What Tom Cruise Really Wants To Do Is — Yep — Direct

But don't expect him to step in for Joe Carnahan on 'Mission: Impossible 3.'

"Mission: Impossible 3" is still without a director, but don't expect the series' star and producer to step in.

"One day I'd like to try it," Tom Cruise said recently about directing. "I've been offered things ... [but] at this point I'm just enjoying producing and acting."

Joe Carnahan, who helmed the Cruise-produced "Narc," dropped out of "Mission: Impossible 3" last month over "creative differences," marking the second director to leave the movie (David Fincher dropped out earlier to do another project).

Although shooting is scheduled to start later this month, with a targeted June 29, 2005, release date, Cruise has not expressed concern, probably because he tends to attract top-notch directors, such as Steven Spielberg ("Minority Report"), Stanley Kubrick ("Eyes Wide Shut") and Cameron Crowe ("Vanilla Sky").

In his latest movie, "Collateral," Cruise worked with Michael Mann, who directed "Ali," "The Insider" and "Heat." In interviews promoting the thriller, Cruise has repeatedly praised Mann's talents, just as he did Edward Zwick for "The Last Samurai."

"Listen, working with Michael, it is such a great pleasure because he is so talented and competent and cares and is passionate about his work," Cruise said. "And the interest in his characters, the interest in the details of his characters, the humanity, he really understands how it informs the movie. And you just know he's going to be there with you and for you every step."

As an example of Mann's passion, Cruise recalls a night when the director phoned him and demanded he come in to see some just-shot footage of a scene between Jamie Foxx and Jada Pinkett Smith.

"He said, 'Man, you gotta see these performances!' " Cruise said. "That kind of intensity and focus on the creative process brings a tremendous amount of joy for me. ... As an actor — everything that's happened in my life, and all these wonderful things, the successes, it is wonderful — but the real passion for me is making the movie, and you dream about having a creative process like this, creative partners like this and scenes like this to play. There's a line in 'Heat' that I love that really struck me: 'The action is the juice.' That's what it's like working with Michael Mann for me."

Although little is divulged in "Collateral" about Cruise's character, Vincent, a contract killer who forces a Los Angeles cab driver (Foxx) to take him from hit to hit, Cruise and Mann spent months talking about his past and creating what the actor calls a moral code for the character.

"This guy being an antisocial personality, the things that concern him aren't the same things concern a social personality," he said. "One of the keys is that people, when they're doing things, they do believe that they're right in doing them and they have it all justified as to why it's OK. That's all part of creating the back story of Vincent that informed the scenes, things that he is concerned about and things that didn't affect him. ... It was just a great challenge because there isn't that scene where the audience understands who Vincent is. And he's riding on that razor's edge, he's an enigmatic character."

Once they had his story, Mann created exercises for Cruise to do to get in character.

"I would dress up as like a UPS guy, but it wasn't UPS because we didn't want to go to prison, isn't that a federal offense?" Cruise said, laughing. "So we dressed up and delivered mail. I just would do the things that this character would do ... except I didn't kill anyone."

Cruise did learn how to shoot a gun, though, with the help of Mick Gould, an ex-British Special Forces agent who trained actors on weaponry in "Heat" as well as "The Score" and "The Replacement Killers."

"I'd never fired a live round out of a gun before, so I worked on weapons extensively," Cruise said. "I like taking on challenges."

Check out everything we've got on "Collateral."

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