Perhaps you've heard of “Bizarro?” He was Superman's opposite in every way - instead of saving people, Bizzaro would try to put them in danger. His poor genetics caused him to become an opposite - something you'd never associate with such a fine specimen as Tom Cruise. And yet, poor genetics (and bad attitude) were on display in Tom Cruise's "Bizarro" portrayal of Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, 2008).
Since Cruise’s star persona rests on his squeaky clean image both on and off-screen, Grossman is probably the biggest departure, and most dangerous character that Cruise has ever portrayed. Grossman is a grotesque stereotype with foul language and an unnattractive physique. Where Cruise sports distinctive hair, Grossman is bald. Where Cruise’s hairless body sports muscles, Grossman is fat with hairy knuckles and neck hair spilling out of his shirt. Bizarro, indeed.
Cruise attacked the role with gusto and created the most memorable role in the movie, if not his career. As he dances out the credit sequence, it also appears that he’s having fun.
The question remains – why would Cruise ever take such a role? What was the payoff?
Between 2001-2010, Cruise experienced some of the worst publicity of his career. Coming off his divorce with Nicole Kidman in 2001, the firing of his long-term publicist in 2004 (and replacing them with his sister), his famously bizarre appearance on Oprah, a long, incoherent Scientology video, a protracted argument with Matt Lauer about antidepressants, the termination of his long-standing contract with Paramount, and a failed purchase and reboot of United Artists,’ -- the decade, for Cruise, was distinguished by bad publicity.
While certainly not a failed star by any stretch, Cruise’s “dirtied star performance” as Grossman made him relevant to a new audience. By embracing his absurdity, the role made him seem like he took himself less seriously at a moment when he needed to be perceived as such.
It didn’t hurt that the Grossman character was embraced by the MTV crowd. Cruise also did promotional commercials for the 2010 MTV movie awards, and the role culminated at the ceremony where danced with J Lo in a lavish live production number.
Ironically, by taking the role of the "Bizzaro" Grossman, Cruise regained his dignity. Because, let's face it, Grossman would never lower himself to jumping up and down on Oprah's couch.