Director Adam Shankman Talks Turning Tom Cruise into Stacee Jaxx, Choosing Songs, and Much More on the Set of ROCK OF AGES

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If I had two words to describe director Adam Shankman, it would be “honest” and “enthusiastic”.   Unlike some people that carefully word their answers, Shankman says what he really feels and isn’t afraid to rock the boat, and his refreshing honesty led to a great interview last August on the set of his upcoming musical, Rock of Ages.  Starring Julianne Hough as a small-town girl with big dreams who falls for a rock star (Tom Cruise), the musical is full of 1980s hits and features a pretty impressive ensemble cast that includes Diego Boneta, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Malin Akerman, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Mary J. Blige.  For more on the film, here’s the recent trailer and all our previous coverage.

During the interview, Shankman talked about how the project came together, the differences between his film and the original Broadway musical, the soundtrack, building the Sunset Strip in Miami, casting Tom Cruise and the way he works, casting the other roles, and so much more.  Hit the jump for what he had to say.

adam-shankman-rock-of-agesADAM SHANKMAN:  So many press conferences so little time.  Can you fucking believe this heat?  This is awful!

Question:  Does it mess with your head when you are filming?

SHANKMAN:  Totally! I actually had less time and the exact same budget on Hairspray, which was five years ago and this is a much bigger movie.  That’s the way studios do it now.

What did you have to lose from the script?

SHANKMAN:  I will never lose anything that an audience will miss, lets put it that way.  I turned things that were scripted as effects into in-camera stuff, which is sexier.  I like that.  There was a lot of stuff that had effects in it and I thought it was too smooth.  I thought it would be sexier if it were in-camera cuts.  So I did that.  God… I actually opened up stuff.  It was really interesting, because I was a crewmember before I was a director; I know what it is to have to fix things.  But this whole movie is like meta-paced.  Like if you blow on any of the sets they’ll fall down.  Tom Cruise never laughed so hard.  I said Tom, “ Do you realize we put a bed and a bureau in our craft service area and called it an apartment.  For Malin Akerman, that was her apartment, it was in our craft fucking service area.  So our entire set was built in a nightclub and I’m sitting here thinking that I’m exposing all of these incredible actors and yet when I look at the footage it’s all there so it’s all-good.

Will there be any scenes, or big moments from the Broadway musical, that will be expanded for fans or that they will be disappointed that have been taken away?

SHANKMAN:  Okay, here is what it is and I had this with Hairspray too.  The play is 2 hours and 40 minutes or something like that.  Obviously the movie can’t be that long so that stuff had to go anyway.  So I kind of did a greatest hits version of it but it was my greatest hits so they are either going to like it or not.  There are things that people are going to loose their minds over, in a good way.  Lets put it this way, the biggest change I made, well two big changes, first was that in the play the point of view is from Lonnie, the narrator’s perspective, the point of view of the movie is Sherrie’s perspective.  So I made it from our lead character instead of a side person.  The second thing is that I changed the two villains of the piece because I didn’t understand why two Germans wanted to change the Sunset Strip.  I could never understand the emotional investment so I took it from what was going on in the period and made it more like Tipper Gore’s censorship.

tom-cruise-Rock-of-Ages-imageWhen I watch the greatest documentary about this, the documentary that this whole fucking movie is based on, The Decline of Western Civilization:  The Metal Years, the whole parents against satanic music, rock ‘n’ roll thing, I used that because it was actually real and I pumped it up like I did in Hairspray with racism.  So I used that theme about creativity in this and rock ‘n’ roll, and metal and all of that because it’s not satin’s music, its fucking Journey! It’s REO Speedwagon, are you insane?  So I used Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston as two public officials trying to shut it down on things.  So rather than making it completely non-related to Los Angeles characters I made it people who are running Los Angeles and there is a real investment.

Can you talk about the ‘80s songs that you have assembled for the film’s soundtrack?

diego-boneta-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageSHANKMAN:  Well I went off of the play and kind of chose the ones that I really understood and loved because it is a jukebox musical so you have to put songs in characters mouths that were actually right, but then I changed a bunch of stuff too.  Like when Drew is telling Sherrie about his life I did a really fun mash with Adam Andrews, who is a genius and the best in the world at this, of “Jukebox Hero” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” That’s not in the play.  So he’s telling his story where Alec [Baldwin] and Russell [Brand] are jumping around drunk and singing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But it was all based on the fact that they all have the same rhythm and they both have the word Jukebox in them.  So that was that.  Then I did a mash-up that is not in the play, which is “We Built This City” and “We’re Not Going To Take It” as the protest outside the Bourbon, which is going to be a big thing.  To be perfectly honest, each song on there own I’m not a huge fan of but when they are shoved together they are fucking awesome.  So the energy, the spirit, the drive, the themes of the play are not changed.  I just made everything make sense.

