Scientology makes filming difficult for Tom Cruise -- The actor?s controversial beliefs set roadblocks in Germany

By Nicole Sperling
Updated July 06, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

With his rugged good looks, flashy smile, and three Oscar nominations, 45-year-old Tom Cruise should be heading gracefully into the second half of his career. But the actor’s dedication to Scientology keeps getting in the way. One year after he parted ways with Paramount Pictures, Cruise hit another public roadblock on June 25: The German Defense Ministry announced that it did not want him to film United Artists’ upcoming WWII movie Valkyrie at the country’s Bendlerblock war memorial. The reason? According to ministry spokesman Harald Kammerbauer, it was because Cruise — who will appear in the film as Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a German officer who led an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944 — is so closely affiliated with what Kammerbauer called the ”Scientology cult.” (Germany does not recognize Scientology as a religion.) Several days later, the government backtracked, explaining that only one production has ever been allowed to film at Bendlerblock and that the decision to deny Valkyrie permission had ”nothing to do” with Cruise being a Scientologist. A United Artists spokesman says the film will seek alternate sites in Germany. ”Tom was not surprised by the controversy,” says the spokesman. ”But he is an actor first and foremost. He takes a part because he likes the character, the script, and the director.”

The imbroglio, albeit short-lived, is a fresh reminder that Cruise — who now juggles his acting career with a new gig as co-owner of the UA studio — remains controversial for his deep connection to Scientology. It also represents the first PR glitch for Cruise and longtime producing partner Paula Wagner since they took over UA last November (Wagner serves as CEO). Still, the duo, who both declined to comment for this article, are set to complete a $500 million financing arrangement by Merrill Lynch, and they’ve greenlit two adult dramas with sizable budgets: Valkyrie and the Robert Redford-directed political thriller Lions for Lambs (out Nov. 9), which stars Cruise, Redford, and Meryl Streep. The projects have great pedigrees, but one indie production exec who declined to be named warns that prestige dramas can be risky: ”When you have actors and filmmakers running the railroad, those are the movies they want to do — but they don’t often have a clear hook for audiences.” The exec does admit that the new UA shouldn’t be under-estimated. ”They have good people over there. Every studio is one hit away from being a success.”

With the Valkyrie flap over — it begins shooting on July 19 and is due out next summer — Cruise can focus on his other career: acting. Playing a German military assassin might not seem like the most obvious choice for a guy looking to get back in moviegoers’ good graces, but Dennis Rice, a former Miramax and Disney marketing guru who is now UA’s marketing president, calls ValkyrieMission: Impossible meets The Great Escape.” The film reunites director Bryan Singer (Superman) with screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (the two last worked together on 1995’s The Usual Suspects), and it also stars Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, and Bill Nighy. Says Rice, ”The combination of this great cast, led by Tom, combined with Bryan’s style and sensibility — I think it’s going to be one of the coolest movies of the summer.”

Cruise will next be on screen in Lambs, and in the brief clips that have surfaced online, he bears a resemblance to the clean-cut military lawyer he played in A Few Good Men, which can’t hurt. But he could use a mainstream hit that plays to his core strengths — affability, charm, and boyish good looks. His best bet may be The Hardy Men, a comedic Hardy Boys update that he and costar Ben Stiller are developing for Twentieth Century Fox. ”It’s got action with humor,” Hardy producer Bob Kosberg told EW in February. ”[Tom] enjoys the fact that Ben spoofs him, so he’s obviously got a sense of humor about himself.” Right now, that’s exactly what he needs. (Additional reporting by Steve Daly.)