Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer – With Valkyrie, They Illustrate That Slide Down the Slippery Slope to Fascism
by Brad Balfour
Originally posted on January 30, 2009.
Though he totally missed the Oscar loop, you have to give some credit to media magnet Tom Cruise for releasing his World War II drama, Valkyrie at the end of 2008 despite the surge of Nazi-inspired holiday fare. Anytime a star of his stature dons a Nazi uniform and parades around Berlin in jackboots while enjoying face time with a cinematic Adolf Hitler, it invites ridicule. Yet by playing the stone-faced Colonel Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg – who made the final coup attempt against The Fuhrer – Cruise provided audiences with a bete noir to his Jerry Maguire-esque stereotype.
Certainly this wasn’t a follow-up to his comedic cameo in Tropic Thunder where he does an astounding parody of the ultimate Hollywood exec – the kind that Cruise, as an executive among the team running United Artists, clearly knows intimately.
For a long time, the 46 year-old actor had been Mr. Moneybags, the most bankable star who could sell a movie even if it had a thin premise. But as he has gotten older, and taken on the responsibilities of a producer, maintaining that star power and financial dominance isn’t as much of a challenge to him or that easy anymore.
So in light of seeing the media character, or even parody that Cruise has become, he turned to making Valkyrie, a film that’s not a standard heroic starrer. Cruise turns to this devastating period and to a character that ambiguously seems valiant in his goals and means, except that he was an archconservative whose goals sometimes intersected with Hitler’s. Maybe in regaling us with the lavish, subtle eroticism of boots and black leather, Cruise does his Nazi with a cinematic flair, but the complex implications of this character and era require serious contemplation not just flair – something Cruise and director Bryan Singer addressed in this interview drawn from a recent press conference.
Valkyrie has come out at a time when other Nazi-era films have been released – but this film has a different angle from the others and it’s an important too to educate the public about the Germany of that time.
Tom Cruise: It’s something that Bryan and I have spoken about – that it’s important to know that not everybody felt that way and fell into the Nazi ideology. To me, that was surprising. To take this story – and it’s such a massive, comprehensive story; we could’ve made this a five-hour, ten-hour, miniseries – it could’ve been very different kind of movie. [But] Bryan was always specific: this is a suspense thriller about killing Hitler. It’s not a bio-pic. That [the story is true] was a bonus, really, for the film.
Bryan Singer: It’s not a “Holocaust” movie. There are movies that happen to take place [about] this subject matter that are coming out around this time, but it’s a coincidence. This is far from a Holocaust movie. It’s a conspiracy thriller about assassinating Hitler. As Tom was just saying, the bonus is that it happens to be true, it happens to be gripping. And even things that you might think are film conventions – some of the twists and turns – actually really did happen.
Tom Cruise: We spent eight months working [together], and Bryan spent more time before that. Bryan wanted me to come on board, and I started working with him, writers Chris [McQuarrie] and Nathan [Alexander]. Every time we started talking about the Holocaust and the different characters, and trying to put as much into that story as possible, Bryan always went back to, “This is a piece of entertainment. This is a suspense thriller about killing Hitler.” The more you know about the history of it, [you find] there are so many moments we were able to put in there. Von Stauffenberg despised the Nazis, [yet] as a parent [he had to] look at his daughter saluting him. On that day, July 20th, 1944, his son was indoctrinated into the Hitler Youth. These are the moments Bryan wanted to seed in there, but [he] never var[ied] from the picture that he wanted to make. We wanted to [make] this movie [accessible] to a broader audience.
What was it about Claus von Stauffenberg that made this role so irresistible to you?
Tom Cruise: When I first read the script, I thought how incredibly suspenseful it was. Right from the beginning, I thought it was a great story, this is a suspense thriller. I went, “Whoa. It’s cool.” Stauffenberg went to Hitler the day after D-Day; you find out it really happened. It is definitely an important story. I’d never heard [of] it before. I grew up playing with the neighborhood kids in the yard, wanting to kill Nazis, wanting to kill Hitler. As a child, I [wondered], “Why didn’t someone just shoot him?” And, [after] sitting down with Bryan and finding out it was a true story, and I wanted to work with him, off we went. Bryan is someone I’ve always wanted to work with. [I was first introduced to Bryan] when I saw his film The Usual Suspects but we actually met at the premiere of the first Mission Impossible. And I said, “Man, I want to work with you.” He was totally accurate to the behavior and what was happening during that time period. I really respect Bryan’s staging, his composition, and his storytelling. When I look at his movies, it’s very cinematic, classic storytelling. So you don’t see the hand necessarily until you see that it’s missing. They build to that so you see it in the bed. I’ve always felt that you want to get it right. And within the limited amount of time, and economics, you want to do the best that you can for the audience, for the subject matter, whatever it is. The most important thing is the film, because I want to entertain an audience, and when I’m making a film, that’s so important.