'Lives of Others' helmer supports Cruise


COLOGNE, Germany -- Oscar-winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has come out in support of Tom Cruise playing would-be Hitler assassin Col. Claus von Stauffenberg in Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie."

The project, set to begin shooting this month at Germany's Studio Babelsberg, has been surrounded by controversy. German politicians have criticized the decision to cast Cruise in the lead role because he is a Scientologist, a religion seen in Germany as a dangerous sect.

After a long back and forth, the German authorities also banned Cruise and Singer from shooting "Valkyrie" on location at the Bendlerblock memorial in Berlin. It is the actual location where Stauffenberg and his fellow conspirators hatched the plot to assassinate Hitler with a bomb hidden in a briefcase. It is also where Stauffenberg and the other plotters were executed after the attempt failed.

But in a long op-ed piece for German daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Tuesday, Henckel von Donnersmarck said Cruise was the ideal person to play one of Germany's few Hitler-era heroes.

"Tom Cruise is the most successful of all the (Hollywood) superstars," Henckel von Donnersmarck wrote. "His superstar light will illuminate this rare shining moment in the darkest chapter of our history. In doing so, he will do more to improve Germany's international image than 10 soccer World Cups could."

Henckel von Donnersmarck said the story of Stauffenberg is almost unknown outside of Germany and that his country should be grateful a star with Cruise's drawing power has chosen it as his next project.

Henckel von Donnersmarck is well acquainted with the delicate politics of adapting German history. His Stasi drama "The Lives of Others" was an international boxoffice hit, but he had to publicly defend every casting and wardrobe decision made in adapting the reality of communist East Berlin to the screen.

Despite the political opposition to Cruise, "Valkyrie" is deep into preproduction in Berlin and expected to begin shooting at Studio Babelsberg this month.