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Good time to be Samurai Cruise

Los Angeles, Dec. 5 (Reuters): It’s good being Tom Cruise right now as his new movie, Oscar hopeful The Last Samurai, readied for a North American debut today.

The actor is among Hollywood’s top paid leading men who can earn over $20 million a movie if he wants, but who often commands even more if he can stake a claim to a percentage of the film’s box office receipts as a film producer. And since his 2001 divorce from Nicole Kidman, the 41-year-old father of two has taken up with Spanish beauty Penelope Cruz.

“You know, when you start out ... you’re thinking: ‘Will you ever work again and what’s going to happen,’ and (now) I’m having a blast,” Cruise said about his career at a recent news conference. “I’m really having a blast.” And he laughs.

There was a time that Cruise, like many a young Hollywood actor, struggled to find work. But those days are long gone after box office and critical hits that began with 1983’s Risky Business and include Top Gun, Rain Man, Jerry Maguire and Mission: Impossible. Samurai, about a US Civil War veteran who travels to Japan in 1876 to train the emperor’s army in modern war, may be the next Cruise movie to make that list. Earlier this week, the US National Board of Review picked it as one of 2003’s top movies and gave its best director honour to the film’s Ed Zwick.

The 95 year-old non-profit group’s best actor award went to Sean Penn for Mystic River and 21 Grams, but don’t count Cruise out for US filmmaking’s top award, the Oscar, in February.

Early lists like the National Board of Review’s have mixed success at foreshadowing Oscar wins, and Oscar voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences like sweeping sagas such as Samurai. Cruise is the first to admit his other award hopeful films like Maguire lacked the scope of Samurai.

“Here I am, and I haven’t really found, or made, an epic film,” Cruise said. “This movie is going to take you to a different place and a different time.”

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