Tom Cruise is the first to admit that the past few years have been difficult for him.
"You know, with the press, there is truth and then perception," Cruise said during an interview with Barbara Walters to air on "The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008." Cruise, Tina Fey and Will Smith each sat down with Walters for the 16th edition of the special.
For a while, it seemed as though it was Tom Cruise against the world. He challenged "Today" show" anchor Matt Lauer on prescription drug use, became the world's most outspoken Scientologist, lost a studio deal and took over another studio.
And, in 2005, there was the infamous couch-jumping incident. In a moment of carefree exuberance, Cruise proclaimed his affection for then-fiancee Katie Holmes during an interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." As he bounced up and down on Winfrey's couch, she laughed, surprised. Viewers were also taken aback, reacting with cynicism and snarkiness. The phrase "jump the couch" soon became part of America's lexicon, its meaning akin to "going off the deep end."
Cruise had known Holmes for less than a year, but he told Walters in 2005 that he "just knew" she was the one for him. "I really just knew. It was an explosion," Cruise said at the time. "And she is just magic. And I really think that all men should celebrate their women. ... They should all jump on couches for them. ... When you find that woman, you should absolutely be unabashed about it. That's how I feel about it."
In 2008, Cruise presents a far more measured version of his earlier self. "There's things that I could have handled better," the 46-year-old admitted with a laugh.
Some public relations experts have said that Cruise needed to repair his reputation in Hollywood, a town where image is everything. It remains to be seen whether his latest film will help serve that purpose.
In a departure from his usual action hero flicks, Cruise chose to appear in a Nazi movie that might be the biggest risk of his career: "Valkyrie," the true story of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer in World War II who plotted to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
"It was inspiring," Cruise said. "A story that I didn't know about, and that I had no idea that happened. And that it was just very compelling."
But the movie hasn't been without controversy. The U.K. newspaper The Independent reported conflict between the movie's production company, United Artists, and the German army regarding a shooting location. The movie caused further controversy abroad when the filmmakers hung Nazi flags from building windows.
Despite all of this, Cruise has already earned Germany's prestigious media prize, the Bambi award for courage. "Valkyrie" comes to American theaters on Christmas day, the final release date after several postponements, and after opposition from the German government, which views von Stauffenberg as a national hero.
The von Stauffenberg family, who, like many Germans, considers Scientology to be a cult rather than a religion, was reportedly dismayed that Cruise had been selected for the role.
Cruise told Walters he was hurt by this reaction, but, he said, "You just go, OK, all right. But I'm going to go make the movie."
Cruise remained focused on the reasons he decided to participate in the project to begin with. He said the screenplay was "incredible."