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Research Meets Action
Longtime writing and producing partners Zwick and Herskovitz, who have successfully collaborated for years on award-winning television shows and movies, were pleased to find in Tom Cruise a kindred teammate for making The Last Samurai.

Says Herskovitz, "Tom threw himself wholeheartedly into the preparation. I've never seen an actor do as much research for a film. He had a library of information and was amazingly helpful. Ed and I have always challenged each other, that's the center of our creative relationship, but it's rare for us to be stimulated in a similar way by someone else. Tom became a part of our creative partnership and it's been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. He has such a positive attitude and his ideas are always sound and often inspired. He continually pushed us in the most supportive way as we worked on the script and that spirit continued throughout production."

Part of the actor's preparation involved months of rigorous training for scenes involving hand-to-hand combat, riding and double-sword fencing, prompting Herskovitz to attest, "He worked several hours every day for about a year with a dedication and a discipline that was totally Samurai. He can handle the two swords beautifully and he's a great horseman."

"I worked for eight months to get in shape for this picture," the actor confesses. "I learned Kendo [Japanese swordsmanship], Japanese martial arts, all manner of weapons handling. I not only had to ride a horse, but I had to effectively fight while riding. I studied Japanese. As far as training goes, you name it, I've done it."

Legendarily focused and dedicated, Cruise continued his research and training throughout the production. Zwick gave Cruise several books on Japanese history and culture to add to the actor's own growing library, and between takes it wasn't unusual to find him reading a volume like the classic Civil War tome The Killer Angels.

Cruise typically arrived on set two hours in advance of the other cast and crew to hone his physical skills. His dedication paid off in enabling him to perform all of his own stunts, from several nights of double-sword fighting against multiple opponents to five days and one night of fending off murderous Ninja intruders, to weeks of martial arts drills opposite his Japanese co-stars and finally two months of relentless battle sequences.

"Initially I was concerned about achieving realism in the fight scenes," says Cruise, noting that while he came into the project at a high level of physical fitness he was unfamiliar with the specific rigors of Samurai martial arts. Focusing on flexibility and gradually lowering his center of gravity with daily workouts enabled him to execute the naturally fluid moves "without stiffness." Indeed, afterwards, Cruise mentioned that even his breathing had become deeper and he had a "clearer sense of awareness, of mind over body," which he credits at least partially for seeing him through some of the more intense battle scenes without injury.

At times, observing his star's commitment, Zwick wondered if he was expecting too much. "I thought, ‘what am I doing,'" he says. "Here I have Tom face down in the mud, getting the crap kicked out of him, or we're doing take after take in which actual aluminum swords are swinging past his face at extraordinary rates and I think maybe I'm putting him too much at risk. But each time he would say, ‘just give me the time and the preparation and tell me what you want me to do, and I'm going to be there.'"

In truth, Cruise, a naturally gifted athlete and all-around sports enthusiast, looked forward to his character's physical contests. In an inspired bit o

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