Twenty years on, writer-di­rec­tor Cameron Crowe looks back at Jerry Maguire


Cameron Crowe shows Chris He­witt the money, had him at hello.

BILLY WILDER GOT right to the heart of it. Billy Wilder got right to the heart of a lot of things, but on this day in 1995, he was get­ting right to the heart of Jerry Maguire. Cameron Crowe, a huge Wilder fan, had been try­ing to per­suade the great di­rec­tor to cameo in his movie as Dicky Fox, a men­tor to the ti­tle char­ac­ter, a slick sports agent who de­vel­ops a con­science, only for it to de­rail his life. Wilder had said no, but Crowe ar­ranged one last meet­ing and brought along his wild­card: his star, Tom Cruise. “We told him the story briefly,” re­calls Crowe, over 20 years later. “We get to the end and he goes, ‘But why would you care about this sports agent?’” Crowe laughs at the mem­ory of be­ing shot down by an idol. But he was un­daunted. “What I wanted was for peo­ple to care about that sports agent.”

And they did. When it fi­nally ar­rived in 1996 — with a Sony Pic­tures suit, Jared Jus­sim, in the Dicky Fox role — Jerry Maguire grossed over $200 mil­lion world­wide, and was nom­i­nated for five Os­cars (win­ning one, Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tor, for Cuba Good­ing Jr.). More than that, though, it en­tered the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness in a way few films have — phrases from the movie abound to this day, and over the years it’s be­come re­garded as a clas­sic. It may be Crowe’s finest movie and, af­ter su­per­vis­ing a new Blu-ray re­lease, he told us how he man­aged to make peo­ple care about a sim­ple sports agent…

Was the film al­ways about a sports agent?

Yes, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a sports agent and his client. I re­mem­ber think­ing, “What if that guy is his only client?” It was great to see the nu­ance a sports agent has com­pared to an en­ter­tain­ment agent. But es­sen­tially the thing that was re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing was, the sports agent al­ways wanted to get in the room with the fam­ily. That was pretty unique. We de­toured pretty quickly into, “What can we say with this movie that makes it of the mo­ment?” That’s how we got into the idea of start­ing where some movies might have ended.

When we meet Jerry, he’s al­ready wildly suc­cess­ful.

Ex­actly. We were talk­ing about Wall Street and Gor­don Gekko and, “Greed is good.” If, “Greed is good,” was a bench­mark of the ’80s, here’s a char­ac­ter that comes to Je­sus, re­al­is­ing, “Greed is good,” is not a way to live a full life, and then gets fucked over im­me­di­ately.

Gor­don Gekko was mis­read by peo­ple. The same with Alec Bald­win in Glen­garry Glen Ross. Did peo­ple mis­read Jerry Maguire? Did they see Bob Sugar and be­come agents as a re­sult?

I’ve heard that. I think it’s be­cause an ac­tor with charisma is such a se­duc­tive thing. In the end, you can almost for­get what they’re say­ing and get lost in the charisma, which is some­what Trumpian. You can be se­duced by the de­liv­ery and miss what’s be­ing de­liv­ered. We al­ways wanted the movie to be a fa­ble about moral com­pro­mise. Even the end­ing, I al­ways felt that Jerry Maguire doesn’t get ev­ery­thing in the movie. He still has a con­flicted feel­ing that he’s try­ing to over­come about his mar­riage, he’s still try­ing out the suit of clothes of a mar­ried man. Rod Tid­well could get crunched the next week and he’d have no clients. You kinda get lost in the vic­to­ries of Jerry Maguire and some­times don’t re­alise the moral com­pro­mise that hap­pens along the way with the char­ac­ter.

Cruise was go­ing to play the role, but you had writ­ten it for Tom Hanks.

Hanks was the first guy to read it and was tempted by it, but he wanted to do That Thing

You Do!. His sug­ges­tion was John Tra­volta. But im­me­di­ately, know­ing how in de­mand Tom Hanks was, I had started think­ing about Tom Cruise pretty early on. I had met him a cou­ple of times and he had called me af­ter Say Any­thing... and said, “I re­ally love this movie and it would be fun to do some­thing to­gether.” That was on my mind. “Hey, re­mem­ber that con­ver­sa­tion we had?” He re­sponded im­me­di­ately when we sent it to him.

How much of you is in Jerry Maguire?

There’s a lot of me in it. I felt that Jerry Maguire’s jour­ney in the movie came from my life, for sure.

Was that some­thing you were go­ing through at the time? You’d had suc­cess up un­til that point. But were you won­der­ing about your path?

A lit­tle bit, a lit­tle bit. I was also keen on get­ting this thing in the script that is, when you’re re­ally down, of­ten you’re com­pletely sur­prised by the peo­ple that say, “I’m there for you.” Of­ten the peo­ple you de­pend on, when you’re truly down, don’t show up. This was heavy in my mind: a good friend of mine had told me at one point, “Hey man, if you ever need me, I’ll be there for you.” I took him up on it, which I never do. I try not to ask any­body for favours, but it was like, “I need you to be there for me.” This good friend of mine said, “Well, I didn’t say I’d be there for you!” And I re­mem­ber the shock of that. Wow. It’s so easy to have a mis­per­cep­tion about who your 

real friends are in this life. That, I felt very strongly about.

