June 25, 2012 12:00 PM

He’s dangled off the world’s tallest building and defied gravity from the cockpit of a fighter jet. But for Tom Cruise, singing Def Leppard’s 1987 hit “Pour Some Sugar on Me” as heavy metal star Stacee Jaxx in the musical Rock of Ages was a whole new kind of dangerous. “I’ve never sung professionally,” says the 49-year-old star. “I approached it the way I learned race-car driving or some stunt where you develop that part of your body.” Develop it he did, plunging into about 10 hours a day of intensive voice and movement training-in leather pants, boots and hair extensions-for 4½ months. “Every day we would count his new stomach muscles,” says choreographer Mia Michaels, whose routine with the tireless actor also included push-ups and ab work. After honing his howl with Axl Rose’s vocal coach, Ron Anderson, Cruise, who turns 50 on July 3, “could be on an album,” says the teacher. “He surprised everybody.” But the star has no plans to change careers, and laughs off talk of his eternal youth. “I never think about it,” he says. “It’s just about having family, working hard, and I’m happy.” He talked to PEOPLE Executive Editor JD Heyman about his life with wife Katie Holmes, 33, family ties and how he got ready to rock.

Your last singing role was Nathan Detroit in a high school version of Guys and Dolls. Why now?

I’ve always loved this music, and when [director] Adam Shankman asked to me to do it, I said, well, let’s see how I do, ’cause I want to sing every note.

Katie had a hand in this too.

She’s a singer and a dancer, so Kate would take the family to dance classes, and that sort of inspired the hip-hop dancing I did in Tropic Thunder. I wanted to do a musical. But the first question was, can I sing? And I was, like, I don’t know!

And how did that go?

When I first started working with [vocal coach] Ron Anderson, he kind of looked at me and said, “You know, you have a four-octave range.” And I was like, “Oh, well, is that good?”

What do you tell all those people who ask how you look so amazing at 49?

[Laughs] If there’s a single thing, it’s that I worked my whole life to make movies, and I train hard to play these characters…. I don’t know! It’s not something you plan.

So there’s no secret deal?

No secret deal! You’re blessed to be able to live your dream and have the family that I have, the wife and the children that I have. Look, I’m 49, gonna be 50. And I finally got to do my musical.

You’ll spend your 50th birthday making Oblivion in Iceland.

That’s appropriate, I think. Growing up it was a dream of mine to travel the world. I’ll be working, but not to the detriment of family time. Despite our schedules, we’re together all the time.

So no big birthday plans?

We had a great blowout Kate surprised me with last year, and this year she’s going to be shooting a film she’s written. So we’ll do something low-key in New York, and we’ll be in Iceland on the actual day. We like hiking, and so we’ll have some nice hikes and maybe go camping when Kate finishes her film.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Time with Kate. In Baton Rouge both of us just took a beautiful afternoon off and took a long walk around a lake together, and we took Suri. Those moments mean everything to us. And I love coming home at night and playing games with my family.

What kind of games do you play?

We like Scrabble and Yahtzee. We run around the yard kicking soccer balls.

Who’s the best Scrabble player at home?

Oh man, you’re gonna get me into trouble if I say who it is. Pass!

Your older kids, Bella and Connor, are 19 and 17. What’s it like parenting a 6-year-old again?

It’s so much fun. Suri is just so lovely and so much fun to be with. On weekends we do arts and crafts. With Kate, there’s always dancing and singing and all that kind of stuff in the house. Now Suri has friends all over the place, so wherever we go, they’re also there. My older children are also around, and my nieces, nephews, my sisters and their families. They all love Suri.

You bought your first motorcycle at age 12. When Suri is 12 and wants one, what will you say?

[Laughs] She’s not interested yet in motorcycles, but she definitely likes fast cars. So I already know she’ll like to drive! Kate and I joke about this, because Suri will come to my sets and I’m covered in bruises and blood and you gotta wear a hard hat and things are exploding. And then she goes to Kate’s sets, and there’s pretty makeup and a beautiful lake and it’s peaceful. It’ll be fun to talk to her when she’s a teenager about the differences.

What if she wants to be an accountant?

I’ve raised my kids to think for themselves, make decisions for themselves. I’m here as a sounding board for them and for advice if they want it. But whatever she wants to do and whatever my older children want to do, their path is their path. I think all I can do is expose them to the world. We all have a blessed life. They get to travel, they get to see different cultures and be exposed to so many bright and talented people. And before I go visit these places, we all take time to study the culture, and so I think they have a natural interest in other people. They’re gonna do what they are going to do.

Do you want more kids?

I’m so happy with three. I’m enjoying every second with Suri that I have. And I’m enjoying the relationship I have with my older kids, and the way it is right now.

Do you feel like you are getting better at being a father as you go along?

Every day, Kate and I go, how did we do? Kate and I look at each other like, well, we had a good day today! We all work at it.

When you’re turning 60, do you think you’re still going to be jumping off buildings? Do you even have a plan for the next 10 years?

Just to continue to make movies. I love being a part of stories. That’s what I want to do. [I hope] that’s the rest of my life. I love it.

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