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The conspirators behind ‘Valkyrie’

So how did Suri deal with the eye patch?

That would be Suri Cruise and her dad, Tom, who famously wears a black pirate-esque patch in his new film, “Valkyrie,” a World War II thriller about a plot to assassinate Hitler that opened on Christmas. Cruise plays the coup’s real life ringleader, the aristocratic Col. Claus von Stauffenberg. Suri, often touted as the most powerful tot on the planet, would often walk to her dad as he was ready to leave the makeup trailer, and “she would take my eye patch off,” says Cruise with his trademark laugh. “The girls in the makeup trailer got her a stuffed bear with a patch on it so that she would play with that and start to feel very comfortable.”

Suri wasn’t the only one disconcerted by the eye patch. The blogosphere went nuts -- not in a good way -- when images of Cruise in his character’s Nazi gear first appeared online, but perhaps that’s the fate of being Tom Cruise in the last few years. Every action seems to provoke an unanticipated reaction. Holed up in the Beverly Hills Hotel last week, Cruise is in the middle of the “Valkyrie” press tour, which could also be dubbed the “apology” tour, an elaborate jaunt with stops at some of the media outlets (“Today” show, anyone?) that contributed to his famed couch-jumping, Scientology-spouting, psychiatry-bashing media implosion of 2005.

In a green sweater and jeans, the 46-year-old Cruise is thin, friendly and solicitous, with practically the only visible sign of age being the little laugh lines around his eyes. He also appears relaxed -- one suspects that was helped in part by the presence of his wingmen, director Bryan Singer and Singer’s childhood friend, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. Unlike many of his peers in stardom, Cruise does not seem to travel with a posse of guy pals, an entourage of buddies from before fame; one can almost imagine him living in a hermetically sealed bubble with wife Katie Holmes, his children Suri, Bella and Connor, his sisters and various Scientologists. But that apparently is not the case.

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When Cruise is asked if he feels misunderstood, Singer and McQuarrie jump in with the passion of longtime homeboys (well, longtime homies who happen to be intellectual film geeks from Princeton, N.J.). “He’s totally misunderstood. Tom, you need to let us talk about you,” says Singer, passionately, as Cruise looks on vaguely embarrassed. Singer describes the time they all spent with Tom and his family, he and McQuarrie’s circle of family and friends in Germany, and in the desert (where they shot a battle sequence).

“You spend the first two weeks waiting for the . . . that you think Tom is to manifest itself. And after a year and half, you realize that is not who he is. . . . He gets a bad rap.”

“He is a really great guy,” chimes in McQuarrie. “He’s a generous person. He works very hard. He is exceedingly professional. There is no hierarchy of any kind on the set. We would have . . . somebody’s mother came to visit the set and Tom would spend the afternoon having lunch with that person’s mother.”

Cruise is more subdued about the vagaries of being Cruise. “I can’t spend my time worrying about it,” he says. As a kid, he moved constantly. “I was always the new kid. I went to different schools and I would hear back rumors about where I came from.”

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Now it’s the same phenomenon, but “on a world stage, and sometimes it gets even very extreme and you’ve got to laugh about it. And some of it you kind of go, OK. OK, as in breathe, be Zen, ignore what you cannot control.”

For those who are not Cruise-ologists, here’s a recap of the various bad news that afflicted the Cruise world in the last few years. Besides the various dents to his image, Paramount severed its longtime relationship with the superstar after the so-called underperformance of “Mission: Impossible 3.” Cruise rebounded by taking over United Artists, but earlier this year his longtime producing partner, Paula Wagner, left amid charges that the duo was not productive enough. Their first film, the political drama “Lions for Lambs,” was perhaps the biggest bomb of his career.

Cruise began his image rehab this summer with a hilarious turn as a vulgar studio head in “Tropic Thunder” and received a Golden Globe nomination for his hip-swiveling.

Still, the task is not yet complete. A lot rides on “Valkryie,” a $90-million thriller that doesn’t exactly shriek holiday good cheer. (Reviews have been mixed to negative.)

The film itself has been dogged with controversy, including the German government’s initial reluctance to let the filmmakers shoot in Berlin’s Benderblock because of Cruise’s practice of Scientology (a policy later rescinded) and changing release dates. And, oh yes, Singer, who’s made such films as “X-Men,” is also coming off “Superman Returns,” a blockbuster so ill-received that it could have conceivably killed the franchise.

One can understand why they were happy to retreat to Berlin to discuss the minutiae of the Nazis for hours on end, make a film about brave men banding together to take down the greatest villain of the 20th century and watch a ton of movies together. “You know we are film geeks,” says Cruise.

“And he’s worked with every filmmaker that we would be talking about!” says Singer, recalling how they would grill Cruise for firsthand dope on greats such as Kubrick and Spielberg.

Singer says he’s been obsessed with Nazis from a very young age. “I had these two friends that were German, and . . . we had a little Nazi club.” The kids didn’t know what Nazis did exactly, but they were fascinated by the spectacle. One day, Singer, who is Jewish, arrived home with a homemade swastika armband scrawled in crayon. “My mom saw it. She, wow, she exploded at the sink. I will never forget [that] and the lecture.”

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As kids, McQuarrie and Singer made various 8-millimeter films about Nazis in Singer’s backyard, and once faux-executed a buddy in his basement using a blood pack attached to fireworks.

“Nobody got killed during the making of the event,” jokes McQuarrie.

And “Valkyrie” isn’t the first feature film Singer has made about a Nazi -- he also directed 1998’s “Apt Pupil.”

As a kid, Cruise himself had “a German helmet that had blood on it.”

“It was always how we are going to kill the Nazis and how we are going to kill Hitler,” he said. He also liked to watch WWII documentaries, which left him with a lifelong love of airplanes. (He actually owns a P-47.) “I would look at these images and, of course, I always wondered why didn’t someone just shoot Hitler.” Once he started working on “Valkyrie,” Cruise got what sounds like a personal seminar in Hitler and the Third Reich, led mostly by McQuarrie, who went so far as to actually interview 91-year-old Rochus Misch, Hitler’s last living bodyguard. Cruise refused to go on that fact-finding mission. “I didn’t want to meet him,” says Cruise. “Evil is still evil. I don’t care how old you are.”

While Singer and McQuarrie led Cruise into an examination of Nazi Germany, he unwittingly also led them into a study of the circus that follows him.

“There was some crazy” stuff, says Singer. Early on, he asked Cruise to come to a coffee shop with him. And he said Cruise told him, “ ‘Yeah, well I can hide. I can lay down in the back of your car. We’ll get out the driveway, maybe the people outside the house won’t follow.’ ”

“It’s what I call the tail of the comet,” says McQuarrie, recalling a time they went out for pizza with their kids [he has little girls too] in Germany and were peacefully taking a walk when Cruise stopped to help a shopkeeper carry a heavy metal clothing rack from outside her shop in for the night. “As soon as we stopped, the tail catches up to you and you realize that you are being followed by like two dozen people at a distance.”

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“You just have to accept it,” says Cruise, who tries to stay calm, particularly around his kids. “You know you can spend your life living in your single room, but that is not for me. That’s not who I am, my family is or how I want to raise my kids. I don’t want to live that.”

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rachel.abramowitz@latimes.com


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