05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
EVEN SHOWBIZ INSIDERS ARE TAKEN ABACK WHEN THEY meet Tom Cruise
. Paul Thomas Anderson, who directed the actor's Oscar-nominated performance in Magnolia
, recalls that his first encounter with Cruise "was flesh-and-blood confirmation that, 'Oh! He is that handsome.' " Actor-comedian Jay Mohr, who worked with Cruise in 1996's Jerry Maguire
, remembers his introduction as well. "He said, 'Nice to meet you,' " says Mohr. "And then he smiled! And I thought there's only one thing you can do with a smile like that—become a movie star. You can't exactly fold sweaters at the Gap with that smile." Cruise has plenty to beam about. His 22 movies have grossed some $3 billion around the world, he's producing and starring in this month's highly anticipated sequel to Mission: Impossible
, and in December he'll celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary with Nicole Kidman
. And although he revels in the domesticity of taking his children Isabella, 7, and Connor, 5, to the park, Cruise keeps his edge by skydiving and scuba diving and piloting his Pitts Special S-2B stunt plane. The 5'9" actor, who turns 38 in July, is going just as fearlessly into middle age, with a now mature face setting off that irresistible smile. "Tom has beautiful facial structure," says M:I-2
director John Woo. "He looks good from every camera angle." This is one top gun that never seems to tarnish.