Curiosity Killed Tom Cruise's Shot At Playing Edward Scissorhands

From Hammer Horror and Grand Guignol homages to biopics of artists with creative visions as strange as his own, Tim Burton has amassed quite a body of dark, off-kilter work over the course of his career. One near-constant at the heart of Burton's cinema is Johnny Depp, the filmmaker's steady collaborator dating back to 1990's "Edward Scissorhands." And yet, that movie's titular role nearly went to just about the last actor you might associate with the term "Burton-esque." Yes, I mean Tom Cruise.

The indefatigable star of the "Mission: Impossible" movie series did, in fact, have his eye on playing Edward at one point. But he had a hard time wrapping his head around the character's fantastical nature. "(Cruise) wanted to know how Edward went to the bathroom," writer Caroline Thompson told Dazed as part of the outlet's coverage of the film's 25th anniversary in 2015. "He was asking the kind of questions about the character that can't be asked for this character!"

If you're still having a hard time wrapping your head around the idea of Cruise — who's spent much of the last 20 years playing either Ethan Hunt or similarly "un-killable" leads — portraying the gentle, soft-spoken Edward in Burton's gothic-horror-meets-'90s-suburbia tale, then it's worth recalling that the actor was in a very different place in his career back then. Let's break it down.

Cruise, then and now

Wind the clock back to when "Edward Scissorhands" was being cast, and you'll find that both Cruise and Depp were in transitional phases as actors. Where Depp was looking to leave his days as a teen heartthrob behind him after starring on the TV version of "21 Jump Street," Cruise was taking steps to move past playing the young hotshots who get a much-needed lesson in humility and empathy he had portrayed in films like "The Color of Money" and "Rain Man."

After picking up an Oscar nod for his turn in 1989's "Born on the Fourth of July," Cruise settled into a groove as a character actor in the '90s. Working with top-tier directors like Rob Reiner, Sidney Pollack, Neil Jordan, and Stanley Kubrick, the decade saw him tackling diverse roles, from Lestat in "Interview With The Vampire" to career misogynist Frank T.J. Mackey in P.T. Anderson's "Magnolia." And let's not forget his turn as the titular superstar sports agent who rediscovers his heart in "Jerry Maguire."

This is all to say that it's easier to imagine the Tom Cruise of the '90s being interested in playing Edward Scissorhands than it is to envision the one we know today tackling a character that's so vulnerable and sensitive. He might've landed the role, too, had he been a little less focused on the practical side of Edward's curious nature.

"Part of the delicacy of the story was not answering questions like, 'How does he go to the bathroom? How did he live without eating all those years?'" Thompson noted. "Tom Cruise was certainly unwilling to be in the movie without those questions being answered."

Could Cruise's career have gone in a different direction?

Cruise, like any other actor, has had his fair share of near-misses when it comes to roles that could have taken his career in a very different direction. He's famously had two brushes with the superhero genre, the first of which came back in the late '80s when the now-defunct Cannon Films was developing a "Spider-Man" movie with an eye on casting him to play Peter Parker. Two decades later, Cruise would also find himself in the running to portray Tony Stark in "Iron Man," a role that might've dramatically changed the lineup of films he's starred in since 2008.

As funny as it is to picture Cruise becoming Burton's muse and on-screen surrogate instead of Depp (think of all the pale makeup and top hats he missed out on!), I doubt that him starring in "Edward Scissorhands" would've affected his career all that greatly. Even if Cruise had been willing to set his questions about Edward's bodily functions aside and play the character as written, his evolution into a modern Buster Keaton by way of action movie star was still years away, and it's unlikely that Burton's romantic, melancholic fairy tale had the power to nudge Cruise off of that course entirely.