The Tom Cruise I know is a dozen different characters from various movies, each of them unique and embedded in the collective consciousness. When I tell him that I'd like to know where in Los Angeles we might find some of his most famous movie personas, he laughs and exclaims, "Okay, man!" as if I've just challenged him to a game of one-on-one.

"First, where would you find Joel from Risky Business?"

"Where would you find Joel?" he asks about the Ray Ban-wearing teenager who danced around in his shades and skivvies. He pauses, pondering.

"Probably Tower Records on Sunset. Buying records. Checking out movies."

"Where would you find Jerry Maguire?"

Of the Hollywood sports agent forced by his client to scream, "Show me the money!" Cruise says, "Definitely some sports bar with a TV. He's not picky; he just needs the scores of his clients' games. Which restaurant do all the sports agents go to?"

"Spago," I suggest, Wolfgang Puck's see-and-be-seen Beverly Hills temple of California cuisine.

"Spago!" says Cruise. "Okay, Spago. Jerry Maguire would hit Spago."

"What about Charlie Babbitt from Rain Man?"

For the yuppie manipulator who dis­covers humanity after driving cross-country with his autistic brother, Cruise says, "The Sky Bar."

I immediately picture Charlie Babbitt peacocking at the trendy bar by the Mondrian Hotel pool, gazing out on the lights of L.A. and feeling smug for just getting inside.

"What about William Harford from Eyes Wide Shut?"

When it comes to the physician he played in Stanley Kubrick's final film, Cruise doesn't hesitate. "Harford would definitely be at the Getty Center. He'd be checking out the new art exhibit. It's a beautiful building and it has great art."

"And Ethan Hunt from Mission: Impossible?" I ask.

"Well, Mark, I'd tell you," he says, unleashing The Laugh, the one that opens the wall of teeth and shakes the scenery. "But then I'd have to kill you."

Cruise is, of course, on a perpetual mission. He has a purpose for everything he does, and his purpose in speaking with me is to promote Collateral, which, set in L.A., is the perfect backdrop for our dissection of the city. He plays a hit man, Vincent, who shanghais a cabbie to drive him around L.A. to carry out a series of assassinations.