Katie Holmes has made more headlines for being the wife of Tom Cruise than for her acting. But after filing for divorce, Ben East finds the Dawson's Creek star has a potential to fulfil.
Katie Holmes turns off Cruise control by divorcing Tom
It is late summer 1998. The eminent Rolling Stone magazine has just bestowed the coveted honour of their cover image upon Mike D from the Beastie Boys. Plans are afoot for the controversial Marilyn Manson to stare mysteriously from its pages, too. But amid the rock 'n' roll stars, one face stands out. A 19-year old Katie Holmes - "the sweetheart of Dawson's Creek", as the headlines gush - swings from a tyre, half smiling. A star is immediately born.
Just seven years later, Holmes was engaged to Tom Cruise. His clout is such, one might have imagined, that she would have capitalised on Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson's early appraisal that she had a "unique combination of talent, beauty, and skill that makes Hollywood come calling". And in a way, Holmes has stayed in the public eye and on the front covers of magazines.
The headlines just haven't been the ones she might have wished for. Holmes became a star of the gossip pages, a Scientology wife encouraged by her partner to have a "silent birth", as L Ron Hubbard's movement believes any words spoken can have an adverse effect on the mother and the child.
It appeared not to matter that there is not a shred of medical evidence to prove that verbally encouraging a mother to "push" causes untold, lasting trauma to the baby. It was just one more indication of how bizarre Holmes's life was becoming. And, last Friday, she'd had enough of the TomKat marriage, and filed for divorce and sole custody of their daughter, Suri.
The rumour mill began to turn in earnest. The quote from her attorney that "Katie's primary concern remains, as it always has been, her daughter's best interest," was interpreted by many as a thinly veiled swipe at the infamous set of beliefs: Suri was becoming of the age where she might be subject to, as the New York Post memorably put it, "alleged Scientology brainwashing." Sift through the increasingly wild speculation, though, and one truth becomes apparent: Katie Holmes was clearly not prepared to have her life defined simply by being the wife of Tom Cruise.
After all, however enigmatic and quasi-reclusive as she was to become, it's important to recognise that Holmes was once a hugely watchable actor in her own right. It's somewhat ironic that news of the divorce should occur in the lead-up to the final film in Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises; back in 2005, Holmes played Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne's childhood sweetheart who becomes his moral conscience and damsel in distress.
Perhaps one might expect Nolan himself to say that he appreciated the "tremendous warmth and great emotional appeal" in Holmes's performance, but there were others who noted her skills. Total Film said "she sparks with [Christian] Bale".
Yes, there was some sniffiness - but more of that was directed at Nolan's handling of Batman's love-interest rather than Holmes herself. She seemed set fair for movie megastardom. And yet, despite Nolan appearing perfectly happy for her to reprise her role in The Dark Knight - which became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time - she was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Scheduling conflicts were cited as the official reason, but as TheWall Street Journal said at the time, "her relationship with Mr Cruise has been a tabloid free-for-all from the moment it started, generating negative publicity."
So while Gyllenhaal was starring in the biggest film of 2008, Holmes appeared in box-office flop Mad Money. It may have been an ensemble comedy in which she could more quietly showcase her talents, but Holmes certainly stood out. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons: TheNew York Times said she was "the movie's weakest link". And the following years have seen a string of remarkably low-key movies, culminating in Jack And Jill, in which Holmes won her first award in years. The only problem being, it was the Golden Raspberry for Worst Screen Couple, which she shared with Adam Sandler.
It is, of course, tempting to suggest Tom Cruise is the short answer to the vexed question of what has gone wrong with Holmes's career. Any number of gossip websites suggest that he controlled her every move.
Cut through all the tittle-tattle, though, and there are extenuating circumstances. Holmes was, understandably, focusing on being a mother to Suri, a job she called "the most important job in the world" in Fairlady magazine. Meanwhile, she was dealing with the same sort of expectation and pressure that every teen star has to confront when they reach their 20s. Whether she'd married Tom Cruise or not, building a career when the teen dramas dry up is not easy, not least when said teen drama is as big as Dawson's Creek.
