Let there be schlock
Turns Tom Cruise into a hair-metal of
THE term ‘‘movie musical’’ generally conjures up images of old Gershwin standards, jazz hands and clean-cut girls and guys twirling around each other.
Not on that list? Big phones and man-bangs. But director Adam Shankman ( Hairspray) says that’s exactly what he needed to make his adaptation of the Broadway hit Rock of Ages leap off the screen.
Set in a rock club on LA’s Sunset Strip in the late ’80s, the show draws on hair-metal hits of the era, from bands such as Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi.
‘‘What do you want in a musical? You want to walk away humming the songs,’’ production designer Jon Hutman says.
‘‘People love it. This is not your normal musical-theatre crowd.’’
Rock of Ages doesn’t boast your normal musical-theatre cast, either.
While Tom Cruise is known for his action chops and, thanks to Tropic Thunder, his comic timing, he’s never before done the rock-star thing. Nor has Alec Baldwin looked quite so much the ageing hippie, or Russell Brand as Ron Wood-y.
They, plus Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige and Paul Giamatti, appear alongside Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, who play the central star-crossed young lovers Drew and Sherrie, who’ve come to LA to make it big in the music biz.
Adapted and expanded from its stage incarnation and shot near Miami, the film became, says Shankman, ‘‘a matter of compressing a lot of memories of the Sunset Strip into our favourite ‘greatest hits’ – it was a blast’’.
Shankman knew he wanted a big Hollywood name to play Stacee Jaxx, the shaman-like rock god whose tattooed, head-scarfed presence makes fans swoon. So he started at the top. ‘‘I think (Tom) was so stunned at the insanity of the ask that he said yes,’’ says Shankman, who gives the character more of a central role than in the original stage production. But could Cruise pull it off? ‘‘He’s never sung in his life. I mean there was Top Gun, but he wasn’t a singer,’’ says executive music producer Adam Anders.
‘‘When I first went to hear him, I was like, ‘is this gonna work?’ ’’
Cruise threw himself into the role with trademark intensity, so of course the answer was yes.
‘‘This character he created, it was amazing,’’Anders says.
‘‘It’s a montage of all the great frontmen put together.’’
Poison frontman Bret Michaels spoke with Cruise and Shankman during the production and says he’s pleased to be part of the model.
‘‘Tom says it’s a mixture of Bret Michaels and Axl Rose,’’ he says.
‘‘It’s a look and stage persona of me – with the bandanna and the cowboy hat, the whole over-the-top rock star look – but this intense energy that Axl had.’’
As befits a hair-metal hedonist, Cruise was clad head to toe in glam garb – a huge fur coat, cowboy hat, leather pants and even chaps.
The piece de resistance? A codpiece in the form of a devil’s face, paved with studs and rhinestones. Of course, there are tattoos. Many of them.
‘‘I stood next to him, two feet away, and the tattoos looked real,’’ says Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott, who was on set to see Cruise perform Pour Some Sugar on Me.
‘‘We ended up having a lot of fun with it. I’d be pointing at him, going, ‘Make sure that you do this right!’ It was a very surreal moment,’’ Elliott says.
Cruise worked with choreographer Mia Michaels to hone his ‘‘walk, his swagger, his ’isms’’, she says.
‘‘He really determined the sexuality and rawness of the character,’’ Michaels says.
‘‘He tried to top himself at every moment. Pour Some Sugar on Me (in front of an audience) was the first day of shooting for him.
‘‘He just embraced the whole physicality of it.’’
Malin Akerman as Constance Sack and Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx in movie musical