Adam Shankman :: Back to the 1980s with ’Rock of Ages’
Adam Shankman is no stranger to a challenge. The out film director, who also happens to produce, dance, actor and choreograph in pretty much every entertainment medium has a little of everything on his extensive resume. He directed Paula Abdul’s "Opposite Attracts" video, has judged dance hopefuls on Fox’s "So You Think You Can Dance?" since the third season, directed the movie adaptation of "Hairspray" and now is taking on moving "Rock Of Ages" from stage to screen this Friday.
In the movie, young Sherrie (Julianne Hough) comes to Hollywood with big dreams and ends up working at the legendary Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip where she meets Drew (Diego Boneta) and romance blossoms. But the future of the club is in jeopardy as a conservative group (led by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston) wants to close down the Strip, much to the chagrin of club owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin) and his BFF, Lonny (Russell Brand).
Ironically, while the film focuses much on the Sherrie/Drew love story, the other romance in the film that is just as entertaining (if not more so) and charged with comedy and a hint of true affection is the one between Dennis and Lonny.
Also a large part of the film is the presence of legendary rocker Stacee Jax (Tom Cruise, chewing up scenery left and right), who is the embodiment of all the hard lives that rock stars often live. "Rock of Ages" also features Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige and Paul Giamatti. The film’s script was written by Justin Theroux and Chris D’Arienzo.
EDGE’s Jim Halterman grabbed some 1:1 time with Shankman to talk about the film and the challenges he faced in putting it together.
A kind-of dark story
EDGE: Talk to me about the tone of the film, which is so much fun. Was it difficult to find that or did it come together more organically?
Adam Shankman:: Let’s put it this way. I don’t go into anything not knowing exactly what it’s going to be and I knew this was going to be a really tricky one because I needed it to be really funny but I said, you do realize - and I’m talking about the source material - that it’s kind of a dark story.
It’s a cautionary tale and it’s a story about people losing their integrity but by all means everyone gets it back and are rewarded for it. But I was super aware that it was going to be a slippery slope. But it’s funny that talking about the movie I was like, ’Guys, there’s some dark stuff here.’ To be perfectly honest, at this point, I’m nothing if not self-aware and I do happy. It’s kind of what I do.
10 million percent
EDGE: I just watched "Hairspray" last week and it reminded me that you took a lot of actors, some who weren’t used to singing and dancing, and you made it work. What were the different challenges with "Rock Of Ages?"
Adam Shankman: Well, actually, in that one, all of the adult movie stars had been in musicals before so they all knew exactly what they were doing as opposed to this one where a lot of them didn’t know.
What was so incredible about Tom is that he was so excited to experience what it is to rehearse like that and to acquire and master these other skills. There’s no 100% with him. There’s 10 million percent. I would be yelling at him. I would get in fights with him and say ’This is dangerous! You’re going to throw out your voice. I need you healthy.’ He was just in it, ya know?
EDGE: And Tom was shirtless and in assless chaps a lot more than Diego, who is probably 20 years younger than him!
Adam Shankman: Diego didn’t get to do it because Diego wasn’t a rock star yet. You only give those kinds of things to rock stars. There’s a brilliant documentary "The Decline of Western Civilization" and there is an interview that Paul Stanley does naked with four girls -- it’s a real interview. I warned Tom about it and then everything kept evolving from there.
EDGE: Tell me about Tom’s scene with Malin Akerman that is basically a tongue-dance between them. How do you even begin to choreograph that?
Adam Shankman: In the script, Justin Theroux had written ’the tonguiest kiss ever shot on film’ so at that point I said go for it. We did the first take and I almost threw up. Then I walked up to them and said ’Do it again. That was brilliant. Blech.’
EDGE: How important was chemistry in the casting of the Dennis/Lonny roles? Did you think about chemistry with the two men the same as you did with, say, Diego and Julianne?
Adam Shankman: I did. I knew that you can’t manufacture that and it was totally essential. [Alec and Russell] didn’t know each other. I knew them both and Russell is the most lovely man on the planet. He’s so out there and Alec is like a bull in a china shop. Alec couldn’t even get through scenes with Russell because he was laughing so hard and they basically, weirdly, they got man crushes on each other.
They knew what they were going into and knew what they were going to be doing and that’s how I sold it to them. I said, ’Basically, Alec, you’re a guy who got stuck in the Sixties and you started smoking so much pot that in twenty-seven years you smoked so much dope that you didn’t even realize you were gay.’ Then, I basically said to Russell, ’You play Alec Baldwin’s boyfriend’ and he was like ’I’m in!’
Love so sweet
EDGE: Times have changed so much because I remember seeing Madonna’s "Truth or Dare" when people groaned. But when the two guys kissed and in the screening of "Rock of Ages," they cheered.
Adam Shankman: Well, we couldn’t have Alec and Russell do what Tom and Malin did. But their love was so sweet and those two were so bloody sweet together.
EDGE: As for music, how did you decide what songs would make the movie and which would not?
Adam Shankman: The [Broadway] show is so long, you know? But, also, we had this unbelievable thing where some other artists opened up their catalog to us like Guns N Roses and Def Leppard and Joan Jett, specifically, so I sort of took advantage of that. Knowing that the movie had to be shorter and knowing where I needed to focus the movie and did what I did to tell the story in my way. I just stuck with the music that specifically worked.
"Rock Of Ages" opens nationwide this Friday. For more, visit the movie’s website.
Watch the trailer to ’Rock of Ages’: