cruise may never divulge who his real-life inspiration was, in light of recent events it’s hard not to notice A LOT of similarities between Grossman and Weinstein. For one thing, while Stiller apparently was pushing Cruise to just appear as his normal self in the role, Tom was adamant about hiding his movie star good looks under a mountain of prosthetics, with a special emphasis on “big hands,” hairy arms, and voluminous chest hair.
Now I have no idea how big Weinstein’s hands actually are (although they look pretty large grabbing Emma Watson’s arms in the photo above), but he is certainly on the hirsute side, and his enormous size has often been cited as a factor in his ability to intimidate fellow Hollywood players as well as women not receptive to his advances. Interestingly, Cruise’s go-to makeup person said she was given photos of real life people to use as inspiration, and once again I wonder which real life people were part of that particular portfolio:
But apart from their physical similarities, Harvey Weinstein and Cruise’s Les Grossman also share a noticeable affinity for “colorful” verbiage when they are particularly annoyed. Just to drive the point home, see if you can tell which of the following profanity-laced threats came from Les Grossman in “Tropic Thunder” and which came from Harvey Weinstein in real life (according to the Biskind book):
1) “Tell him I’ll cut off his balls and shove them up his ass!”
2) “I’m gonna cut you a new asshole!”
3) “Why don’t you get out of here before I snap your dick off and jam it into your ass!”
4) “I will rip your tits off if you don’t get me those theaters.”
5) “I’m a big, fat, hairy Jew worth $180 million … and I can do whatever I want.”
6) “I will rain down an ungodly fucking firestorm upon you!”
7) “I’m the fucking sheriff of this lawless piece of shit fucking town!”
8) “You’re gonna have to call the fucking United Nations and get a fucking binding resolution to keep me from fucking destroying you!”
9) “This is gonna be you and me, I want this mano-a-mano, I’m taking you outside and I’m gonna kick your ass!”
10) “Take a big step back, and literally fuck your own face!”
11) “Who the fuck do you think you are? How fucking dare you talk to me like that? You’re a nobody!”
12) “From now on my fist is gonna be so far up your shithole that every time you have a thought, it’s gonna have to tiptoe past my wedding ring.”
Answers: For Weinstein it’s 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, and 11, and for Grossman it’s 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12.
(Side note: In a movie filled with hilarious lines, my favorite is still when, right after Grossman tells Matthew McConaughey’s agent character that he’ll cut off his dick and jam it in his ass, we then barely hear Cruise in the background very apologetically saying on the phone, “No, not you Helen … but I will rip your tits off if you don’t get me those theaters.” My second-biggest laugh in the film comes during Cruise’s first scene, when he tells Nick Nolte – playing the supposed real-life war hero the movie within the movie is based on – that America owes him a great debt, but that he should also SHUT THE FUCK UP! while Les Grossman is talking):
Now getting back to Harvey Weinstein, once again he apparently could make even the most veteran Hollywood filmmaker shit their pants if he felt he had been wronged. From the Biskind book, here is how Harvey reacted after director Todd Haynes decided to take his 2002 Julianne Moore film “Far from Heaven” to a different distributor: “WHAT? YOU FUCKING MADE YOUR DECISION!? You fuck, you didn’t fucking give me a chance to fucking talk to you?” “You fucking little motherfucker, you’re just a fucking spoiled brat, you think you’re such a fucking genius you wouldn’t, like, listen. You fucking prima donna, you fucking arrogant prima donna!”
Weinstein then threatened to spend $10 million of his own money to keep Julianne Moore from getting an Oscar nomination that year just out of spite. If Harvey was willing to go that nuclear just for a movie everyone forgot about a month after it was released, is it hard to imagine that his reaction to the Flaming Dragon heroin ring holding Tugg Speedman hostage in “Tropic Thunder” would be any different from that of Les Grossman in this scene?:
(I should note that my third-biggest laugh in the movie is when, after he is done screaming at the person on the phone that he will “massacre” and “fuck them up,” Cruise nonchalantly asks his assistant played by Bill Hader, “Can you find out who that was?”)
Outside of these examples, there are also a few other noticeable parallels between Weinstein and Grossman in “Tropic Thunder”:
1) For one thing, Weinstein apparently had no problem physically assaulting people even during an industry party in front of many eyewitnesses and photographers, while Grossman has no problem punching his director in the face even over Skype:
2) Weinstein seemingly got a pass for his disgusting behavior in part thanks to generous donations to Democrat politicians and support for progressive causes, including taking part in one of the Women’s Marches protesting President Trump, an act of chutzpah that was brazen even by Weinstein’s low standards. Meanwhile, the equally vulgar and morally bankrupt Grossman apparently somehow finagled his way into a blessing by the Pope:
3) For a middle-aged white guy, Grossman seems weirdly obsessed with hip-hop, especially “Apple Bottom Jeans” by Flo Rida …
4) Finally, one of Grossman’s quirks in “Tropic Thunder” is his constant need for Diet Coke. If he is not holding a Diet Coke in his hand during a scene, he is either yelling for one or Hader is telling someone to get him a Diet Coke. Even before I knew who Harvey Weinstein was, I remember watching “Tropic Thunder” the first time and thinking that had to be some sort of insider Hollywood reference because of how weirdly specific it was.
Then I read “Down and Dirty Pictures,” and here are a few excerpts about Weinstein from that which seem rather telling in retrospect:
“Harvey could always be found with a Diet Coke.”
“Harvey in the early days ate lunches that consisted of a tunafish salad sandwich on rye, toasted, a slice of American cheese, and the inevitable Diet Coke.”
“They sat on his porch and spent an hour going over the script, the budget, and the casting, while Harvey drank Diet Coke.”
Meanwhile, one of Harvey’s alleged victims recalled that his car was oddly “stocked full of cases of Diet Coke,” while a 2001 New York Magazine profile included the tidbit that Weinstein liked to have “three Diet Cokes on standby in front of him” at events.
Now whether Les Grossman was based on Harvey Weinstein will probably always be a mystery, but what’s important is that Tom Cruise’s balls-out performance in “Tropic Thunder” reminded us that no matter how many couches he jumps on, we’ll never give up on our favorite Top Gun. Meanwhile, Paramount soon came crawling back to Cruise to make more “Mission: Impossible” movies, while Harvey Weinstein is finally getting tossed into the dumpster where he belongs, and hopefully taking a lot of Hollywood hypocrites with him (oh hey Matt Damon!). So let’s all celebrate like Les Grossman (including drinking yet another Diet Coke as he does at the 1:48 mark) and dance to “Get Back” by noted “Fast and Furious” thespian Ludacris.