In the feature film adaptation of the smash hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages, small town girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and city boy Drew (Diego Boneta) meet on the Sunset Strip in 1987, in pursuit of their Hollywood dreams. With the hits of Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Poison, REO Speedwagon, Twisted Sister and so many more, to help tell the story, their rock ‘n’ roll romance hits its fair share of speed bumps on the road to fame.
At the film’s press day, director Adam Shankman talked about why he wanted Tom Cruise to play rock god Stacee Jaxx in the film, Cruise’s initial reaction when he was approached with the idea, why he cut out the lap dance scene with Cruise and Julianne Hough, how Mary J. Blige came to be in the film (after the initial suggestion of Whitney Houston), the process of narrowing the songs down, and what the baboon was like to work with. He also talked about how Step Up: Revolution will be taking things to a whole new level, and that his next film will be This is Where I Leave You, based on the novel of the same name. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What can you say about Tom Cruise as a rock god?
ADAM SHANKMAN: Tom Cruise the rock god was a fantastic adventure and voyage for the two of us. I think the guy was so stunned that anyone would have the nerve to ask him to do something that was so outside of his wheelhouse, and there is no one who likes a challenge more than Tom Cruise. There was never a discussion of lip-syncing or another voice, or anything like that. If the guy’s gonna hang out on the top of the Burj, he’s not going to let anybody do his singing for him. I think he was so thrilled at the potential of actually learning a new skill. As a dad, he’s changed a lot and a lot of what he thinks about. That family is so tight. He loves Bella and Connor to death, but Sura Cruise rules that household. He’s older now. He’s had 20 years of being Tom Cruise behind him.
Was it a tough sell?
SHANKMAN: I was told that they love Hairspray. Hairspray bought me a lot of cred, in the acting community and the comedy community. Actors felt safe with me, so there wasn’t a lot of begging. For me, Tom Cruise was the only candidate [for the role], from the second I said yes. His audition was Tropic Thunder. The second I saw him in Tropic Thunder, I thought, “Oh, my god, I never knew that this guy could commit to a comedic character with this much success.” He’s hilarious and totally willing to take the piss out of himself, and I needed that from this character. After that, when this became very real, I thought, “Oh, my god, if I get one of the biggest movie stars in the world to play one of the biggest rock stars in the world, he’ll come with some knowledge of that discomfort and what this kind of fame is.” I knew there would be more of a knowledge, then if I just got someone else to do it. And, he’s someone who had so much fame in the ‘80s. It all coalesced for me. No one was more surprised than him that I asked, and we definitely did not say yes until we both thought he could actually pull off the singing.
How did you finally know?
SHANKMAN: We took him to a coach and he worked with him and, in one session, I heard it. Believe me, I was holding a glass to the door. It was amazing, the range that was coming out of him, and the size of his voice. Every note is him. The last challenge I threw at him was “Paradise City,” and he came in and knocked it out. That’s after he had been away from Stacee for awhile. He worked with the coach again for a couple days and just blew us all away. I now think there is actually nothing that Tom Cruise can’t do. I said that if somebody asked him to play an invisible water buffalo, he would do it very successfully. He would probably say, “Give me some time, let me work on it,” and then that would happen.
What was his initial reaction when you approached him about this?
SHANKMAN: I made a movie with Adam Sandler, and I was at Adam Sandler’s daughter Sadie’s first birthday. Tom Cruise brought Suri there because that is a fabulous friendship that makes no sense, and I love it. He came up to me, and I was sitting in one of those little baby plastic, low-to-the-ground, one-year-old chairs, drawing with my niece. I felt someone pull up a chair next to me, and I heard, “Hi, I’m Tom Cruise.” He was sitting next to me, in one of those baby chairs, and he said, “I just want you to know I’m a big fan. I saw Hairspray. I don’t even know how you did it. You really nailed that tone.” In my head, I was starting to explode going, “This is how I’m meeting Tom Cruise. I’m in a baby chair, talking about filmmaking and coloring with my niece.” I was not unaware of how weird the moment was for me.
I talked for a second, and then I said, “Give me a second, I’m just going to go grab some food,” and I stood up and the chair stuck to my ass. I literally could not have looked more like an idiot. And he laughed and said, “Dude, when are we going to make a musical?” I laughed and I thought in my head, “Never,” and that was that. I couldn’t understand what that could be. It’s not like we were going to go make Damn Yankees, or something like that. And then, this came up and I ran into him once again, at a Christmas party at Adam Sandler’s. I had told people that I wanted him, and they were like, “How could you ever get him?,” and I said, “I think I can get him. There’s a little part of me that thinks I can get him.” I told him at the party, and he thought it sounded insane and exciting. But, he was getting ready to do Mission: Impossible, so it gave us a full year to talk about it. That’s how I got him. And then, once I got him, everybody just popped in.
How could you cut a lap dance scene with Tom Cruise and Julianne Hough?
SHANKMAN: It’s super-easy to explain. It really upset mothers. The mothers literally turned against her character because her character sold out so much and she was such an animal in the scene. She was too good. The sex was too much. The balancing act of this movie was interesting because I had to keep it a comedy. That’s really what it is. And it’s a series of love stories. It was a huge deviation from the story, in order to do this number. As brilliant as the number is, and it will be on the extended version and on Netflix, you’ll understand why it got cut. It really upset mothers, and I couldn’t have mothers saying no to my teenage audience. I didn’t want them to say, “You can’t go see this movie because Julianne Hough is lap-dancing Tom Cruise in a g-string, very well.”
