On a sunny afternoon in New York City, July 11, 2004, 12 simple words spoken on the rooftop bar of the Gansevoort Hotel would change pop culture history and destroy three once-promising lives -- I'm talking about the lives of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and Deb Baer (just kidding, I'm fine). Taken separately the words were harmless, some may even say bland. But when the words formed a sentence, it was like opening Pandora's Box or that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the crate was opened and everyone's faces melted.
That day, I was on assignment for Seventeen magazine, interviewing Dawson's Creek angel Katie Holmes. Age and soaking myself in Bud Light have taken a toll on my brain, but I do remember her being friendly, classy, and fun to talk to, though a little guarded behind giant sunglasses. She was engaged to Chris Klein and dodging questions like a pro about their as-of-yet unscheduled nups. "Are you the kind of girl who's always dreamed about her wedding day?" I probed like Tim Russert. After going off on some boring tangent, Katie ultimately uttered the fateful quote: "I used to think that I was going to marry Tom Cruise," she said innocently enough.
At the time, nobody could have known how dangerous that statement would turn out to be. In fact, it was so whatevs it didn't even make it into my brilliant cover story about her starring role in First Daughter. But sometimes the junk we don't use in the main text ends up as an extra little tidbit on the website. So whatever genius ran the site back then must have mined the transcript and put that quote up, permanently unleashing it into the ether.
My simple question, meant to elicit innocuous chit-chat about potato gaufrettes, DJs, and Vera Wang, instead may have led to seven years of mind-controlled misery, alienation from family and friends, and Jack and Jill!
See, if rumor, innuendo, conspiracy theorists, and an ex-Scientologist are to be believed, around the exact time my story and "the quote" finally came out, in the October 2004 issue, Tom, in a rare bachelor phase, was having his minions at the church scour the earth looking for the perfect woman to "audition" to be his next wife. He'd already broken up with Penelope Cruz and he may have already scared off Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba and Jennifer Garner.
It's possible during that time, the stars literally aligned. Somebody, only Xenu knows who, may have been surfing Seventeen.com (Isabella??), seen Katie's proclamation of love, screamed "By George!" and burst into Tom's office at the Scientology Center (full disclosure: I don't know if Tom has an office at the Scientology Center).
After a champagne toast, I'm guessing that Tom and the minions would have Googled Katie and started jumping on couches. Because they would have figured out in five minutes what I knew from spending a measly hour with her -- she was ridiculously easy prey. In addition to being just about the nicest star I'd ever interviewed (she worried that I was getting sunburned on the roof), I could tell she was also:
A) A questionable judge of character
It was the presidential election year and Katie expressed her support for John Edwards, saying that she wanted a president who had "goodness" and would do "the right thing."
Filming Batman Begins that summer in London for five months, Katie, who admitted to me she played with dolls until she was 14, was surrounded by A-list ah-ctors like Christian Bale, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine, which she called an "out of body experience."
C) Pretty lonely
Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson once said Katie's eyes were "stained with loneliness." In London, she was alone so much, the workers at the hotel she was staying at noticed and invited her out for drinks one night. She went but they were Australian and partied really hard so that was the end of that.
Did Tom contact Katie after the quote came out, even though she was engaged? Impossible to know, but six months later, on March 3, 2005, Katie and Chris announced they were splitting. Coincidence? I think not! But here's where the story gets even more cuckoo for cocoa puffs: on March 9, six days after Katie and Chris broke up, I got an assignment to interview Katie AGAIN, this time for CosmoGirl! Magazine. I know!
Anywho, so I go to the interview at a restaurant near her new apartment in NYC's West Village, trying to figure out how I'm going to get her to talk about her engagement blowing up just a week before. Like, how the hell am I going to do this tactfully? I walk up to her and she's on her cellphone. "I love you, too," she says quietly and sweetly. As I slide into the booth, she hangs up, and says, "That was my mom." I remember thinking, as she grabbed my hands to warm them from the winter cold, it was odd she'd tell her mom she loved her like that. And, um, I didn't ask who was on the phone because I was raised right.
Here's the bottom line: I thought I was the greatest interviewer since sliced bread, getting her to admit that she broke up with Chris because he wasn't supportive enough of her career. But the joke was on me. I actually sucked. Because on April 27, 2005, before my irrelevant story debuted to absolutely zero fanfare, TomKat made their spectacular, public debut as a couple in Rome. Cue the pandemonium, red-carpet dips and "extraordinary" quotes about each other.
This won't help historians or Wikipedia, but I'm still not sure if that was Tom or her mom on the phone that day. It's unclear looking back at my interview whether or not she had started dating him yet. The glazed-over eyes certainly hadn't set in yet. She called Catholicism "a great thing," dreamed of opening a cupcake shop and couldn't wait to go to fashion shows and the theater. She said she wanted more responsibility and control over her career.
At the same time, though, there were hints that a life with someone like Tom would be enticing to her: She said she was growing more into a woman and wasn't going to apologize anymore for being ambitious, wanting to be a big star and wanting to work with directors like Martin Scorcese and Tom's close pal Steven Spielberg. I also asked her what actresses she admired and she answered Penelope Cruz. I swear on my mother and yes, my mother is still alive.
Once Katie was firmly in Tom's clutches, sometimes I'd lay awake at night, tossing and turning realizing that the quote I'd gotten from her at the first interview probably ruined the poor girl's life. Knowing that if I'd just been a better investigative journalist, I would have realized at the second interview that something was off already and may have been able to stop her from e-meter readings, home sonogram machines and saving strangers on the side of the road.
I'd see her on Letterman or Leno, robotically calling Tom amazing for the 400th time and think, that is NOT the down-to-earth girl I met. I'd fantasize about whisking her away Patty Hearst-style, hoping my face would trigger memories of her life pre-Tom. Just give me a shot to interview her again, I thought, I can get through to her!
Turns out she didn't need me as much as I probably need lithium. Somehow, this brave girl did the mission impossible (you know you love the MI references) and broke free from her shackles of love. I wish so bad I could be the first person to interview her but I'm sure Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters are already clawing each other's eyes out for that honor. Man, if I did get to interview her, I'd just give her a giant, creepy hug and apologize for that stupid quote making its way onto the Internet. I've never been a good matchmaker, just ask my friends. One time I set up my BFF Erica with this guy Martin, and at dinner, he wondered aloud what it would be like to kill someone. I also set up my pals Marianne and David and I believe one ended up biting the other in a drunken fight.
I'd ask her about that cupcake shop, and hope that she'd cry during the interview because that always makes for good copy. I'd pry about who she'd like to date next in the sneakiest way possible. Even though she'd never answer the question honestly I'd get her to say what kind of guy she admires and it would be the exact opposite of Tom and I'd think I was a genius again.
At the end of our interview, I'd grab her hands across the table this time, look her straight in the eye, and tell her, "Katie, you can't get back the last seven years of your life, but you did get a beautiful daughter Suri out of this whole mess. That I am thrilled to take credit for. You're welcome, Katie. You're welcome."