I was about to finish kindergarten at La Salle Green Hills, a Catholic boys school in Mandaluyong, a bustling city in the Philippines, when my mother told me that we'd be leaving our home of five years and moving to the states. (My stepfather had taken a new engineering job in the thrilling city of Akron, Ohio.) A shy, soft-spoken student, I tended to keep to myself during English class—mostly because I could barely speak a word of it—until my grandfather, an old-school church singer who was infatuated with all things American, took me under his wing and suggested that the best way for me to learn the language would be to watch movies—exclusively ones starring Tom Cruise.
Ever since his turn as a risk-taking fighter pilot in Top Gun, many Filipinos viewed Cruise as the quintessential American. He was the epitome of macho-cool with his aviator shades, fine-tuned physique, and impressive movie-star charisma. And when the first Mission: Impossible movie was released in 1996—when I was a ripe six years old—my grandfather was the first one to escort me to the theater, hoping some of the actor's all-American swagger would rub off on me before I moved.
And so began my informal education—and soon, full-blown obsession. From the moment we arrived in the U.S., I began studiously watching Cruise's films, from his role as a too-cool-for-school teenager in Risky Business to a fast-talking sports agent in Jerry Maguire. Although my cinematic preferences otherwise skewed toward '60s romances, it wasn't hard to fall for Cruise's charm. In every role, he spoke with a heroic confidence that I tried my best to immitate. As a middle school tween, I even shamelessly borrowed a page from his playbook, telling my then crush, "You complete me!" Obviously, it didn't work out.
While I never did quite pick up Cruise's movie star charisma—who else could?—his films, particularly Mission: Impossible, will always have a special place in my heart. Even though I'm now a seasoned American citizen and fluent in English, I still can't wait to see the fifth iteration of the franchise, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (in theaters July 31), and remember my grandfather, my six-year-old self, and how we both viewed him as our American hero.
Me, as a young boy in the Philippines.