The root video is an interview Hader did with David Letterman on The Late Show in October 2008, during which the comedian and expert impressionist describes meeting Cruise at an early table read for Tropic Thunder. As Hader recounted their conversation, he expertly mimicked Cruise’s voice and mannerisms, capturing the actor’s tightly-wound enthusiasm. During their chat, Hader said he brought up Seth Rogen, whom Cruise had recently met, and when Hader busted out his Rogen impersonation in front of Cruise, the actor lit up. “It was like I did a magic trick!” Hader told Letterman as he mimed Cruise’s wide-eyed, slack-jawed clapping.
Gleeful as the original clip is, over 10 years later it’s the perfect source material to illustrate how disconcertingly real deepfake videos can be. In Ctrl Shift Face’s version, Hader morphs into Cruise and Rogen in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instant. The transformation is so seamless that even its most glaring tell — the way beard stubble appears on Hader’s face when he turns into Rogen — is barely noticeable.
After the Hader clip went viral, The Guardian tracked down the man behind Ctrl Shift Face, a Slovakian man in the Czech Republic who said his name was Tom. While Tom acknowledged the potential political dangers deepfake videos pose, he said clips like Nancy Pelosi ostensibly slurring her speech (which, while not technically a deepfake, was doctored in an effort to influence public opinion by distorting the original clip) are often easy to debunk: “You can show the original and boom, you have the proof.” Far more concerning, and way easier to make, Tom said, are fake news articles circulating on Facebook and websites designed to look like legitimate news sources.
Still, Tom said he hoped his videos would make people more aware of the growing prevalence of this kind of technology. “People need to learn to be more critical,” he said. “The general public are aware that photos could be Photoshopped, but they have no idea that this could be done with video.”