Holmes joined the show at its very start in 1998 - in fact, her character Joey Potter was the only one to appear in all 128 episodes. For the uninitiated, this was the classic, soapy melodrama starring young adults making their way through school, complete with the love stories and edgy, issue-based episodes.
Holmes was genuinely excellent in it. Looking back now, some of the praise bordered on the ridiculous: The Washington Post called her the "Audrey Hepburn of her generation". And the gushing reviews in Time (which said she had "seismic influences on teen life"), Variety, The New York Times and many more didn't really recognise that Holmes was essentially playing a version of herself. As she once said to Cosmopolitan magazine: "So much of me is in Joey. It really felt like I grew up on television."
She certainly grew up professionally. The lot of a teen star is often to have been pushed into acting at an early age, often by over-attentive parents with some experience in the industry. Instead, hers was a relatively normal childhood in a provincial town in Ohio - the youngest of five children to philanthropist and attorney parents. She even admitted, once, to having a crush on Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Her father wanted her to be a doctor and was "sceptical" of her nascent career when she signed to an agent as a 14-year-old after enjoying classes at a modelling school. At the time, her mother worried that people were already telling her: "Oh, I wouldn't want my daughter to do that."
So there was never the sense that a massive career was being planned for Holmes, even though she entered a talent competition in New York, getting her first role with a part in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm in 1997. But the comparative lack of experience by the time she was sending off her audition tape for Dawson's Creek was actually to her benefit. Rather than be showily melodramatic, instead Holmes was her natural, normal self. As Lee had already said, she had "the perfect amount of innocence and worldliness."
Talking about The Ice Storm, Holmes admitted that "film acting is more challenging, because you have more time to make the character a lot different from yourself." Which, in the end, was telling. She seemed to prefer the growth of a character over a length of a series - "I think for TV you need to be close to the character, since you're doing it every day for so long," she said. And perhaps, like Jennifer Aniston, television is her best medium. Her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in The Kennedys last year had the New York Post enthusing "you won't believe you aren't watching film clips of the First Lady".
But all is far from lost for the 33 year-old (33, being, rather spookily, the age of Cruise's previous two wives when their respective marriages failed). Michelle Williams, a co-star on Dawson's Creek, has had similarly turbulent relationship issues (most notably with Heath Ledger) and yet, through choosing the right films (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, My Week With Marilyn) has enjoyed three Oscar nominations. So if Williams is up for a Dawson's reunion - although there is the slight problem that her character is dead - then Holmes should sign up too: it would give her the chance to do something a little less pressurised. A little more, well, fun.
Because that's the real shame about Katie Holmes. She was, not so long ago, the smiling "sweetheart" of Dawson's Creek. She did once throw herself into indie films such as Go - a real cult hit back in 1999 - and succeed. Now she has bodyguards around her and lawsuits to fight. Living outside the Tom Cruise bubble, and getting back to a kind of normality, is surely how Holmes can return to what she still does best: acting. She may even get on the cover of Rolling Stone again - for all the right reasons this time.
1978 Born on December 18 in Toledo, Ohio
1997 Wins part of Joey Potter on Dawson’s Creek
1998 Appears on cover of Rolling Stone
1999 Stars in acclaimed indie comedy-thriller Go
2003 Dawson’s Creek ends, and Holmes appears in Phone Booth. Gets engaged to actor Chris Klein
2005 Wins role of Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins. Breaks off engagement with Klein, and six months later is engaged to Tom Cruise
2006 Has daughter, Suri, and marries Cruise
2008 Broadway debut in All My Sons to good reviews
2009 Face of Miu Miu’s spring campaign
2010 Gets first production credit for The Romantics. She also stars but it’s a flop
2011 Wins Golden Raspberry for Worst Screen Couple in Jack And Jill
2012 Files for divorce from Cruise