Where is Lonnie in this film?  He’s the narrator of the play but what is his role here?

russell-brand-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageSHANKMAN:  He’s the sidekick.  He’s the sidekick, he’s Alec’s sidekick.  He’s there to have someone for Dennis to talk to and to have someone for Dennis to fall in love with.  They fall in love.  I was laughing because in the play they sing “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” and they have this big number with lifts and all that.  So I’m getting into it because its one of the biggest moments in the play and it’s this weird, gay, out of nowhere thing.  Then they were like, “Oh, their not gay, it’s a bromance.” I was like, are you fucking kidding me?  You can’t sing this song! Songs exist in musicals because characters feel more then they can just speak because they have to sing.  They have to dance because they feel so much.  In this particular thing, every song is so anthemic, that its like people really feel a lot.  So when they sing it, I had to just go there so I made them fall in love, they kiss and everything.

What’s the total number of songs that you are using in the film?

malin-akerman-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageSHANKMAN:  Including all the mash-ups?  It’s 23, 23 songs including all the mash-ups.

How many of the original songs (from the play) are there?

SHANKMAN:  From the original I cut out … well for example, Def Leppard wouldn’t give any of their music to the play, in fact in the opening of the play they talk about that.  But Def Leppard gave us “Pour Some Sugar.” I have “Pour Some Sugar” in place of “Come on Feel the Noise.”

(A loud noise happens and we can’t hear him.)

SHANKMAN (Con’t):  Welcome to my fucking life! This is what I said to Mia [Michaels], I said, I don’t know what I’m making but it’s going to be loud.  So “Pour Some Sugar” is new.  I got rid of  “Final Countdown.” I got rid of “Oh, Sherrie” because that was too on the nose for me.  I really tried to make it as not winkie as possible.

Rock-of-Ages-movie-image-Tom-CruiseOn your Facebook page you have something with Porcelain Black, is that an original song?

SHANKMAN:  Yeah, that is an original song.  Porcelain is fucking unbelievable; who knew that bitch was going to be like that?   She came in and we were all like, (snaps his fingers) ooh, she said that.  Porcelain sings an original song that I had Adam Anders and Desmond Child write for me called “Rock Angels.” Now Desmond wrote a lot of the Bon Jovi songs, I mean he’s written so many of these ‘80s rock anthems that I wanted a new one.  There has to be authenticity in everything.  We have two original songs, we have a boy-band song called “Undercover Love,” and we have “Rock Angels.” They were both written by Adam Anders, “Rock Angels” was with Desmond, and I was very careful while I was crafting that to make sure that they didn’t pull us out of the period or the style.  They literally sounded like everything else and when we were shooting the stuff the crew was Googeling trying to find out who the songs belonged to.  So they thought they were real songs from the period.  So that was a big win for me.  Porcelain is great and she actually just texted me asking if I would like to go on tour with her for three days.  I’m like, me on that bus for three days?  It’s like, come on man let’s rock, now way, I’m going to die at seventy.  There was a love montage sequence that I couldn’t find the exact right real song and I had a really strong feeling about not doing a needle drop there so I wanted to see Drew and Sherrie going to see a band together because that is what they love, live music.  You know what it is; it’s very easy to explain.  In Hairspray, in neither the John Waters movie or the play, they talk about Negro Day over and over again but they never show it.  Drew and Sherrie talk about loving live music over and over but they never go to see it so I’ve shown it.  They go to a little concert.

rock-of-ages-movie-image-russell-brand-julianne-hough-alec-baldwin-01Since you came from a choreography background, what will the dancing be like in the film?  Will it be different from the musical and more realistic?

