LOS ANGELES, June 29 — When the director Bryan Singer decided to cast Tom Cruise as Col. Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the German Army officer who tried to blow up Hitler toward the end of World War II, he thought he had dealt with all the possible pitfalls.
There was the knotty matter of accents, but the director figured that Mr. Cruise and everybody else in the movie, “Valkyrie,” would do fine if they spoke unaffected English. The cost of affording the high-wattage Mr. Cruise could also be problematic, but the star took the job for a nominal salary, agreeing to get his cut after the tickets were sold — a deal helped by his part ownership of United Artists, the studio behind the picture.
What Mr. Singer did not reckon with is Germany’s open hostility toward Mr. Cruise’s religion. “Frankly, I was not aware of the issue of Scientology here in Germany,” Mr. Singer said in a telephone interview from Berlin this week, shortly after news reports that military officials would ban “Valkyrie” from filming at the Bendler Block, where Colonel Stauffenberg was executed in July 1944 for his leading role in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Mr. Cruise’s affiliation with Scientology was cited as a reason for the supposed ban.
As “Valkyrie” prepares to begin shooting on July 19 — a day before the 63rd anniversary of the coup attempt — Mr. Singer and his colleagues are still puzzling their way through Germany’s bureaucracy, and wondering how an attempt to lionize one of the country’s anti-Nazi heroes could so quickly have gone wrong.
Josef Joffe, a German journalist who has criticized what he views as the German “obsession” with Scientology, said that in this case the combination of star and subject was simply too combustible. “Stauffenberg for Germans is like Jefferson and Lincoln, motherhood, and apple pie all rolled into one,” he said in an interview. “Germany is a country of established churches, and so Scientology is viewed as a cult and, worse, totalitarian and exploitative. A professing Scientologist in the role of Stauffenberg is like casting Judas as Jesus. It is secular blasphemy.”
German officials, for their part, have been eager to clarify their position.
“The German military has a special interest in the authentic portrayal of the events of July 20, 1944, and in the portrayal of Stauffenberg as a person,” Lt. Col. Klaus Reinecke, the defense ministry spokesman, said. Still, the colonel denied that the ministry had actually banned filming in the former headquarters of the German military in Berlin. The film’s producers, he said, had not applied for permission to the ministry, which still occupies the building.
Carl Woebcken, chief executive of Studio Babelsberg, which is finishing a deal to be the German co-producer of the film, confirmed this. But he said German officials had intervened to delay permits to allow shooting scenes in the Bendler Block complex, which now houses a memorial dedicated to Germans who resisted the Nazi regime.
The filmmakers had obtained the permits from a federal authority that rents out government buildings and from the director of the anti-Nazi memorial, Mr. Woebcken said. “I hope we don’t have to go to court to enforce these agreements,” he said. The filmmakers are most likely only at the beginning of their adventures with German officialdom. Mr. Woebcken said they had applied for a German subsidy for the film. “Speed Racer,” an action movie that Babelsberg is filming for Warner Brothers, received more than $12 million in subsidies. Mr. Singer said he intended to conduct only a small amount of exterior filming at the Bendler Block, and does not really need the location, but still hopes to use it in the interest of authenticity.
That a team led by Americans should be telling an all-German story stems from a visit to Berlin six years ago by the movie’s co-writer, Christopher McQuarrie. Mr. McQuarrie, who won an Oscar in 1996 for Mr. Singer’s “Usual Suspects,” said he became intrigued by the reverence shown the military plotters who died in their attempt to end the Nazi regime.
Mr. Singer, a history buff who had already researched Nazi behavior for his 1998 movie “Apt Pupil,” about a war criminal in hiding, saw the film as a return to reality after having worked on fantasies like “Superman Returns” and two “X-Men” movies.
But only after setting up the project at United Artists earlier this year — where Mr. Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, had taken charge after the end of their longstanding deal at Paramount — did Mr. Singer begin to see Colonel Stauffenberg in Mr. Cruise. The colonel, like Mr. Cruise, the director said, was “dark-haired, handsome, and very charismatic — he had the ability to light up the room.”
