How Tom Cruise's bizarre 'Tropic Thunder' character was created -- and why we may see him again

ParamountTom Cruise as Les Grossman in ‘Tropic Thunder.’

One of the highlights of the 2008 Ben Stiller comedy “Tropic Thunder” is Les Grossman, the venom-spewing, Diet Coke-drinking studio head who doesn’t care that the lead actor (Stiller) in his multimillion-dollar movie has been kidnapped in the jungles of Vietnam.

The reason why the character is so memorable is simple: He’s played by Tom Cruise.

Well, it was probably the best time for Cruise to do something that’s not in his wheelhouse. Back then, Cruise was still getting over the box-office disaster of “Mission: Impossible 3,” and his public statements about Scientology caused Viacom chair Sumner Redstone to tell a reporter, “We don’t think that someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot.”

Thankfully, Cruise’s friend Ben Stiller wanted him to be in “Thunder.” And as the movie’s coscreenwriter Justin Theroux tells it, they wanted Cruise to have a larger part.

“We were talking to Tom about maybe doing Ben’s part — we wanted him in the movie,” Theroux told Business Insider while doing press for “Zoolander 2,” which he also cowrote. “We thought it would be a real coup to get him in the movie.”

But Cruise pushed for the minor studio-head role, so Theroux went to work on the character.

Justin Theroux Jeff Spicer GettyJeff Spicer/GettyJustin Theroux.

“I went back and started working on it and sketching it out and basically creating the most vile character I could create,” Theroux revealed. “And there was a moment of going, ‘Oh, s–t, eventually Tom is going to see these pages and he’s going to be like, ‘What the hell are you doing?'”

But that was far from the case. In fact, Cruise encouraged Theroux and Stiller to make the character even more offensive.

And when it came to the Les Grossman look — balding and overweight — Cruise suggested another memorable feature.

“He wanted these prosthetic hands — big, chubby hands,” Theroux said of Cruise’s pointer.

In many ways. the Les Grossman character made Cruise hip again to an audience that was starting to write him off.

Since the release of “Tropic Thunder,” many have pushed for a spinoff that focuses on Grossman.

Theroux, for one, is game, and it seems like it might be tentatively in the works.

“We’ve talked about it,” Theroux said. “But it’s one of those things where we go, we don’t want to jam anything, we just want to make sure the tone is right and it would be the right story.”

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