“Risky Business” was 25 years ago, but Tom Cruise still looks boyish. In Seattle for a few hours last month, as part of the media barrage accompanying his new film “Valkyrie” (opening Thursday), he grinned when reminded of the anniversary. (Then again, Cruise tends to grin â€” that familiar, blinding movie-star smile â€” at just about everything.)
“I can’t believe I’m still here,” he said, “still fortunate enough to be making movies.”
It’s been an up-and-down year for Cruise, now 46. His last foray into weighty drama, “Lions for Lambs,” tanked at the box office last winter, while his goofy comic supporting turn in “Tropic Thunder” earned surprise raves. “Valkyrie,” widely seen as Cruise’s opportunity to re-establish himself as a serious leading man, is the fact-based story of German army officer Claus von Stauffenberg, who in 1943 hatched a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Bryan Singer (“X-Men,” “Superman Returns“) directs the film, from a screenplay by Seattle-based writer Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects“).
“Valkyrie,” for which Cruise is both star and executive producer, already has attracted plenty of attention: Its release date shifted frequently (it floated around several 2008 dates, briefly landed in February 2009, then finally settled on Christmas Day) and an early, jarringly edited trailer caused much Jerry-Maguire-as-Nazi-killer comment in the blogosphere.
But for Cruise, the project was a rare opportunity to play a real-life character; something he hasn’t done since 1989’s “Born on the Fourth of July” â€” “and I had Ron [Kovic] there with me,” he points out. Cruise met several of von Stauffenberg’s descendants, and spent time researching the man and his era, including German history and the rise of the Third Reich.
“He was a philosopher, he was an intellectual, he came from a lineage of 900 years of serving kings. He was very much raised that to lead is to serve,” Cruise said of his readings on von Stauffenberg, who was born in 1907 to an aristocratic German family. “He was a man who said, as early as 1938, ‘Someone ought to shoot this bastard.’ ” Doing this kind of research was new for the actor, but a rich experience in understanding the character.
“Because the picture is a suspense-centered film, to really understand von Stauffenberg was obviously very important. You try to comprehend the kind of pressure he was under. Things he couldn’t even discuss with his children. The odds that he was up against, and to make the choices that he made â€” I found it to be inspiring and very interesting.”
Cruise, who describes himself as a film geek (his use of the word “picture” is charmingly retro), easily rattled off a list of his favorite wartime movies, which include “Paths of Glory,” “The Great Escape,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” and “The Sound of Music,” which he saw as a child and described as “a real event in our family.” He remembered, as a kid, watching the “World at War” documentaries on television and playing war in the backyard â€” “we were the allies, and the blond-haired, blue-eyed kid, we’d say, ‘you’re the Nazi.’ ” With a chuckle, he noted that Singer and McQuarrie, who grew up together in New Jersey, used to make war movies in their neighborhood. “We’re just set early on.”
Looking back over more than a quarter-century in the Hollywood, Cruise noted a number of changes in the business: the current reliance on opening-weekend grosses (“Risky Business,” he said, ran in theaters 15 weeks; now most movies are in and out much more quickly), digital technology, the use of the Internet in marketing, the availability of moviemaking to anyone with a computer.
“But I still have the same conversations with writers and directors that I had 25 years ago â€” about the story,” he said. “What is the best way to tell this story? What kind of composition would best communicate the idea of the character and the story. These things will never change. Ever.”
Cruise, who said he has “thousands” of movies in his library at home, enjoys the benefits of DVD, both for work and family. “I can go through and look at scenes, how they’re edited; pull up trailers of how they marketed films; I can pull up scores,” he said. “I can be at home with the kids, we can be talking about a movie and I can go, ‘Let’s pull it up and I can show you this scene.’ ”
But he’s also an old-fashioned moviegoer who enjoys the rush of sitting in the dark at the movie house. “Every time I see a film, I learn something or I just get total enjoyment,” he said. “I want to go on the ride, whatever ride that is.”
(Source: Seattle Times)