Tom Cruise lost it on the set of Mission: Impossible 7, “after spotting two of the crew standing less than a metre away from each other at a computer screen,” according to the British tabloid the Sun, which reported the incident after receiving leaked audio of the tirade.
In the audio, Cruise reminds the crew members of the stakes of breaking a social distancing rule on a set. According to Cruise, he is working very hard to have the production follow the rules so that it may continue on in a pandemic, and to set an example by which other sets can safely operate:
We are the gold standard. They’re back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us! Because they believe in us and what we’re doing! I’m on the phone with every fucking studio at night, insurance companies, producers, and they’re looking at us, and using us to make their movies. We are creating thousands of jobs, you motherfuckers. I don’t ever want to see it again. Ever. And if you don’t do it, you’re fired. If I see you do it again, you’re fucking gone.
Cruise continues like this for nearly three more minutes. Then the recording wraps up with:
I care about you guys, but if you’re not going to help me, you’re gone. OK? Do you see that stick? How many meters is that? When people are standing around a fucking computer, and hanging out around here, what are you doing?
The blowup is unsettling, most obviously because it’s a rich, powerful man yelling curse words at people who work for him. It’s additionally unsettling because it’s this particular rich man—Tom Cruise has allegedly cursed out underlings at least once before, and in a situation with lower stakes than the spread of the coronavirus. Actress Leah Remini in her memoir recalls visiting Cruise at his home and watching him lose it over cookie ingredients, yelling at his assistants: “Goddamn it! Can I just get the stuff for the cookies, guys? Get in the fucking present time, is what you need to do.”* “He’s human,” an ex-wife of Cruise’s once told People magazine. “He blows up sometimes.”
Even the righteousness of the blowup feels a little precarious. The rant isn’t focused on the fact that someone could get sick and die, so much as that his movie could be shut down. And, from a biological standpoint, it seems sort of iffy for movies to be in production at all in the middle of a pandemic—it’s not an essential activity.
But: Cruise is also not wrong. Thanks to the way relief has worked, we are currently in the terrible situation in which the grocery budgets and college savings accounts of many people rest, as Cruise points out, on Mission: Impossible continuing to film. The situation sucks, but that’s what it is. And people shouldn’t be fucking standing within 6 feet of each other! They just shouldn’t—that’s the whole deal of social distancing! Which is why I have to admit my first reaction to Cruise losing his cool was a primal, even Cruise-ian “fucking finally.”
I am very exhausted of keeping my distance from people whom I do not wish to keep my distance from, as so many of us are. I know brighter days are out there somewhere, but they are not yet close enough to really feel. So it is validating to hear a familiar voice get very upset about people not social distancing. It helps to feel angry, instead of numb. It helps to hear rage on full display, instead of neatly tucked away, where so many of us are keeping it. It is galvanizing to think about all the Christmas travel plans, the weddings, the vacations others are taking, and hear the voice of a man who has dangled from a plane, lain beneath a careening truck, and driven a motorcycle off a cliff saying, in essence: We are still trying to control the spread of a deadly disease, you motherfuckers. Why are people hanging out around here? What are you doing?
Correction, Dec. 16, 2020: This piece originally misspelled Leah Remini’s first name.