How did you decide on Mary J. Blige?
SHANKMAN: She was the first person I asked, for the movie. I think I just wanted Mary J. Blige to sing around me. My incredibly dear friend and colleague Queen Latifah had done it twice, and this was much smaller. The studio initially asked me to cast Whitney [Houston] and I said, “I know Whitney. I choreographed for her, a hundred years ago. But, I don’t know if that’s the right fit for this, right now.” I said, “I want Mary J. Blige,” and they said, “Sure. Go get Tom Cruise and we can talk about Mary J. later.” But, Mary was the first person I said.
What was your conversation with Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin, about doing that kiss?
SHANKMAN: I led with telling them about it. When I talked to Alec, he said, “What would I do in the movie?” I said, “You’re a guy from the ‘60s, who started this hot rock club. You fostered all these people and nurtured them, but you’re really stoned. You started getting stoned in the ‘60s, but never stopped getting stoned. You’ve been so stoned for the last 27 years that you didn’t realize you were gay.” And he was like, “I’m so in! That’s amazing!” And then, with Russell, I said, “You play Alec Baldwin’s lover,” and he just went, “I’m in!” That was that. I started with all these people who lived in the ‘80s, but it was really fun to take Julianne and Diego and explain to them who they were and how they fit in, and educate them. I had to kick the country out of her voice, and kick the boy band out of his voice. I sent them to rock star college. The whole movie was just such an adventure, in that way. It was just a joy.
How did you narrow the songs down?
SHANKMAN: The movie couldn’t be two hours and 40 minutes long, which is basically how long the show is. I also had an opportunity that the play didn’t have. Def Leppard, Joan Jett and Guns N’ Roses opened up their catalogues for the movie, which I would have to attribute to Mr. Cruise’s involvement. I’ve never talked to the guys, but I would think that is what did it, on top of the Hairspray cred. People knew that I wasn’t going to make fun of anything. After I showed him “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” Bret Michaels hugged me. I love that I get to say that Bret Michaels hugged me after I showed him Tom Cruise singing “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” This is the crazy world that I live in. It all seems insane to me. He hugged me and I said, “Why are you hugging me?,” and he said, “Thank you for not making fun of us.” I thought that was really special. I think that this period makes fun of itself so much. Trying to put a hat on a hat would have been a terrible thing to do, on top of which, this period was the greatest time of my life.
Did Tom Cruise get nervous at all, performing in front of some of the original rockers?
SHANKMAN: Tom doesn’t know nervous. Tom doesn’t do nervous. Tom does preparation, so he’d been working on it for months. He is choreographed, in “Pour Som Sugar on Me,” to his thumbnail. It almost killed (choreographer) Mia Michaels, with how much rehearsal she did with him.
How did you come up with the look for his character?
SHANKMAN: My biggest point of reference, aside from my photo album, was the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years. It outlines this period, in great detail, with these people, including all those protesting mothers and the whole thing. That’s all straight out of real life. The baboon is out of real life. The baboon is Bubbles, Michael Jackson’s chimp. Everything that seems weird in the movie, is not weird. It all came from true shit, and my convoluted memories.
Did things with the baboon every get dangerous?
SHANKMAN: I say this with great honesty, but they’re very sensitive. I’ll tell you the one dangerous baboon story. The main one, Mickey, did not like it when Paul Giamatti yelled at Diego. Paul was like, “Is this going to go okay? Am I still going to have a face, at the end of the day?” The trainer kept saying, “No, it’s going to be fine.” Mickey and I would walk around, holding hands. He was very sweet. We would play patty-cake. He was adorable. But, the one who screams in the office was named Camilla. They knew, way in advance, what I needed the monkey to do. It was scripted. They put Camilla on the table in that Muammar Gaddafi costume, which was already bugging her, and then the trainer would stand across from her, next to the camera with Paul Giamatti’s eyeline, and his wife would stand behind him and pretend she was hitting him on the head so that the monkey would start screaming because she could not believe that somebody was attacking her trainer. I was like, “I’m not sure this is safe. I’m going to put my monitor in the other room, and I don’t want to know what happens.” But, everything was fine. Nothing bad ever happened. Believe me, more actors were harmed in the making of this film than animals.
How will Step Up: Revolution takes things to the next level?
SHANKMAN: It’s unbelievable! It is the best dancing we’ve had, by far, in any of the movies. We put a ton of different styles in there. Travis Wall did all this contemporary stuff. It’s sexier. We put more real story back into it. It was starting to go off the rails, a little bit. And, because they loved the movie so much, they just talked to me about Step Up 5. I was like, “If I have to come up with one more reason for people to save the world, one dance at a time, I will kill myself. I can’t do it anymore!” But, if people keep coming, they’re going to keep making them. Do you know how well these movies do, internationally? It’s crazy!
What are you doing next?
SHANKMAN: It’s a movie called This Is Where I Leave You, based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper, for the wonderful Warner Bros. company.