Cruise Stalls 'Last' Premiere for Fans

01/06/2004 at 01:00 PM EST

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise took the term "celebrity friendly" to new heights in London Tuesday night.

The star, who apparently never saw a camera he didn't love, spent two full hours on a lengthy walk around Leicester Square -- ambitiously signing nearly 1,000 autographs for the crowd of 5,000 fans and chatting amiably into and posing for any cell phone camera that passed his way -- for the overseas premiere of "The Last Samurai," reports PEOPLE.

So adept was Cruise, 41, at glad-handing people, in fact, that perhaps he should consider popping into New Hampshire and sealing the Democratic nomination.

Earlier Tuesday Cruise had said: "If anyone shows up and wants my autograph, they can have it. I love coming to London and meeting fans."

The British press took Cruise literally, and the leading man proved good to his word, finishing just before 8:30 p.m. -- delaying the start of his own premiere for more than an hour.

Cruise is no stranger to lengthy London promenades, however. On his last visit to London, for 2002's "Minority Report," he spent a hefty 90 minutes with the crowd; the year before, for "Vanilla Sky," he spent an hour with fans. But this was the topper.

Amazingly, this is only just training for future premieres. "I will probably start before dawn and work my way through," he kidded. "We'll have a marathon. That's a joke."

Cruise arrived on the red carpet just before 6 p.m. accompanied by girlfriend Penelope Cruz, 29, stunning in blood-red Valentino spaghetti strap dress with dramatic plunging neckline. She briefly signed autographs for 15 minutes before being whisked inside to wait with director Edward Zwick as Tom worked the crowds.

Though Cruise and Cruz had to leave London for a flight to Rome before "Samurai" unspooled for its premiere, he did say of the film's Oscar chances: "Even to be mentioned for this film, well ... I'm really proud."

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