Despite controversy in Germany, the star starts work on a WWII drama

By Karen Nickel Anhalt
Updated July 20, 2007 08:00 AM
Frank Connor/Studio Babelsberg/AFP/Getty

Despite its pre-production controversy, Tom Cruise quietly began shooting his latest film on Thursday in Germany, in a forest outside of Berlin.

In the reportedly $80 million movie, Cruise, 45, plays the real-life Col. Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg, ringleader of a foiled 1944 plot by high-ranking WWII German officers to assassinate dictator Adolf Hitler – who then ordered his would-be assassins to face a firing squad.

The controversy that has greeted the film – whose working title is Valkyrie, after “Operation Valkyrie,” the assassination plot’s codename – includes Stauffenberg’s son, Berthold von Stauffenberg, expressing to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung his disapproval of Cruise’s casting. “He should keep his fingers off my father,” said von Stauffenberg.

In addition, the German government blocked the film crew from using a key site in the drama, the Bendler Block. Government spokesman Torsten Albig told the Associated Press the “dignity of the place” where the plotters were executed (and which today serves as a memorial for Third Reich resistance fighters) must be preserved.

Local media speculated that Cruise’s religion triggered the decision, given the German government’s widely reported hostility toward Scientology.

In a statement on Thursday, the film’s director, Bryan Singer, offered praise for his star. “I can’t imagine shooting it anywhere else but on location in Germany, and I’m thrilled that we were able to get Tom Cruise to play Col. Stauffenberg,” he said.

The hullabaloo also hasn’t appeared to bother Cruise. Since early June, he’s been seen around the German capital with wife Katie Holmes and daughter Suri, scouting locations and enjoying himself.

This weekend, he’ll even manage an escape – by heading back to L.A. to co-host a “Welcome to America” party on Sunday for celebrated new arrivals David and Victoria Beckham