In his new film American Made, Tom Cruise takes on the complicated role of real-life pilot Barry Seal, who worked as a drug smuggler for the Colombian cartels and an informant for the CIA in the 1980s. The actor, 55, says he was intrigued by Seal’s life —even if he’s not exactly a heroic figure.
“I don’t agree with what he was doing, but you can’t help but be utterly fascinated by it,” Cruise tells PEOPLE in the magazine’s fall movie preview in the new issue.
“One of my favorite authors is Mark Twain, and Seal reminds me of one of his characters,” adds Cruise. “It’s not every day you get to play a character who is a devoted husband and father and a drug runner, a CIA operative working for the DEA.”
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The film re-teams Cruise with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman, and that’s one of the main reasons Cruise decided to make it. That and the chance to get back in the pilot seat on the big screen, which he hasn’t done since his days as Maverick in 1986’s Top Gun.
“Doug and I are both pilots, and we shot this very differently—in a very real way,” says Cruise.
American Made hits theaters Sept. 29.