The name — where did that come from?

It’s re­ally true and so fun when you come up with a name that’s fun to say. I knew I wanted it to be Jerry, but I didn’t have a last name. I re­mem­bered my first edi­tor, who was a guy who ran an un­der­ground pa­per, and his name was Bill Maguire, spelt the same way. It came to me stand­ing on the street in San Diego, re­mem­ber­ing this guy, Bill Maguire. It be­came Jerry Maguire and never changed. They’d prob­a­bly test-mar­ket the hell out of it to­day and we would now be talk­ing about ‘You Com­plete Me’.

They’d find a way to get Bat­man in there.

Oh yeah. It would be called ‘Bat­man’!

In terms of your fil­mog­ra­phy, it has pierced the cul­tural bubble more than oth­ers. So many phrases from the movie have lived on. Do peo­ple quote it around you?

I see a lot of, “You had me at…” That’s al­ways funny. The coolest thing or big­gest sur­prise was see­ing it in Ge­orge Bush’s State Of The Union ad­dress. And Obama quoted, “Show me the money,” later too. That was pretty sur­real. There was no at­tempt to do a mass-ap­peal movie.

Where did, “Show me the money,” come from?

I was sit­ting in a ho­tel room with a wide re­ceiver named Tim Mcdon­ald. He was say­ing, “Man, I don’t have that much time left in my en­tire ca­reer. Where’s the money? Where’s the money? I gotta sup­port a fam­ily!” It grew from that. It was a no­ble thing for him. It wasn’t, “Greed is good.” So I thought his plain­tive, “Where’s the money?” could be­come a war cry. Show me the money.

How did you shoot it?

I shot ’em sep­a­rately but they were both there for each other. For Cuba’s side, the big walk­ing and talk­ing shot through the house, Tom was al­ready on Eyes Wide Shut. He was on the phone from Eng­land do­ing it. On his birthday. On Tom’s side, I had Cuba there in a car out­side the sound­stage, yelling his ass off. There was a stu­dio se­cu­rity guy that tried to bust him. He was like, “Who’s this guy in a car yelling, ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY!’ and, ‘I LOVE BLACK PEO­PLE!’” He had his hand on his gun walk­ing up to the car with Cuba.

Where did, “You com­plete me,” come from?

Some peo­ple later would say to me, “Do you re­alise that, ‘You com­plete me,’ is like a nar­cis­sists’ thing? You com­plete me so I get to love you be­cause you com­plete ME? Did you re­alise that it’s such a self­ish way of say­ing, ‘I love you?’”

[Laughs] It was only a cou­ple of years ago that I re­alised where it ac­tu­ally came from, while I was lis­ten­ing to the Joni Mitchell al­bum Court

And Spark again. It’s from the song Court And Spark, where she says, “You could com­plete me, I’d com­plete you.” I have a ter­ri­ble fear of public speak­ing but I sucked it up and gave a speech hon­our­ing Joni Mitchell a cou­ple of years ago. It was re­ally fun to be able to say to her this line that peo­ple had de­vel­oped an am­biva­lence for over time. But when I tell peo­ple it was ac­tu­ally an homage to Joni Mitchell now they go, “Oh, I get it.” It’s funny some­times how lyrics just in­vade your soul and come out in dif­fer­ent ways.

It’s been par­o­died and quoted a lot. Does that feel strange?

It’s fun. It’s used in the up­com­ing LEGO Bat­man movie too, I’m hon­oured to tell you. I’m hum­bled by the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. You never know if some­thing’s go­ing to res­onate or if it’s go­ing to af­fect peo­ple. “You com­plete me” seems so sim­ple. But I guess it was el­e­men­tal in a way, par­tic­u­larly the way Tom did it. He feels it so much. He dares you to laugh at it. That’s why I added, “We live in a cyn­i­cal world.” I an­tic­i­pated there would be some peo­ple who would laugh at a guy who says that.

Renée Zell­weger’s Dorothy says, “You had me at hello,” lit­er­ally sec­onds af­ter that…

That came in the mo­ment writ­ing it and never left the scene. That whole scene is in­flu­enced by the last scene in The Apart­ment. “Shut up and deal.” That kind of line and the way it felt when you’re watch­ing The Apart­ment is the way I wanted those lines to feel if we got lucky enough in Jerry Maguire. We did it so many dif­fer­ent ways be­cause I wasn’t sure which one would work. I think we even reshot it. I was kinda ob­ses­sive about how it would work in the right way. Renée had nailed it early on, of course. She had me at take two, I be­lieve.

Which brings us right back to Billy Wilder. Did he ever lament pass­ing on the role of Dicky Fox?

He did. He called me af­ter the movie, which was a big thrill. He said, “Who was this guy who played my part?” [Laughs] What was the Billy Bob Thorn­ton movie that came out that year?

Sling Blade.

Yes. He said, “I en­joy your pic­ture, I en­joy your pic­ture. But I think I en­joyed Sling Blade more.”

Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) re­alises that Dorothy (Renée Zell­weger) com­pletes him.

Be­low, from top: Lau­rel Boyd (Bon­nie Hunt) sup­ports sis­ter Dorothy; Jerry pulls a Say Any­thing... pose; Rod puts loy­alty above lu­cre; Kelly Pre­ston as Jerry’s fi­ancée Avery.

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