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“Tom, You’re A Very Smart Guy”: Tom Cruise Saved Hit ‘90s Movie From A Potential Casting Disaster

Summary Tom Cruise declined the role in The Mask of Zorro because he felt it would be inappropriate for a non-Latino actor to play the character.
The film still faced criticism for casting Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who are both White, as Hispanic characters.
The incident highlights the ongoing problem of whitewashing in Hollywood and the need for more diversity and accurate casting in films.
A former collaborator explains the unexpected story of how actor Tom Cruise saved The Mask of Zorro from a potential casting disaster. The 1998 action movie tells the story of a thief who, in seeking revenge for his brother’s death, is trained by a man named Zorro, who is simultaneously pursuing his own vengeance. It was directed by Martin Campbell and starred Antonio Banderas as the eponymous Zorro, alongside a supporting cast of Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and José María de Tavira.
Years after The Mask of Zorro hit theaters, cinematographer Mikael Salomon — who was once set to direct The Mask of Zorro before eventually exiting the project — explains how Tom Cruise saved the film. Speaking with Slashfilm, Steven Spielberg wanted Cruise to star in the role at one point. Cruise declined the role because he is not Latino, like the character of Zorro, believing that him playing the role “was not a great idea.” Check out the full quote from Salomon below:
“Who else was [in the mix]? Some big — oh yeah, Tom Cruise. Early on, [Spielberg] wanted to offer it to him. Have you heard that? He wanted to offer it to Tom Cruise. And my friend and countryman Bille August had done The House of the Spirits with all non-Latinos, and he got in so much hot water because of that, and they picketed the movie in South America. And I said to Steven, ‘You know, that’s probably not a good idea, just for that reason.'” “One day I was doing a commercial and my assistant said, ‘Mikael, there’s Tom Cruise on the phone for you.’ ‘Tom Cruise? Okay.’ I had worked with him on ‘Far and Away.’ I was the [director of photography] on ‘Far and Away.’ So he called me up and said, ‘Thanks for the offer, but I think it’s not a great idea for me to do this movie because, as you know…’ I said, ‘Tom, you’re a very smart guy. Absolutely, you’re absolutely right.'”
How Does Tom Cruise’s Near Casting In Mask Of Zorro Reflect A Whitewashing Problem In Hollywood?
While Cruise and The Mask of Zorro team ended up having the good sense not to cast a White actor in the role of Zorro, the swashbuckler project was not without its casting flaws. Zeta-Jones and Hopkins, both White, played Hispanic characters in the film. Given the film’s awareness of the then-recent The House of the Spirits controversy and that Cruise turned down a role on that basis, it is somewhat surprising that The Mask of Zorro still has those glaring casting issues.
Related Why Hollywood Hasn’t Made A Real Zorro Movie In 80 Years There have been several Zorro films over the years, but Hollywood hasn’t actually produced a proper Zorro movie since 1940’s Mark of Zorro.
Whitewashing leading cast members is a problem that has persisted throughout the 21st century in film. Audiences have seen this with Scarlett Johansson’s casting in a traditionally Japanese role in 2017’s Ghost in the Shell and Emma Stone’s casting as a part-Asian Hawaiian character in Aloha. In 1998, the awareness of whitewashing was much less a mainstay of casting conversation, making Cruise’s refusal to take the role notable.
Luckily, the 2020s have brought more awareness concerning the importance of diversity and accurately casting roles to the identities they are meant for. Still, the majority of leading characters in blockbuster films are White, and very few are played by Hispanic or Latino actors. As Hispanic and Latino actors continue an ongoing battle for film roles, it is important to keep casting lessons from films like The Mask of Zorro in mind.
Source: Slashfilm

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