Valkyrie: Tom Cruise as Real-Life Claus von Stauffenberg

At the center of “Valkyrie” is Claus von Stauffenberg, the charismatic aristocrat who would ultimately risk everything to carry a bomb into Hitler's private conference room. But just who was Stauffenberg After spending months intensively researching his life, screenwriters McQuarrie and Alexander agree he will always remain a somewhat mysterious figure, having been cut down in his prime at the age of 36.

“It's impossible to fully know Stauffenberg ¬ñ he¬ís been left an enigmatic character in history,” says McQuarrie. “Over the years many people have laid claim to Stauffenberg as a poster child or scapegoat for various things, but I think in the end all we can do is look at him for his actions, for the risks he took and what he attempted to do.”

Descended from 700 years of German nobility, Stauffenberg grew up in Bavaria as part of an elite family. Artistically inclined, he loved architecture, music, and poetry, but in the 1920s became a military officer who would soon be noted both for his irascible streak of individualism and his unquestionable heroics. He was said to have been singled out by his superiors for possessing a genius for military organization and logistics, and he rapidly rose in the ranks. At the beginning of 1943, while fighting in Africa with the Tenth Panzer Division, Stauffenberg sustained severe injuries, losing an eye, his right hand, and several fingers on his left hand.

Despite these terrible wounds, he was named Chief of Staff in the General Army Office in the fall of 1943. By then, he had already joined the resistance. On July 1, 1944, Stauffenberg became Chief of the General Staff of the Reserve Army ¬ñ a job that would take him into direct personal meetings with Hitler. He suddenly found himself in the perfect position to make an assassination attempt on the F?ºhrer.

The historian Annedore Leber wrote of Stauffenberg: “He was the prototype of those young higher officers who, though their own future careers were never in doubt, nevertheless had the will to take action. They acted from the officer¬ís sense of responsibility to his troops, the citizen's sense of responsibility to his people. Even the Gestapo officials who took part in the investigation of the events of July 20 felt a trace of his spirit. They talked of Stauffenberg¬ís yearning.”

This is also what struck McQuarrie and Alexander about Stauffenberg. Whatever riddles might remain about his life, there is little doubt he was a man of great devotion and ethics. “One of the main things I took away is that Stauffenberg was driven by a deep feeling of obligation to serve his fellow man,” says Alexander. “We can't know the exact moment he first had grave doubts about Hitler, but once he realized what was going on behind the scenes he clearly believed it was his duty as a German and a human being to take on the responsibility of removing Hitler.”

Stauffenberg is a real-life hero, but in the context of a movie he’s also an incredible character to portray. It’s a daunting role, but the filmmakers felt Tom Cruise was the perfect actor to take it on.

Intense, Charismatic Individual

“Stauffenberg was an intense, charismatic individual, so we needed an actor who could really portray that,” says director Bryan Singer. “I was really excited when Tom came on board. Very few actors are able to pull off those hero roles, but Tom completely does. He's a highly skilled actor and has such a strong screen presence. Tom also had a passion for this project from the beginning and he believed, like I do, that it's a story that should be told. He was an important part of getting the movie made, and he and his performance will be a really important part of bringing the story to the world.”

Before taking on the part Cruise hadn't known that much about Stauffenberg, but to prepare he learned as much about Stauffenberg as he could, and his research and attention to detail quickly showed him what an impressive man he was.

Compelling as History and Political Thriller

“When I first read the script, it was incredibly compelling on many different levels,” Cruise says, “from a historical perspective but also as a great thriller. I was fascinated by the conspiracy. It was dynamic and suspenseful from the opening to the end. Then finding out it was based on a true story makes it even more mind-blowing. That combination made it very interesting for me.”

The opportunity to work with Bryan Singer is another thing that attracted Cruise to the project. “Bryan is someone I¬íve always wanted to work with,” he says. “I think he¬ís an extraordinary filmmaker. Bryan is someone who even as a kid was making World War II movies. He had an obvious fascination with this time period, and with that kind of interest and dedication you could feel all of us coming together and saying, 'Okay, let¬ís make this.'”

Cruise was incredibly moved by what took place inside the German Resistance. “To experience it from Stauffenberg¬ís perspective and see what these men risked–not just their own lives but their families¬í lives–it's tremendous,” he says. “It's amazing to see someone under such tremendous pressure stand up for what he felt was right, to have that kind of integrity in those circumstances.”

The actor also found that Stauffenberg's heroism also hit home in a personal way. “You think, 'How would I handle that' and that's what makes it very powerful. It's a timeless movie because it deals with things that are timeless: integrity, heroism, cowardice, compromise. What are you willing to stand up for or not do anything about These are questions that we as human beings evaluate in our own lives.”

“Ultimately, I don't think Stauffenberg saw himself as a hero,” Cruise continues. “He saw it as the correct thing to do, to try to end the war and spare human lives. Stauffenberg is someone who really always drove himself towards a higher moral ground and searched for moral correctness and rightness for himself, and he wanted that for hiscountry. He was one of the few that had the courage to stand up to Hitler and even be willing to sacrifice his own life to try and get that done.”

To play Stauffenberg, one of the challenges Cruise had to face was Stauffenberg's physical scarring from his injuries in North Africa, including wearing an eye patch. “The eye patch was very difficult,” he says. “At first it threw my balance off, and I would imagine the kind of physical discomfort he had to live with. It was also challenging from a performance point of view, how to communicate as an actor with part of your face gone.”

Wearing Stauffenberg's uniform also proved difficult. “Putting on that uniform and looking at the world from that perspective was disturbing,” Cruise says. “I didn't like it at all. It definitely changes your viewpoint. Then looking at it from Stauffenberg¬ís viewpoint and what it meant to him to wear that uniform and the conflict he had, it helped me very much.”

In addition to the real-life aspects of his character, shooting in Berlin was very powerful for Cruise, as well as the entire cast and crew. “It's hard to describe what it was like standing there at the Benderblock,” he says. “It affected all of us to be there and think about what had actually happened where we were standing.”

“Tom brings an incredible intensity, poise, and focus to the role, and more than anything, he brings the charisma I think the character required,” says McQuarrie. “When Tom Cruise walks into a room, you have a sense of the charisma Stauffenberg might have had. What Tom also brings is his experience as a filmmaker and storyteller. The script only got better, the character only became clearer, our understanding of the history and our understanding of where we were in this universe, it all only became clearer as a result of Tom being involved.”

In the end, with all the hard work that went into the film and the incredible experience of making it, Cruise is very pleased with the end result. “The film is a ticking clock,” he says. “This is a dynamic suspense thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through. I'm proud that we got the film made, and I'm very proud of what everyone accomplished.”