SHANKMAN:  Because I had vastly less time with prep I couldn’t choreography it myself, which is my thing to do because when I choreograph it myself I see it so I’m directing it while I choreograph it.  Mia Michaels is to my mind one of the most interesting choreographers alive right now and my colleague and my friend from So You Think (You Can Dance). One of the things I knew because I was a choreographer in the ‘80s and I was doing these videos.  I did an Extreme video, which was really weird having them here.  I did “Get the Funk Out.” Because I am so well versed in that world, and all it is are a lot of head rolls, kicks and layouts, there is a very short, small vocabulary there for this period and this style.  I knew Mia would bring something incredibly original to it because she is like allergic to traditional work and I have tears every time because I made her do boy-band choreography.  She’s never done sex per say and I made her do strippers.  It was really intense between the two of us because the movie had needs, the characters have needs, and the story had needs, and a lot of them were not what she would normally do but that’s why I hired Mia because I knew that she would bring something original to it and what ended up coming out of it was so fucking special.  I’m so proud of her and I’m so proud of myself for having the trust level because I didn’t expect myself to close my eyes and on “Jukebox Hero” she was choreography dancers as we were shooting it that she had never met in a room we’d never seen before with literally cameras going at six in the morning.  I was like, what is happening next?  She was like,” I think they are going to be doing this thing.” I would say could you show me it?  She would say, “Kind of but I haven’t finished it yet,” and we were shooting! That’s the scenes we did with all the dancers from the tour of Rock of Ages. They literally flew in and we put costumes on them and threw them on camera.  I mean this has been a total fucking circus!

rock-of-ages-movie-image-catherine-zeta-jones-01Can you talk about rebuilding the Sunset Strip?  Can you talk about building it in Miami, what you wanted to make sure you put in, what you had to leave out, and how it is a condensed version of the original?

SHANKMAN:  Here is the thing we all know that if I had used the real Sunset Strip it would have been cost ineffective … how about cost impossible to try and shut down the Sunset Strip day and night for six weeks.  We would have been public enemy number one in Los Angeles.  The city wouldn’t have done it and it would have been cost impossible.  Reality also is that there are a lot of gaps, there are a lot of business in between the iconic things.  So I decided on Miami because besides the tax incentive the light, the palm trees and certain stretched of land made it completely right for Los Angeles.  So we found an area and I said to my incredibly brilliant production designer John Huttman, who knows how to do things with paste that no man could imagine, the Venus Room is actually built in the original Playboy club here and its way down in North Miami in a hotel and we scouted it with flashlights, there was ruble and trash bags, and I turned to him and said, you have a lot of nerve bringing me to this fucking room.  He said, “No, it’s going to be amazing.” I was like, how the fuck are you going to turn this into what we need?  He said, “I’m telling you, paint and carpet.” I said, “ You can make chandeliers from paint and carpet, good luck.” So we came here and basically I gave him a layout of the most important iconic businesses that I can remember from growing up in Los Angeles.  My dad’s office was at 9200 Sunset.  So I grew up looking at the Sunset Strip, literally.  The things that I remember are the Rainbow Room, the Roxy, the Bizarries, Tower, I grew up my whole life going there, Filthy McNasty’s and I said, I need these things and now fill it in with other iconic buildings.  So that’s kind of how it happened.  He gave me a plan and we gutted it, kept going back and forth, but we called it the greatest hits.  There’s Beacons because it had to be because that fucking building is there and it’s like what else does it look like?  It looks like Beacons on Santa Monica.  But we have our Angeline and we kind of have everything.  We have what I need lets put it that way.  He even did a couple extra things.  Ben Franks was never in the plan and that is here now.  There is great extra stuff.

Was there anything that you really wanted that you couldn’t get due to licensing?

julianne-hough-Rock-of-Ages-imageSHANKMAN:  There was nothing that I wanted that I couldn’t get.  I needed that fucking bitch, I needed that fucking blow-up bitch on Tower Records from the Rolling Stones video and the Rolling Stones wouldn’t give us the exact girl so I made John give us another one.  So there was nothing I gave up, there were just things that I adjusted to.

When you were talking about the music you said that these were your greatest hits from the musical, is that correct?

SHANKMAN:  From the play on top of which there were a couple of things.  Here is how I feel about musicals in general, its so much less interesting to hear people talk about there back stories as apposed to singing about there back stories.  That’s why musicals are interesting.  So I found a few extra things that I put in there and I just played with it and had the blessing of the play so it was all-fine.

