Dec. 4, 2008 -- 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.
Tom Cruise: 'There's Things I Could Have Handled Better'
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.
Tom Cruise on 'Inspiring' New Role
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."
"I'm an actor, and this was a story that I found compelling and I felt there was something to contribute to it," he explained.
The "new" Cruise has been working overtime to keep a low profile. He no longer wishes to speak out about Scientology.
"Now, I just say look, I'm not going to talk about my religion, and if people want to know about Scientology, they can absolutely just go to the Web site."
Tina Fey on Palin Impersonation: 'There's a Double Standard'
This year, one of the most famous people in comedy just happened to look like one of the most famous people in politics. In August, "30 Rock" star Tina Fey struck gold when Sarah Palin became a vice presidential candidate.
Fey bears only a slight resemblance to Palin, but this, combined with her impersonation of Palin's mannerisms, dress and speech patterns resulted in a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. Watch Fey impersonating Palin HERE.
"It's a strange, perfect storm of, I looked just enough like her, and the wigs were good," Fey told Barbara Walters. "A lot of it is luck."
Fey grew up a self-described nerd in a suburb of Philadelphia. She started doing improv at Chicago's Second City, a troupe that has launched many careers on "Saturday Night Live," including her own.
In 1997, Fey landed a writing position at "SNL" and quickly became the show's first female head writer. She went on to write and act in the successful 2004 film "Mean Girls" alongside Lindsay Lohan. And two years ago created her own NBC comedy series, "30 Rock," where she functions as a triple threat: writer, producer and star.
This year has been a busy one for Fey, 38, who also starred in the hit movie "Baby Mama," while at the same time finding time for her 3-year-old daughter and logging 12-hour days on the "30 Rock" set.
But all of this was eclipsed when she portrayed Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live."
"The first thing I noticed about her was that she had this very full-of-pride way that she would say 'Alaska,'" Fey said. "Every time she would talk about 'Alaska,' she would just, she really, you can tell that she genuinely loves Alaska."
Fey's big smile during the Palin sketch was a detail she added after observing Palin's body language during interviews, and finding that "She would talk through a smile sometimes, if she was trying to 'zing' somebody, talk about Joe Biden or something like that. The tougher the thing she was saying about the campaign, the bigger the smile was."
Some, especially right-wing bloggers, criticized Fey's impersonation, in particular her spoof of Palin's interview with CBS "Evening News" anchor Katie Couric.
"I never did feel that we were mean to her," Fey said. "I feel that we stuck to, a lot of times, things that she herself had said."
"There's a very strange double standard, because it's a woman, portraying another woman," Fey said. "The jokes we used to do about George W. Bush were that he was an idiot. No one ever would stop and say, 'Oh, that seems kind of mean.'"
Will Smith: 'Divorce Is Not an Option'
From action films to science fiction to romantic comedies, no one has ever created a string of movie blockbusters quite like Will Smith.
And, when it comes to the box office, Smith is Hollywood's most bankable star. Each of his last eight movies grossed more than $100 million and his films to date have pulled in more than $5 billion worldwide.
Smith, who turned 40 this year, told Barbara Walters that the secret to his success is that "I care about people."
"I want to create things that make people feel good," he said. "I believe a big part of it is the consideration of the audience."
He also said that his work ethic plays a part.
"I absolutely positively refuse to accept anything less than 100 percent of what I can achieve," Smith said.
Smith's father was an Air Force man-turned-engineer, his mother an educator, and his grandmother, an active churchwoman. They instilled in him discipline and a desire to do well.
"You know, I had the military, the education and the spiritual all in my house and nobody accepted anything less than 100 percent," he said.
An "A" student growing up in Philadelphia, Smith started rapping at 18, and his success led to the TV series "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," which led to the movies.
Smith's first marriage to Sheree Zampino ended in divorce, and the couple had a son Trey. Smith married actress Jada Pinkett Smith 11 years ago -- they have two children, Willow and Jaden.
Smith told Walters that "divorce is not an option," an attitude that informs their approach to the relationship.
"If divorce is not an option, we might want to figure out how [to] have some fun together since we're going to be here," he said.
"Being married is the most difficult thing you're ever going to do in your life, ever," Smith added. " Anybody who's married, and divorce is an option, you're getting divorced."
Together, he and his wife recently started a private elementary school and he also founded a church that welcomes all religions.
And if that isn't enough, Smith is starring in his most surprising role to date in the new film "Seven Pounds." In it, he plays a man at the end of his rope.
Without giving away too much about the film, Smith said that "it's out on that edge. Out on that limb."
"This character is probably the darkest character I've ever played," Smith told Walters, but added that the film is about being a good man. In his own life, Smith said, he's "trying very hard" to be a good man.
"The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2008" also features interviews with Tony-award winner and "Frost/Nixon" star Frank Langella, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, teen sensation Miley Cyrus, and record breaking Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. CLICK HERE for photos of the full list. The most fascinating person of 2008 will be announced on the program.