Saturday, January 24, 2009

Valkyrie director Bryan Singer praises Tom Cruise

VALKYRIE'S director Bryan Singer acknowledges that his leading man Tom Cruise will always draw attention, but he says he has nothing but praise for the A-lister.
He might be best known for comic-book movies X-Men and Superman Returns, but Bryan Singer has been preparing to make an historical thriller such as Valkyrie ever since he was a child.

The director spent his school holidays making 8mm war movies in the back yard with his friend Christopher McQuarrie (who went on to write Singer's breakout hit, The Usual Suspects).

‘‘One summer he got into a little trouble and he had curfew,'' Singer recalls.

‘‘He wasn't allowed to leave the house at night so I would come over and we started writing
projects together.''

Looking back, Singer says he can see little evidence of nascent talent in the films they made at the time.

‘‘I just see kids who were very committed,'' he says. ‘‘And who were very risky with fireworks. We put them very close to our actors, who were the neighbourhood kids. Perhaps I'd not be so risky with people's safety these days.''

Now that Singer is directing A-list stars such as Tom Cruise in his war movies, the insurance guarantors would be making sure of this.

Still, Singer admits his lead actor, a very competent pilot, did take one of the 70-year-old planes used during the production of Valkyrie for a whirl.

Perhaps harking back to his boyhood roots, the filmmaker chose to use real planes, including vintage Junkers and Messerschmitts, and real explosions, instead of relying on visual effects.

‘‘It's hard to do make that stuff look real without really doing it,'' he says.

Valkyrie is based on the true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who led a 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.

The only computer-generated images in the film are those relating to von Stauffenberg's injuries -- he lost an eye, a hand and two fingers in battle.

The filmmakers copped flak for an early publicity shot that featured a heroic-looking Cruise in full uniform.

‘‘Someone said to me ‘Do you think the eye patch is a bit much?' '' Singer recalls.

‘‘I said ‘What am I supposed to do? That's what the guy looked like. He was missing his hand and two fingers on the other hand. Do I ignore that piece of history, too? Why not have him just kill Hitler while we're at it.' ''

Singer made a decision very early in the piece to stick closely to the facts.

‘‘When I got to Germany, I felt more compelled -- mostly for the sake of the German audiences who actually know the story and are very familiar with it -- to make the film as accurate as was humanly possible,'' he says.

Far from casting von Stauffenberg as a romantic war hero, Singer toned down some of his more macho moments.

‘‘There were things I actually left out because I knew people would think we were making them up,'' he says.

‘‘For example, when von Stauffenberg was injured, he refused any morphine and he did that very specifically because he didn't want to be addicted -- he needed to be focused, he needed to re-learn how to write. He needed to get back to work.

‘‘But imagine Tom Cruise saying ‘No morphine!' People would think it's a contrivance.''

Cruise's religious beliefs generated more criticism. In 2007, German officials spoke out against Scientology and initially refused to allow filming in Berlin's historic Bendlerblock building complex.

But Singer didn't pay the bad press and negative rumours too much attention.

‘‘You have to realise that I went through a period of extraordinary scepticism when I made the first X-Men movie. There hadn't been a comic-book film in a long time. I was not a comic-book fan . . .

‘‘So this was not unusual territory for me. Here was just a much more magnified version, because everything associated with Tom Cruise tends to get magnified.''

The public mood has now shifted and Valkyrie is being credited with spearheading Cruise's rehabilitation.

‘‘There has been a situation where his fame, his personality, has gone a little haywire, through no fault of his own. And people have reacted to that,'' Singer says.

‘‘Then they see him in a movie and they say ‘Oh yeah, I forgot, I like Tom Cruise'.

‘‘People have invested a lot in Tom as an actor, and as a character, in his movies, his choices, his performances.''

Singer also reckons the actor was a surprisingly good fit for the role.

‘‘Von Stauffenberg was very much a bright light among his fellow officers. There was a kind of energised, unique quality about him that Tom has as a person and an actor. And the physical resemblance is extraordinary.''

Like many Jews, Singer admits to a strange obsession with Nazi Germany.

‘‘I lost a huge portion of the history of my family. My mother's side is Russian and my father's is Polish,'' he says.

‘‘It's also important to remind people that in every army there are people who don't agree. And in the case of Nazi Germany, more than people realised.''

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