Aside from the music is there any other influence that the writer or director of the play had on the movie form or is this all Adam Shankman?

adam-shankmanSHANKMAN:  It’s pure Adam Shankman.  My whole experience of this is about saying thank you to the play for existing and then turning this into an entirely different animal and maintaining the spirit and energy.  This is not news I was so stunned when I went to see the play that the house was full of straight guys rocking out, freaking out, and loving a musical.  I was like, if I can make a musical for straight guys, are you fucking kidding me?  Then I’d be a rock star.  That is a big deal for me to be able to grab that audience and make them ashamedly admit that they love a fucking musical that is really sexy, that would be awesome.  So that was my way in to doing this whole project, doing a musical for straight guys.  It’s a weird … why people make movies you never know.  Yo bitch come here! (Shouting to Mia Michaels) That is Mia Michaels the choreographer.  Come here, I’m doing an interview.  Come sit next to me, I love you.  You can ask her a question now too.  And I’m actually fascinated to hear any of her answers so go ahead and ask her a question.

Well it sounds like shooting this movie has been like a fucking circus and you’ve been at odds, what have been some of the most challenging scenes for you to choreograph so far?

SHANKMAN: By the way, never at odds.  Just challenged, like, you know?  Never at odds.

MIA MICHAELS: Never.  And we’ve, actually, our friendship has even grown stronger from this experience.  You know, we didn’t get to the spend the time we wanted to as friends because we were both working so much.  But it was a really interesting, it was really cool, and it was, working with my friend, and he’s the director, it’s like there was a trust, but it was, he would just direct me, and then let me go, and guide me.  And I would come back with the product, and he’d be, like, “Let’s do it.”  And it was very, we were always, we matched in our vision was very cohesive together, and very few times did we not agree, like…

SHANKMAN:  No, I don’t think we ever didn’t agree, but, we never didn’t agree, but like I saw in, you know, I asked her to do things that are… here’s the reality.  Mia comes from a concert role, originally, more, and I come from pure commercialism.  And there is, you know, I’ve always sort of marveled at our ability to chat and match, because of, I come, honestly I think of myself of as a little bit of hack, and think like that, and I think of her as an artist.

Rock-of-Ages-tom-cruise-movie-imageBut the truth of the matter is shit has to get done.  So, I sat, and then she sat, she came in, and then I said, okay, for almost the first step and I said, “And I got to do a boy band number with Running Man, and Roger Rabbit.”  And Mia’s just like, “What are you fucking talking about?”  And she was, like, “I don’t know how to do that.” And I said, “Have fun!”  And I walked away.  And I walked away.  And I come in and she had put together a perfect boy band number, like, the New Kids on the Block, from the period.  But she was sitting there, like, staring…

MICHAELS:  What have I become?

SHANKMAN:  What have I become.  I don’t know…

MICHAELS:  Who am I?

Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageSHANKMAN:  Who am I?  And I was like, I’ll tell who you are.  You are the person who totally delivered just now.  That’s it.  It’s perfect.  I love it.   But what I was telling them was, that the vocabulary of the period is a lot of headrolls, fankicks, layouts…  So it’s, like limited.  And so what I wanted you to do was do what you do to that.

MICHAELS:  Right.

SHANKMAN:  Do what you do to that?

MICHAELS:  And that was a really big, when I took the project on, I was, like, my biggest concern was that my voice, and that people would still see me in this.  You know, because it was a time, it was a genre, it was a time period.  It was rock n roll.  Dancing was very different in the ’80′s.  I mean, I grew up, you know, doing bad jazz in the ’80′s.  And so, it was very, like, “Oh, God, what is this gonna be?”  And you know, and I love the music.  I grew up on the music, but I would never choreograph to the music.  So here I am faced with all these challenges, and then a very big monster film.  So I’m sitting here going, “Okay, I have to deliver.  I need to, you know, and keep my voice.”  And that was a very, very important thing for me, just like I did when I first started So You Think (You Can Dance) My biggest thing was, “It’s a reality show.  Oh, God, how do I stay Mia?”  And I did that.  And I think I did this…

tom-cruise-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageSHANKMAN:  You did.

MICHAELS:  …on this film, too.

SHANKMAN:  A thousand percent.  Absolutely.

MICHAELS:  And it was, yeah.

SHANKMAN:  Yeah, what, I mean, what was really fun that we got to explore together was, weirdly, sex and humor.

MICHAELS:  Right.

Rock-of-Ages-diego-boneta-movie-imageSHANKMAN:  Sex and humor are the two big choreographic sort of points in this.   You got, there is so much sex, sexual energy in this movie.  And I’ve never done a lot of sexual energy in any of my movies.   And it’s been fun.  But I watch the scene, I watched “Rock You Like A Hurricane,”  and I feel like I shouldn’t be watching it.  It’s very…

MICHAELS:  He opened that can of worms for me, too..  because I’ve never brought sexuality into my work because it was such an art form as far as my craft, the art of dance.   And so I always kind of kept that in my personal life, you know.   And Adam was, like, “This is what we have to bring it to the table.”

