updated 06/08/2012 AT 7:00 AM ET
•originally published 06/08/2012 AT 2:50 PM ET
Given Jonathan Lipnicki’s bulging bicep display in November, it should come as no surprise that he would like an acting role that allows him to use his muscles to his advantage.
“I really want to do something where I can show my physicality – something with a lot of action,” the (now grown) spikey-haired blonde boy who played Renee Zellweger’s adorable son in 1996’s Jerry Maguire, tells PEOPLE. “Action would be fun. I’d really like to do that.”
Contributing to the now-21-year-old’s chiseled physique is his favorite hobby.
“I’m really into jujitsu,” he says. “I’m a purple belt. I love it. It’s a big part of my life. I’m so in love with martial arts, so [I’d want to do] something with that.”
Even though Lipnicki – who stars in the crime drama For the Love of Money, which hits theaters on Friday and is based on a true story – has moved on from his days as a child actor, he certainly hasn’t forgotten about the role that made him a star.
“For me, it feels like it was a different life, but I’m really blessed to have had those [prior] opportunities,” he says.
In fact, he still considers the star of the Cameron Crowe-produced hit 16 years ago his inspiration in Hollywood.
“After all these years, I still look up to Tom Cruise,” Lipnicki says. “He’s been a very important part of my life. He’s a great human being. He’s such an intelligent guy.”
After seven years, Lipnicki decided to reach out to his role model, 49, to gain some career insight. With a simple cold-call to Cruise’s office, he was put in contact with the A-list actor, and as recently as about six weeks ago, the two former co-stars reconnected.
“He just had so many things to say, and all this great advice,” Lipnicki gushed. “I just felt like it was the perfect time to turn to him and ask him important questions and see what he thought. I talked to him about where I was going in life and what I wanted to do.”
Cruise’s best piece of advice for the budding actor?
“A huge thing with Tom is manners,” Lipnicki says. “He was telling me that no matter what happens, always be polite. For someone that big to tell you that is refreshing. He really cares about people and cares to talk to them and hear what they think. I feel so inspired and ready to go because if that guy tells me I can do it, I feel like I can do it.”