Although Tom Cruise’s 2008 movie Valkyrie tells one of the most important German stories of World War II, director Bryan Singer made the somewhat surprising decision to have all the actors speak with their native accents. Given that, in many historical dramas, actors will often manufacture accents in order to better fit in with a film’s aesthetic, Valkyrie stands out for its broad range of accents from a variety of performers. However, while Valkyrie was generally well-received by critics, a question nonetheless remains over exactly why the cast didn’t use German accents.
Valkyrie tells the true story of the 20 July Plot, in which Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) and a host of over co-conspirators attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler and seize control of the German state. Ultimately, the coup was unsuccessful. However, as Valkyrie shows, the plot came remarkably close to achieving its goals and, were it not for a number of marginal decisions, history may have been very different. Operation Valykrie, as the event is also known, marked the culmination of internal German resistance in World War II to Nazi rule. As a result, the fact that the cast don’t speak with German accents may strike some viewers as slightly jarring.
Director Bryan Singer Thought German Accents Would Be Distracting In Valkyrie
Although affecting an accent is by no means uncommon in Hollywood, Valkyrie director Bryan Singer felt that it would detract from what he was trying to achieve with the film. As Tom Cruise explained in a contemporary Total Film review (via Coming Soon), “You know, we spent a lot of time going back and forth over that. All of a sudden you’re listening to people trying to put on accents and Bryan finally said, ‘No, no, no.’ Just tell the story. We don’t want to do an accent movie, just try and find something neutral that won’t distract from the story and the characters.“
The consequence is that Valkyrie firmly focuses on the components of its incredible story, rather than pit its enviable ensemble cast against each other in an accent-off. Alongside Cruise, the movie boasts the likes of Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Wilkinson, who doubtless would all have been capable of imitating a passable German accent, were it required. However, by dispensing with the accent issue altogether, Singer ultimately gave the cast the freedom to focus on the genuinely important aspects of the story, instead of inauthentic window-dressing.
Why Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie Casting Was Controversial In Germany
Although Valkyrie was ultimately supported by the German media, the decision to cast Cruise as von Stauffenberg was initially met with criticism. This was almost entirely down to Cruise’s much-publicized association with Scientology. Scientology has long been a controversial subject in Germany, with a significant national debate over its status as a religion. As such, Cruise’s status as a key figure within the Church caused an initial backlash against the movie, which resulted in difficulty accessing key German locations for filming.
Cruise himself addressed the controversy in his Total Film interview. As he put it, “I don’t really have anything to say about that. I fell a great, great responsibility to tell this story. I thought of the issue in terms of what von Stauffenberg represents – people opposed to the Nazis and what they stood for. Someone who realized that and took the steps that ultimately cost him his life. To me, I find that very moving, OK? Incredibly moving.” Ultimately, the movie went ahead to become a financial success. However, it’s clear that Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie casting was controversial without taking his accent into consideration.
Source: Total Film