SHANKMAN:  It’s part of the story.

alec-baldwin-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageHave any of the actors surprised you?  Did any actors surprise you with the dance moves, because some of the actors are, like, not really known for their dancing.

SHANKMAN:  Talk about Tom.  Talk about Tom.

MICHAELS:  Tom.

SHANKMAN:  Now Tom is the one.  Tom is the…

MICHAELS:  Yeah, he came to the project, I mean, he’s not a dancer.  He couldn’t keep, count music.  He didn’t hear music the way, and I’m a very complex, when I listen to music, I hear it inside.  So, I’m like, “That beat that’s not there, you need to hear it on the (duh duh duh duh).”  Like, I’m very that.  So he’s looking at me like I’m an alien.

tom-cruise-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageAnd not only that, but we had to teach him, we had to recreate his, like, his stance, the way he walked, because we were creating Stacee Jaxx.

SHANKMAN:  I sent him a photo.  We were Facetiming a costume fitting.  And I was watching him getting fit, and he, Tom is really square.  He’s like a stunt man.  He’s like, a square body guy.  And he had to arch his back to have them put the Bret Michaels headband on him.  And he was wearing this weird fur coat and sun glasses.  And so he got in this weird arched position.  And I hit the, I clicked on it and took a picture of it while we were Facetiming.  And I sent the picture to him and I said, “This is who you are in this movie.”  Because it was just this guy (he leans back).  And he became that guy.  But here’s the scary thing about Tom.   You have to be careful what you say, because he listens so much.  It’s like, he really takes what you say and then starts to pull it apart.   There’s no, there’s no version of “Whatever,”  with Tom Cruise.  You’re… you mean it.  It’s all or nothing.

Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageMICHAELS:  All or nothing.  And he’s – all he wants to do is learn.  He’s so insatiable with learning anything he doesn’t know.  So, he took on dances, like this thing that is really…

SHANKMAN:  It’s nuts!

MICHAELS:  Yeah.  And he went full out.  And I, you know, at first, I think we were all, like, “Oh my God,”  because he’s so intense, and he’s never tired, and he’s just, he’s like a superhero, in a way.  And he’s very, alien in that way because he never stops.  He goes and goes and goes.  And we’re all, like, “Oh, my God, Oh, my God,”  because we had to deal with all the other celebrities in the entire film.  And so there we are with Tom, just sucking every ounce of our being, you know, from us.  But once I fell into his rhythm of his rehearsals, and how he liked to work, we were unstoppable.  And I hope I work with him for the rest of my career.

SHANKMAN:  I’ve never seen anybody more dedicated to being good in my life.   Like who cared more.

catherine-zeta-jones-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageWhat was the impulse to cast him?

SHANKMAN:  The impulse casting was the same as, the impulse in casting was the same as the impulse to do Travolta, to Hairspray.  The impulse on Hairspray was find the biggest male musical star in the world to play this part.  With Tom it was find the biggest movie star to play the biggest rock star.  And Tom had already expressed an interest to me in, you know, I’m sort of, it’s sort, I’m already, I hardly, started doing press on the movie.  And I’m already tired telling the story.  I was at Sadie Sandler’s first birthday party.  And I’m not, you know, I’m not a big, I don’t, I’m not friends with a lot of movie stars.  It’s, like, I know them, and I work with them.  But I’m not friends with them, but I went to this with my niece, and we’re sitting in those plastic chairs for little kids that this tall.  And so I’m like, in this thing, doing it, and all of a sudden, another one pulls up next to me, and actually Tom sat down in another one next to me.  And I had never met him before.  And I was terrified.  It was Tom fucking Cruise! And I was like, and he’s like, ”Dude, I just want you to know I’m a big fan of Hairspray.  Suri loves it.  We’ve seen it, like, a hundred times,” which, by the way, is more than me.

