New York City—Couch-jumping Tom Cruise may not be the first person you'd think of if you were looking for a partner to help you run a movie studio, but that's exactly what he's doing these days. He owns 15 percent of United Artists, with the remainder owned by MGM. Variety has reported that he has even made presentations to investors. The second film from the studio—since its virtual mothballing a few years ago—following Robert Redford's Lions For Lambs, is Valkyrie, the story of the 1944 assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.
In a New York City hotel room, Cruise says that although he isn't running the studio on a day-to-day basis, he has taken on some responsibilities and is always conscious of the need to make movies that offer both artistic quality and the potential of box-office quantity. He says that he has never run a studio but he has produced a movie or two, with most faring well at the box office.
“I am not running the nuts and bolts, but you still have to know all that stuff,” he says. “And I have produced a lot of films. Mission Impossible was the first, and I produced all [three] of them and The Last Samurai. I think you always have to balance art and commerce. I am also a big believer in surrounding yourself with good people that you enjoy and respect. I have never had an exclusive deal as an actor or even producing films. I produced Last Samurai at Warner and I produced the others at Miramax, so I have experience at this, but I am an actor first and foremost.”
In Valkyrie, which opens Christmas Day (December 25), Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who is recruited by a group of politicians and generals plotting to assassinate Hitler. They regard von Stauffenberg, who was severely injured in the North African campaign, as being respected enough to be able to get close to Hitler and his associates. He soon becomes a leader of the plot and works hard to gain Hitler's confidence. He knows that if he can get the Fí¼hrer to sign off on Operation Valkyrie, Hitler's emergency plan to stabilize the government in the event of his death, the group will not only be able to rid Germany of the dictator but it will have the power to take over the government afterward.
Valkyrie wasn't an easy movie to make. The German media assailed Cruise's Scientology beliefs, and because the government had already funded television movies about the assassination attempt, it didn't see why another feature about the subject was needed. However, Cruise and director Bryan Singer were convinced that it was a story that few people outside Germany were aware of. They also felt that most Americans believe that anyone involved in the German war effort was a Nazi.
“It was an important story that I felt should be told,” Cruise says. “It was surprising to me, because when I grew up wanting to kill Hitler and Nazis, I thought, ”˜Why didn't someone just shoot him?' I also thought Germans were Nazis, but von Stauffenberg had to watch as his son was indoctrinated into the Hitler Youth, even though he despised the Nazis.
“The Germans know the story intimately, but we wanted to tell it to a broad audience. I know that there have been things written about this film that were wrong in terms of the kind of film people expected it to be. For instance, when you say ”˜film about Germany in World War II', people think you are making a movie about the Holocaust. The Internet has accelerated these kinds of perceptions, as opposed to what we were doing artistically. In fact, even our friends who have seen this say, ”˜Hey, this is a suspense thriller.' And we said, ”˜What did you think we were doing?' ”
Although he's been a star for a quarter of a century, Cruise maintains that he's never taken his career for granted-and never placed it ahead of what matters to him most.
“When I was making Taps and Risky Business,” he says, “I wanted to enjoy those moments, because you don't know if it is going to end right there. I have always chosen things that were challenging, but I have always wanted to entertain an audience. I felt very privileged to do that.
“I feel fortunate to have that success, but personal success is raising my kids and my family. As much as I love movies, that has been the priority. I am happy that my family is doing well and is happy and healthy. That is the most important thing and always has been.”