"Okay, where would we find Vincent from Collateral?" I ask.

"The places that he has to go to in the picture," Cruise answers. "Downtown L.A. Wherever his job has to be."

"Where did you go as Vincent in the movie?"

"Bliss is a nightclub downtown that [director] Michael Mann found," he says. "It's dark and modern, glass. We shot a little bit in the club itself, and then Michael designed a set based on the club. Kind of made it a little bigger for the movie. Michael found other locations in L.A. that I'd never been to, and I was really happy to have the opportunity to see them. Like the Grand Star Jazz Club. Michael loves jazz."

Filming Collateral was new territory for Cruise. Not the role - he's played bad guys before, receiving an Oscar nod for his role as an insidious motivational speaker in Magnolia. Rather, it was new territory in terms of introducing him to a side of Los Angeles he'd never seen before.

"There's a club called El Rodeo in the movie that's a great club where they do that kind of Urban Cowboy dancing. It's a very visual place. The music is great. Also, China­town at night. I've never been out in L.A. until 6 in the morning. These places that Michael Mann finds, and the way he shoots them, it's very much L.A. But it's fresh. It's new. In a town that has been shot over and over on TV and in movies, you see what he does and the places that he knows, and it's surprising. I'd say, 'How do you even know about this place?' What is wonderful about Los Angeles is that there are many different ethnic groups that all live and work to­gether. When you see Collateral, you really see how diverse the cultures are here."

I ask Cruise about some of his favorite places around town, restaurants for instance, and he begins reciting his laundry list.

"I like all types of food. I go to Matsu­hisa. Giorgio's. Toscana. In-N-Out Bur­ger. Dairy Queen."

"Dairy Queen? Really?"

"Yeah, I like Dairy Queen," he insists. "I'm a Southern boy at heart, really. And, of course, now Krispy Kreme has come here, which I'm very happy about. Good for my Southern roots."

"So you'd rather go to Krispy Kreme than Matsuhisa?"

He laughs. "I like Matsuhisa, but you've got to love Krispy Kreme, too. Everything has its place."

He isn't a reclusive movie star, Cruise keeps insisting. He doesn't shy away from public places. He tells me that he loves people, is forever curious about people, who they are and how they live. He loves to interact with them on the beach, in the movies, especially the movies on opening night, when the theater is packed and everyone is watching the screen, not the superstar who just slid into the seat next to them.

"Anywhere," he says of his choice of movie theaters. "The ones in Century City and Westwood. And the Cinerama Dome, where they play 2001: A Space Odyssey. I like seeing big movies there. Mann's Chinese is a classic. They've really worked on it. It's part of history. It's pretty exciting when you have an opening there. I like going to a movie when it's opening weekend and it's packed. You feel the energy of the audience, that experience of an entire audience sitting there watching a film. I've always loved that, ever since I was a little kid. I used to cut grass and deliver newspapers and save my money so I could go to the movies. That was my escape, my pleasure, as a child."

"And you still like to go into a packed theater?" I ask.

"I love it," he says.

"Where do you sit?"

"Anywhere there's an open seat."

"And you'll be with … people?"

Now the laugh is thunderous. "Yeah, with people. Don't you have people down in Texas, man?"