diego-boneta-Rock-of-Ages-imageAnd he was like, you know, “I thought you did the most interesting thing with the tone.”  And he started talking to me about filmmaking and tone.  And I’m sitting in a one-year-old’s plastic chair.  And so is he.  And I got very – honestly nervous.  And I had, I wanted to walk away because I was so freaked out.  I got a little star-struck.  I got to be honest.  And so, I said, “Listen, dude, we’ll talk about it in a second.  I’m gonna go get some food.  Can I get you anything?”  And he said, “No.”  And I said, “Fine, great.”  And I stood up and the chair stuck to my ass.  So, I’m standing there talking to Tom Cruise with a plastic chair on my ass.  And I was, like, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  Let’s put it that way.  So, you know, the tone was set, and he would make jokes then with me, “When are we gonna do a musical?”  And I’m, like, “Ha, ha, never, you know.”  And then this project came up, and to me, there was something that made sense about having somebody of his stature playing that part.  I needed somebody of his stature playing that part.  I thought it was add some gravitas to it.

diego-boneta-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageAnd but we both agreed that we weren’t gonna do it unless we knew he could sing.  I knew he could dance because he did the, he did this little thing with Katie at one of my MPTF benefits.  And then he did the MTV Awards with Jennifer Lopez as Les Grossman.  So I knew that he could move.  I knew, but what I didn’t know was it’s like a stunt.  You have to rehearse it into him.  It doesn’t come naturally.  You don’t improv movement with him.  He’s not a dancer.  He is, he has to learn it and drill it.  And Mia, there’s nothing he does in the movie that wasn’t choreographed to the knuckle.  I mean to the knuckle.

And, beyond that, he wants to why you’re doing it.  If you doing, like, a hip roll, or something like that, I don’t want to fucking have to tell you why you’re doing a hip roll, because there’s a piece of music that does it.  Tom wants to know why.  And so then, you’re in that.  And if there’s nothing bad about that, it’s just very challenging to us to have to explain things that are just organic.

MICHAELS:  Yeah, yeah, it’s a different world because he was always, just like, wanted dialogue.  We spent hours talking about a hip roll.  Hours.

julianne-hough-image-Rock-of-AgesSHANKMAN:  Yeah.

MICHAELS:  Why we, why that’s my choice or, he’s, like, “Would Stacee… and would he do that?”  And if he did, what kind of frame of mind would he, oh, we’d go, oh, my God, we’d go in for, like, hours, and, but it…

In a choreography frame, is that annoying to you?

MICHAELS:  No, and you know what?  Because I love story-telling as a choreographer, so it was actually just enhancing my already, I already think that way, but not as, not even close to how detailed he is.  So it actually challenged me to even go more into a director’s mind.

julianne-hough-Rock-of-Ages-movie-imageSHANKMAN:   Yeah, choreography is more instinctual, and he wanted the instinct broken down.  But what happened is he caught up to us.  It’s, you know, after the initial thing, he and I had an unbelievable, like, I started to say to him in cuts, you know, “Shut up and fucking act.”  You know, and I started to do that.  And he would laugh, and it would be great, you know.  But, if there’s, a giving over to it.  But, guys, it’s Tom Cruise! He’s doing a musical.  How fucking scary must that be?  Like, that is a very exposed thing, but once we knew he could sing.

What was the singing test?  How did you figure that out?

SHANKMAN:  We put him with Axl Rose’s singing guy because I needed the songs to be really rock, I needed the voices to be rock n roll, not Broadway.  And so he started working with him.  And on the second singing session, the second vocal session, I was in the this sort of side room.  And Tom was at the piano, you know, working on it, and I listened.  And the guy got him to sing way the fuck up, and it would have thick, amazing sound to it.  And he, apparently, Tom has in his family, has, like, some opera singers.  And so he’s genetically predisposed to be able to sing, basically, is the reality.  And, so he, just because he hasn’t done it, you just have to train him.  No one’s ever asked him.  That’s the weird thing.  No one’s ever asked him.  And he loved that somebody had the nerve to ask him.

rock-of-ages-tom-cruise-alec-baldwinAnd so he went at it with, like – listen, it’s the guy who ran across the Burj, you know?  We’re not, you know, and – what he did say is, “I won’t do if you’re gonna try to improve me.  If you gonna try just fix me digitally, and all of that, I have no interest in that.  It has to all be me.”

How shocked to think people will react to that when they see him singing and dancing?

SHANKMAN:  They will not fucking believe it.

MICHAELS:  Yeah.

SHANKMAN:  It is beyond anything, in fact, I will show you “Pour Some Sugar.”  It’s not like anything.  It’s not like, it’s surreal.  It’s surreal.

I have a really a geeky tech question.  I notice you’re filming digital and using the ARRI Alexa.  Can you start of talk about the decision making, on going digital, on that camera?

