Tom Cruise has a million-dollar smile, a trio of beautiful ex-wives, and a cousin who loves him. That last one’s important — for the cousin, especially. William Mapother is an actor like his first cousin, but without the $6.4 billion in ticket sales to his name.
But it’s not for lack of trying from both men. Mapother, best known as mysterious Ethan Rom from ABC’s hit drama “Lost,” got his start as a production assistant on films starring his cousin, including 1988’s “Rain Main” and 1989’s “Born on the Fourth of July.” Mapother also had small roles in several Cruise films, including as a platoon member in “Born on the Fourth of July,” a TV station employee in 1999’s “Magnolia,” a henchman in 2000’s “Mission Impossible II,” and a clubgoer in 2001’s “Vanilla Sky.”
“[Cruise] has been kind enough a couple times to suggest to a director, if you’re looking for an actor, why don’t you audition this guy?” Mapother, 49, has said.
“And I haven’t gotten all the roles,” he adds. “Directors won’t do anything to jeopardize their film, so they’re not going to put anybody in a role who’s not up to it.”
Mapother was raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where he spent time growing up with Cruise, his paternal cousin. Mapother’s late father, William Reibert Mapother, Sr. and Cruise’s late father, Thomas Cruise Mapother III (Cruise’s birth name is Thomas Cruise Mapother IV), were brothers. Mapother’s father was a prominent local attorney, while Cruise’s father was an engineer who moved his family frequently when Cruise was a boy. After Cruise’s parents divorced when he was 11, he moved with his mother and three sisters to Louisville to be closer to extended family.
Cruise, 52, had his first hit in 1983 with “Risky Business,” while Mapother attended Notre Dame. As Cruise’s career skyrocketed, Mapother moved to New York and then to California, where he taught junior high and high school in East Los Angeles. In addition to the bit roles in Cruise’s films, Mapother beganappearing in more and more films starting in the early 2000s.
Despite sharing grandparents with one of Hollywood’s leading men, Mapother insists it was a long dinner, and not his A-list cousin’s connections, that helped him land his critically acclaimed breakout role as a raging ex-husband in the award-winning 2001 drama “In the Bedroom.” Mapother recalls that talking to the director, Todd Field, is the reason he snagged the supporting role in the film, which received five Academy Award nominations, including one for best picture.
“We fell into an intense, deep, pretentious — on my half — conversation on life and art and movies, and he asked me if I’d be interested in this role in a movie he was trying to get made,” Mapother has said. “And being an unemployed actor, I said: ‘Of course.'”
Of course, the “In the Bedroom” director likely knew who Mapother’s cousin was, since Field acted opposite Cruise in Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Regardless, Mapother admits that having an international household name as your first cousin comes with benefits — but no guarantees.
“So it has opened a couple doors, but it hasn’t gotten me any roles.”
—Sandie Angulo Chen