The Last Samurai

It hardly seems possible that Tom Cruise — biggest movie star in the world, brightest name on the marquee — hasn’t made an epic at some point during his 20-plus years as an actor.

“I’ve never done an epic before,” Cruise says, explaining why he was drawn to “The Last Samurai,” directed by Ed Zwick. “I looked at the ambition of the film, and you have this romantic adventure in the classical cinematic sense of the word. All while attempting to have these philosophical underpinnings. When you’re presented with something like that, how can you not love it?”

In “Samurai,” Cruise plays Nathan Algren, a disillusioned Civil War captain who’s captured by a band of samurais but then finds inner peace through the warriors’ code of honor.

It was a way of life that resonated strongly with the thesp: “To make a film about compassion, honor and integrity is incredible. These are things that, as a man, mean a great deal to me.”

This affection translated into Cruise devoting two full years to the project, which he also produced, including eight months of rigorous sword training. (The actor says he packed on 25 pounds of muscle for the film’s action sequences.) He also meticulously researched everything from Japanese culture to the American Indian War, delving into more than 60 books and diaries.

Between the physical preparation and character development, the Oscar-nominated actor (“Born on the Fourth of July,” “Jerry Maguire”) says he has likely dedicated more time to this film than any other.

“When you want to honor a culture, it requires that level of detail,” Cruise explains. “It was very demanding but then the day we stood on that battlefield I looked up at Ed and I just saw this smile on his face. There is a moment when you feel like how are we going to do this? Then we just decide we’re gonna do it, and you just keep going.”

Coming attractions: “Collateral,” “Mission: Impossible 3,” “The Few”

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