SHANKMAN:  Boyan Masselli, Boyan Masselli, my DP, he just sold me on it.  I saw tests, and it, very few people have used it.  It was really, really interesting.  What I loved about it is that because it’s a movie that’s largely about people who live at night, you just don’t need as much lighting equipment to do things so you can light stuff.  So we would be shooting at night, and it would be pitch black, and you couldn’t, it was, literally couldn’t see anything.  And then when I saw dailies you could actually see clouds.  So, you saw details that I’ve never seen before using other cameras.  So it was hard starting up, but, and it was very difficult starting up in post because the editors were, like, “Oh my God, the technology so slow and blah, blah, blah.”  But now everybody’s loving it because the information that you get in every image is really incredible.

tom-cruise-rock-of-agesHere’s another geeky thing.  Was there ever any talk about doing this in 3D?

SHANKMAN:  No, there was never talk about doing it in 3D.  I just, I think that it became sort of just a – maybe there was one day when it was said, like when I was trying to get more money for foreign, or something.  I don’t know.  But, I just saw no need for it because I’ve produced movies in 3D, and what you do is you end up spending a lot of time figuring out what to throw at the camera.  And so I just was, like, I don’t want to worry about that.  I want to worry about my characters and the music.  That was the decision.

With a musical, obviously, you have, you have choreography, you have the scene, you’re doing a lot of different takes.  How much easier is it shooting with digital as opposed to shooting it with film?

SHANKMAN:  What it’s turned into now, is just because there’s less lighting time, it’s just easier because I have more movie to shoot with less time.  And so I’ve done things that I literally never thought that I would do, which is to put it, during “Any Way You Want It,”  I put four cameras in different parts of the room, all pointing in different directions and just said, roll that.  You’re not being specific, and you’re just trying to grab stuff, and this technology allowed for that to work.

We we heard when Julianne was shooting, we heard, like, her version of the song.  How early before the shooting did you guys actually record?

mary-j-blige-rock-of-agesSHANKMAN:  We recorded that about two weeks before.  We have the whole thing.  We have the whole thing, everything except Bryan Cranston and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  We have pretty much done recording.

Does that help the actors character?

SHANKMAN:  It is, but I don’t let them.  I don’t let them record unless they’ve rehearsed because they have to emotionally know what they’re doing in the songs.   It’s not, like, a factory thing, like, it’s, there’s choreography and there’s efforts, and there’s foot fall, and there’s things that in the performance.  Like, in “I Want To Know What Love Is,”  Malin Akerman is unlacing Tom’s pants with her teeth.  So she shouldn’t be able to do that with something in her mouth.  So I had to do that, yes, I now clued you in to what we’re doing a little bit.  So, yeah, there’s a lot of rehearsal that goes in beforehand.  So I don’t let them record without them knowing what they’re doing.

Were there any other actors where you thought, like, “This is the guy or girl for this role?”

SHANKMAN:  Everybody was pretty much my first choice.

Very inspired choices with, like, Bryan Cranston.  I don’t think people are expecting this out of him.  Or Giamatti.

SHANKMAN:  Yeah, Giamatti was so funny.  I mean, I never want to make a movie without Paul Giamatti because he is my rock.  He is my anchor.  And he walked in going, “What the fuck is going on here?”  He was just, sat back and said, “This is the weirdest fucking movie I’ve been in.”  He said, “I’ve been some weird fucking movies, but this is the weirdest one.”  Because it, because of the circus nature of it all.  There’s just a lot going on and I don’t have time to actually ponder the circus element.  I just have to keep going, going, going, going, going.   And every song is really epic.  You know, like, every number is so epic, and every actor just, like, sort of fell in line going, like, “Honey we want to come in and play with you.  Whatever, this is so weird, let’s just fucking doing it, you know?”

adam-shankman-rock-of-ages-imageAnd I think that’s in my iPhone.  I have a picture of a little baby going like this, and it just says, “Let’s fucking do this.”  You know, and that’s been my sort of go to.  You know, one of the things that everybody appreciated is I have no interest in making fun of things.   I’m not making fun of anything.

One last question.  I just wanted to ask you, you know, your Hairspray party in ShoWest was so big, it’s still being talked about to this day.  Will you use the forty million budget you didn’t get to do another party in ShoWest next year?

