August 18, 2004 01:00 PM

Political pundits are calling the upcoming November election the most divisive as any since the Nixon era, but Tom Cruise says he’s bucking the trend of celebs choosing sides – and keeping his private opinions to himself.

During a press conference in Mexico City this week to promote the South-of-the-border release of his new thriller Collateral, Cruise, 42, was asked whether he intended to vote for President Bush or Democratic nominee John Kerry, the Associated Press reports.

“Politics is something that is very personal to me,” Cruise responded. “I am not going to comment publicly (about) who I’m going to vote for. … I don’t want what I say to become a political football.”

Cruise did, however, admit to approving of performers – Bruce Springsteen being the most obvious example, given the Boss’s recent political stance against President Bush – lobbying for their preferred candidates.

“It’s their right to do that and I respect that,” said Cruise. “But I do believe and I encourage people to go out and study the issues, get beyond the propaganda.”

Not that Cruise is skirting controversy entirely this week. In a Rolling Stone interview, he does a very rare thing – speak openly, even emotionally, about his commitment to the Church of Scientology.

“I’m a Scientologist, man,” he tells the interviewer. “What do you want to know? I don’t mind answering questions.”

Yet when asked about critics of that Church, which has a reputation of strong-arming anyone who might question its tactics, Cruise, rising from the table in anger, replies: “Some people, well, if they don’t like Scientology, well, then, f— you.”

The star, his face turning red, then points an accusatory finger at what the magazine calls an “imaginary enemy,” and he says: “F— you. Period.”

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