Not everyone shares Mr. Singer’s enthusiasm. “Scientology is a totalitarian ideology,” said Berthold Graf von Stauffenberg, the eldest son of Colonel Stauffenberg and a retired West German army general. “The fact that an avowed Scientologist like Mr. Cruise is supposed to play the victim of a totalitarian regime is purely sick.”
The feelings of Mr. Stauffenberg’s family will affect how the German military views the film, according to Lt. Col. Reinecke, the defense ministry spokesman. And Mr. Singer said, “My impression of the family is that there is no official hierarchy.”
Indeed, a younger son, Franz Ludwig Graf von Stauffenberg, said, “We each have our own opinions; a family is not a corporate entity.” He declined to comment on the dispute over Mr. Cruise and Scientology.
And the younger Mr. Stauffenberg, a former member of the European Parliament, added, “I am amazed that in discussing the most important case of resistance against the Nazi regime, we are talking about the suitability of an American actor to play a role.”
His son, Caspar Graf von Stauffenberg, recently told a German newspaper, Bild am Sonntag, that he “didn’t have any fundamental problem” with the film. In a telephone interview, he said he had not changed his mind.
Germany’s deep suspicion of Scientology dates to the 1970s, when the church’s adherents first began proselytizing on city streets there. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a German domestic intelligence agency, has kept it under surveillance, viewing it as a dangerous cult, and German politicians have periodically called for it to be banned.
Still, Scientology remains legal in Germany, and last January it opened a six-story, glass-walled center in the fashionable Charlottenburg district of Berlin. Europeans in general bear more suspicion toward Scientology than Americans do, but Germans are considered particularly antagonistic, owing partly to the country’s 20th-century history as the breeding ground of Nazism and, later, as a battleground between democracy and Communism.
“In Europe, but in Germany especially, we are more sensitive to totalitarian ideologies,” said Ursula Caberta, the head of a government task force in Hamburg that opposes Scientology’s expansion in Germany. The United States State Department has regularly criticized Germany for its treatment of Scientology in human rights reports. The police in some German states have stopped monitoring it, though surveillance in Berlin resumed in May after being suspended in the wake of a court challenge.
In the mid-1990s, the youth wing of the conservative Christian Democratic Union marched against Mr. Cruise’s first “Mission Impossible” film. And the American jazz pianist, Chick Corea, a Scientologist, was prohibited from playing at a state-sponsored concert in Bavaria.
Ms. Wagner said Mr. Cruise preferred not to discuss “Valkyrie” publicly until after the film was finished. But, she added, it was wrong to make religion a test of anyone’s right to make a movie, Tom Cruise included. “We don’t discriminate because of people’s personal beliefs,” she said. It is clear, though, that “Valkyrie” is viewed above all as Mr. Cruise’s film, and, for many, it cannot be detached from his advocacy of Scientology.
“Tom Cruise is not just an actor who is a Scientologist,” Ms. Caberta said. “He is an ambassador for Scientology. All totalitarian systems have their celebrities to open doors for them.”
Sometimes it seems like Cruise can't catch a break. It seems like a great concept for a film. . . and film seems like a good lead. It's just a shame he doesn't have the talent to pick up a German accent. I don't think Allison Doody (sp?) is all that busy these days -- so maybe she could be his coach.
I found this article facinating -- and it's a good example of how reality will always be so much more interesting than fiction. I love how the project came to Cruise -- and how he, thick-headed as ever (?), decides to go forward with it fresh from his problems in Germany filming mi:3. Plus, this is a film I could really get excited about. . . set during the end of the war, a lot of good Army soldiers sick of the insanity, a hero, a plot . . . .
Let's just hope Cruise doesn't go Last Samari (sp?) on us.
Funny, the thing that most annoys me about Tom Cruise is the fact of the existence of The Last Samurai, because there's a brilliant novel by this Helen DeWitt from a few years back by the same title (it's a reference to Kurosawa in the book) that has absolutely nothing to do with the Cruise film, and yet, naturally enough, always sparks the question, "oh, like the Tom Cruise movie?