Stand-up-comic-turned-actor Jamie Foxx, 36, and movie star Tom Cruise, 42, seem like an odd couple. But in the new thriller Collateral—directed by Michael Mann (Ali) and costarring Jada Pinkett Smith—they generate explosive chemistry with Cruise as a cold hit man and Foxx as the insecure L.A. cab driver forced to take him on his nightly rounds. The stars, who are both single fathers, spoke with PEOPLE senior editor Jess Cagle about shooting the movie, finding a woman and changing their names.
Tom, you’re the last actor anyone would expect to play a hit man. Why did you decide it was time to play a bad guy?
CRUISE: I’m not looking in terms of wanting to play a good guy or wanting to play a bad guy. For me, it’s a character, I’m someone who believes that man is basically good, and you look at the disintegration of this character. About 2.5 percent of the population are pretty hard-core antisocial people. It’s complex because they can be very charming and they draw you in. Finding the cracks is a real challenge as an actor.
Had the two of you met before the movie?
FOXX: I read for Jerry Maguire. said, “You’re gonna go to New York and read for Mr. Cruise.” So I met him that time briefly. I was nervous, but it was cool. I held my own. And then Cuba Gooding Jr. got it and ended up getting an Oscar. I tell the story onstage. “Cuba Gooding got my Oscar. I went up there to New York and f—-ed it up.”
CRUISE: You didn’t f—-it up, Foxx. We sat there about an hour and talked. We talked about your grandmother.
When you were working together, what did you discover you had in common?
CRUISE: We’re both fathers, we both love our children. There was a lot of stuff I found I had in common with Jamie.
FOXX: He’s competitive. We were playing pool, and he’s a killer. I’m competitive too, and I thought this is crazy. He can’t have the acting and the good looks and beat me in pool.
You’re both poor and ugly. Is it hard finding dates? [They laugh, and high-five.] So how’s it going?
CRUISE: I look for a woman who wants to have fun. And when I say fun, I want to go fly airplanes, I want to hike. I travel all the time. And I look for someone who has a central kind of honesty.
FOXX: When he said, “Honest,” I feel what he’s saying. Is she being real right now or is it because I’m doing the flicks, or because I’m hot right now, what is it? That’s the one thing we share, on different levels. Do you know how many women are jockeying me right now because I’m doing a movie with Tom Cruise? The young lady that I date now, she doesn’t want to go anywhere, she doesn’t care about that. I know she digs me because she was there when I was just trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B.
CRUISE: Also, I like relationships. I really love to love a woman. I’m the guy that will get married again.
You both changed your names [from Thomas Cruise Mapother IV and Eric Bishop] when you went into show business. Why?
CRUISE: Cruise was my middle name. I just didn’t feel like a Mapother. [He was raised by his mother after his parents’ divorce.] At that time, I just went, “This is who I am.” So that’s why I changed it.
FOXX: Mine is not as thoughtful. On amateur night [at stand-up comedy clubs] you write your name down on a sheet of paper and they pick it. They would choose all the girls because there are maybe three girls and 50 guys. So after about four weeks of not getting chosen, I went and wrote unisex names: Stacy King, Tracy Brown, Jamie Foxx. That’s how the name got started.
Jamie, when you turned 36 in December, did you invite Tom to your party?
FOXX: It’s like this: We’re all thinking Tom’s not coming. He comes in with all the Tom Cruise swagger. He’s the messiah. I’ve never seen black people so shocked. My sister calls her friends. “Oh my God, he’s here! Oh my God, he looks so good! Girl, you should see him!” I say to him, “Did you know you could start slavery right now?” The bodyguards were having to keep people away. The whole hip-hop community got on their two-ways and said Tom Cruise is a thumbs-up, because he came down here to kick it with us and he’s cool.