Tom Cruise plays no part more perfectly than "Tom Cruise."

At a recent press junket he is cordial, affable, coy and winning. He leaps to his feet when any reporter enters the room, flashes the $20 million smile, and always looks you right in the eye.

On this day he hasn't seen any formal reviews for his new movie, and that could account for his jovial attitude. Vanilla Sky is Kubrickesque and Cruise is familiar with that territory. His new reported love, Penelope Cruz is in the next room. But for the moment, in this Central Park South hotel, he is reminding me of an Oscar night when his tie was crooked and I told him to straighten it.

Tom Cruise: Is that right?

McCuddy: That was you and me.

Cruise: (Roars with laughter) You fixed my tie for me. Thank you.

McCuddy: I do what I can. Where will you be on Christmas Day?

Cruise: Relaxing.

McCuddy: That's all you want to tell us?

Cruise: That's all I want to tell you. (Laughs) I'm sure you'll probably know before I do.

McCuddy: No, we would take your word for it before we would listen to anything else.

Cruise: I know, I know, I'm joking.

McCuddy: Where do you remember your first Christmas and what was the first toy you got?

Cruise: That's a good question. God. I remember being in Syracuse, New York, and getting a Tonka truck. That's what I remember.

McCuddy: And you were 17? 18?

Cruise: (That laugh) Yeah, 17, 18 years old! No, I was about a year and a half.

McCuddy: Did you ever get anything that would portend that you would become an actor? Cowboy outfit?

Cruise: (Shaking his head in thought)

McCuddy: And someone said 'That guy is going to be...'

Cruise: An actor!

McCuddy: ...A big, big star.

Cruise: (Laughs) No!

McCuddy: 'Look at the way he holds that six shooter.'

Cruise: No, no, you know. I wanted when I was growing up to fly. I wanted a go-cart. I wanted motorcycles. I never got any of that. So when I was old enough and started working, I bought my first go-cart. I bought my first motorcycle. All those things that I wanted. But no, nothing reflecting that [I'd be an actor].

McCuddy: Did you want that BB gun like the kid in A Christmas Story?

Cruise: (Laughing) Yeah, I wanted the BB gun. I never got the BB gun. Yeah, A Christmas Story. Terrific film, isn't it? I never got the BB gun. Nope, they said I'd shoot my eye out. So she never gave it to me.

McCuddy: There are a couple of 9/11 moments in this film. One is an incredible sprint through an empty Times Square, which must have been a gas, and the other is a glimpse of the Trade Towers near the end. Where were you that day?

Cruise: I was at home with my kids.

McCuddy: And what were your first impressions when you saw that unfolding on TV?

Cruise: I was shocked, like everyone else. And then I just started getting really pissed. I was actually really pissed. I was very angry. I was devastated and angry. And I just took the kids and we talked and I just said, 'Listen, this is going on.' And I just explained it to them. 'Don't worry, you're safe. You're going to be okay.' We had a lot of discussions about it. And I spoke with Nic, and I was just, like everybody else, shocked. And I was just really pissed off. I was angry. Really angry about it.

McCuddy: Some filmmakers are removing the Trade Towers from their movies with digital effects. (Vanilla Sky director) Cameron Crowe didn't do that.

Cruise: Well that's a decision of each filmmaker, I think. That's a personal decision. I think a filmmaker always has a responsibility. He has a responsibility to communicate his ideas and, you know, depending on the picture, his reflection of life. But I'm very pleased and Cameron really wanted to keep it in. There's no question about it.

McCuddy: In the film you suffer an incredible accident that leaves your face almost unrecognizable. What would happen if "Tom Cruise" lost his looks?

Cruise: (Reflecting) Hey man, you know, we keep going. Keep going. (Laughs)

That seems certain, along with his looks, no matter what the critics say about Vanilla Sky.