SHANKMAN:  I’m hoping so.  I’m hoping so, because I want the distributors to get really, really excited about this thing.  Because one of the things I do know, you can’t, I can’t say the movie’s gonna be good.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what this fucking movie is.  I haven’t finished shooting it yet.  I’m hopeful.  But I know that it’s going to be something, you know?  It won’t be like anything you’ve ever seen before.  It’s actually been my, I’m living at a very intense discomfort level because my career has been predicated on safety.  And I’m not making anything safe right now.  This is not safe in the least.  And I have cried, and I have laughed, and I have scratched my head I’ve done all of that.  But I’m in it, so I’m just gonna keep going.  But what I do know is it’s not a programmmer, or it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen.  You have incredibly famous people doing incredibly weird shit.  And it’s all through my filter.  And they’ve all given over to me, and I feel very grateful that they have, because I feel incredibly lucky.  I feel incredibly lucky.

You know, it’s been a really interesting job.  It’s been exhausting.   It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done because it’s just so big, and I haven’t had a lot of time.  And I’m just kind of blowing through this, you know.  And everybody’s, like, happy, and giving thumbs up. I mean, most people get, okay – I just got really emotional.  Most of the actors have said “this is the best role they’ve ever had.”  So you know, that’s important to me.  That’s a big, big fucking deal to me.  It’s not about what’s happening behind my actors, it’s about my actors, you know, and it’s about what they’re doing, and presenting them in an incredibly positive way.  But, it’s been a very special, but exhausting time for me.

rock-of-ages-posterCome to my trailer! Come watch “Pour Some Sugar.”

(in trailer, we just watched “Pour Some Sugar on Me”)

SHANKMAN:  This is a guy who is 49 years old – he should be playing a senator! And this is what he’s doing instead.  And that is his voice, that’s him singing and we did not really help him.  You know what I mean?  That is him singing and that is him dancing and every single movement from every finger is choreographed.  He worked on all of that.  I could not be more proud.  But now, the weirdest thing is that I have him doing that, Russell doing that, Catherine doing that, Alec doing that, Diego, Julianne, and Paul, I mean, like, I have them all with that level of commitment.  So I mean it’s intense! It’s super intense.  You know?

Can I ask one more thing?  Where does that performance take place in the movie?

SHANKMAN:  In the movie?  It’s right in the middle.  Stacee Jaxx comes to play at the Bourbon Room um, and they think that’s going to save them financially, and then his manager, played by Paul Giamatti takes all the money.

I feel like the coolest thing about this musical is not since maybe Moulin Rouge!,  maybe Mamma Mia is that all the songs are songs that people can sing along to, that they actually know.

SHANKMAN:  A thousand percent, a thousand percent.  By the way, Mary J.  Blige, the most unbelieveable fucking woman alive.  I love her so much, I love her so much she actually kills me.

(after watching “Shadows Of The Night”)

Was that the choreography you were saying Mia was uncomfortable with at first?

SHANKMAN:  It’s so funny because you know, no straight guy would turn stripping into sculpture, art, you know what I mean?  They would have gone straight for the sleaze so it took a big fag, you know?  And, Jimmy, who works with me spent a good 2 months finding those pole girls online! Those are you know, world champion pole dancers.  They’re competitive, they’re not strippers.  And I said to Mia, I need this because I want it to be art, I want it to be – I’m not objectifying – Yes, she’s becoming a stripper and she’s going into a dark place, but I still need it leading into something ugly but frankly I want a lot of pussy for that… and so I, and so, I delivered! And, there’s been an enormous amount of not wearing a lot of clothes in this movie! Because that’s you know, the world.  I didn’t go away from it – because, you know, again, because it goes through my filter, it doesn’t look icky.  I think it looks pretty.

Mary J.  Blige.  Is she a new character?

SHANKMAN:  No, she’s in the play.  It’s about, you know, listen.  It’s you know, that wise black woman who’s always there to give us some help.  I said, you know Mary J.  Blige is the Queen Latifah character.  You know, she, her voice in this movie is, she just gives it this incredible warmth, and she’s just this person who blows out of the screen.  She’s just incredible.  You know it’s so funny.  When we started talking and he (Cruise) did Mission, and then I was sending him a lot of images, and video, and all of that, and once again everything imprints on him – and I didn’t realize that all the guys I was showing him, none of them had any shirts ever.  And so what became of the costume – suddenly started dissolving.  And he was like “No, I wouldn’t be wearing a shirt here, I wouldn’t be wearing a shirt”  and I was like “Oh…” and Rita was like “No, he doesn’t wear a shirt” and I was like “okay…”

For more on Rock of Ages, here’s my on other set interviews with the cast and set visit:




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