By SHARON WAXMAN
LOS ANGELES, June 1 - Just months into his tenure as chairman of Paramount, Brad Grey is facing the sort of decision that makes Hollywood executives quiver: whether to proceed with production of the hugely expensive "Mission: Impossible III," even as its star, Tom Cruise, is puzzling associates and members of the public with his behavior while promoting another Paramount venture, "War of the Worlds."
An executive for Viacom, Paramount's parent company, said the studio had not yet decided whether to push ahead with production of "Mission: Impossible III," one of the company's most valuable franchises and a project on which tens of millions of dollars has already been spent. Shooting was planned to begin in Italy on July 18 and to continue on location in Europe and elsewhere.
"No definitive decision has been made; it's a discussion," said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared endangering the studio's relationship with Mr. Cruise. Other executives involved in the discussion said the production became an issue in recent days as the budget has climbed well over $150 million. A studio spokeswoman, Janet Hill, declined to comment.
The uncertainty comes at a critical time for Paramount as it prepares to release "War of the Worlds," a big-budget science fiction epic directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Mr. Cruise. The movie, jointly financed with DreamWorks, is to open on June 29.
While promoting that film over the last several weeks, Mr. Cruise engaged in an increasingly public discussion of his religion, Scientology. Then he set tongues wagging in Hollywood and elsewhere with an hourlong appearance on the May 23 "Oprah" show, during which he jumped around the set, hopped onto a couch, fell rapturously to one knee and repeatedly professed his love for his new girlfriend, the actress Katie Holmes.
Many Hollywood stars are involved with the Church of Scientology, and there is nothing particularly unusual about trumpeting a new love. But some executives at Paramount and DreamWorks have voiced concern that fans were becoming distracted from the movie, which cost some $130 million to produce.
"You can have so much attention on a particular issue that maybe the movie doesn't get as much attention as it might," Marvin Levy, a spokesman for Mr. Spielberg, a partner in DreamWorks, said of the show. "It's the topic of conversation, for many reasons."
The two studios have already curtailed the normal promotional press junket ahead of the June 29 release of "War of the Worlds," limiting it to what Mr. Levy called a smaller number of "preselected interview sessions." He said the decision had nothing to do with Mr. Cruise but was made because there had been enough promotion already.
Mr. Cruise's recent comments and behavior have been fodder for Internet bloggers, radio talk show hosts and late-night comedians, who, among other things, have questioned whether the love affair with Ms. Holmes was a publicity stunt. A spokeswoman for Mr. Cruise denied that this was the case.
But within Hollywood, the discussion among agents, producers, studio executives and other actors has been focused more on whether Hollywood's biggest box office star was doing long-term harm to his career. And there was sincere confusion over what Mr. Cruise, a 20-year veteran of the publicity machine, had in mind with his recent public appearances and statements.
Mr. Cruise's spokeswoman, his sister Lee Anne De Vette, said she had not heard anything negative after the "Oprah" appearance. "You're looking at someone who's genuinely very happy," she said. "The response we've gotten back is complete enthusiasm and exhilaration for his enthusiasm and exhilaration. He's a very happy person."
Still, there have been other publicity hiccups related to Mr. Cruise's increasingly public association with Scientology, the religion founded by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. In a series of television interviews on "Access Hollywood" last week, the star spoke at length about his passion for Scientology, at one point criticizing Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants: Scientology considers modern psychiatry and its medications to be harmful.
And in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel in April, Mr. Cruise got into a heated exchange with an interviewer who called Scientology a pseudo-science after the star said he had personally "helped hundreds of people get off drugs." Mr. Spielberg was present at the interview and found himself defending Mr. Cruise's dedication to Scientology by comparing it to his work for his Shoah Foundation, which promotes education about the Holocaust. A DreamWorks executive called the exchange unfortunate.
One Spiegel interviewer, Lars-Olav Beier, said he was given a tour of Scientology's celebrity center before the interview. Ms. De Vette said Mr. Cruise talked about Scientology simply to answer questions. "Scientology didn't come up on 'Oprah,' " she observed. "It's a matter of what's being asked. He's not talking about it more than in the past."
Ms. De Vette also said she had not heard that plans for "Mission: Impossible III" were under review, and added that Mr. Cruise was in training for the film's stunts. "I know nothing about that," she said, referring to a Tuesday report on the Web site huffingtonpost.com that the film might be suspended. "As far as I know we're moving ahead."
Mr. Cruise's insistence on making his religion a prominent part of his current work has raised some resistance in Hollywood. Some executives from the United International Pictures, which is releasing "War of the Worlds" overseas, complained earlier about being asked to take a four-hour tour of Scientology facilities in Los Angeles in late January.
And Mr. Cruise's insistence on having a Scientology tent on the set of "War of the Worlds" created a conflict at Universal, where the movie was being shot, two executives involved said. The executives, who asked not to be identified to protect industry relationships, said that Mr. Cruise, his agent Kevin Huvane and Mr. Spielberg all had to appeal personally to the president of Universal Studios, Ron Meyer, for the tent to be permitted on the studio lot, where no solicitation is allowed.
The studio required that the tent not be used for recruitment purposes, they said. A studio spokesman declined to comment.