Ethan Hits the Sunset Strip of the 80's Visiting the 'Rock of Ages' Set
by Ethan Anderton
May 31, 2012
Films have the ability to transport us back in time, visit places and see people we might never have known. In my case, I was fortunate enough to take part in one of these journeys in person as Warner Bros. invited myself and other writers to Miami, where director Adam Shankman had used some industrial streets of the city to recreate part of the iconic Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, but only as it was seen in the 80's for his adaptation of Rock of Ages. Big hair and fishnets roam the streets, leather clad bikers cruise by, and then there's Julianne Hough lip syncing her rendition of David Lee Roth's "Just Like Paradise." Read on!
Looking around at Sunset Strip highlights like Carney's train car restaurant, Whiskey-a-Go-Go, The Comedy Store and more, combined with the decades old cars and billboards for companies and radio stations long since retired (which the production design team replicated from real photographs of Los Angeles in the 80's), it feels like were back in time, even though many of us never even witnessed this city during this decade. Right on the corner of one of the blocks is The Bourbon Room, where plenty of action will take place at a different point in the film.
But right now, we're outside as an innocent Julianne Hough is somehow enjoying the not so bright lights of Hollywood as police scramble to snag a homeless, thieving druggie, and hookers look up and down Hough, assessing her worth on the street. However, this singular take that we watch a few times doesn't represent the movie as a whole. No, this isn't another Broadway musical that men will be dragged to by their girlfriends and wives. As director Adam Shankman tells us about his inspiration for turning the stage musical Rock of Ages into a film that wouldn't just get the girls going:
"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."
Now for those who have seen the stage musical, which runs about two hours and forty minutes long, this isn't an exact lift of the story from the stage to the screen. But Shankman made us aware that not every fan of the musical will be pleased. The director explains:
"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 lose 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.
When 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."
But of course, that doesn't mean there isn't still the bulk of the stellar 80's soundtrack to keep fans interested. Shankman talks about the jukebox nature of the musical and how he's included as much as possible, including mashing up some familiar tunes to great effect for a total of about 23 songs. Shankman explains how he chose which songs to keep and mash together:
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.
Plus, there's also some original songs which Shankman added in:
Porcelain [Black] 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.
And it's the big stars singing these songs that will make this musical all the more fun. In fact, it's the inclusion of Tom Cruise as rock star Stacee Jaxx that is getting plenty of eyes on the film. Cruise will be belting tunes like "Pour Some Sugar on Me" from Def Leppard, and we were lucky enough to see footage that had only been seen by some select eyes. In fact, this footage hasn't even been showed in full, and his rendition of the song has not bee fully released yet. Honestly, Cruise is going to blow people away with this performance. He inhabits the personality of an 80's rock star, and you won't even see Tom Cruise in the role. It's like an extension of his turn as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, but with a lot less fat suit, and plenty more rock.
Shankman talks about getting Cruise in the film and his dedication to the role, "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." But the story behind meeting Cruise is actually the most entertaining:
"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.
And 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."
But being Cruise's first musical, no one was really sure how this was going to work. Thankfully, Shankman and Cruise were both dedicated to making it as genuine as possible:
"We both agreed that we weren’t gonna do it unless we knew he could sing. I knew he could dance because he did this little thing with Katie [Holmes] 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 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."
And aside from the dancing, in a musical, it's the singing that is more important. And Tom Cruise can sing like a beast:
"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.
And 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.”
You have to respect an actor like that, and the footage we were shown just got us more excited to see his full performance in the film. Basically, Rock of Ages will take us back to a time where bands like Journey, Bon Jovi and Poison ruled the airwaves. It's an entertaining journey back to the decade that pokes fun at the fashions and such, but in a way that is still respectful of the time. It's essentially tongue-in-cheek, but not anywhere near parody. It's a musical that will have audiences singing in the theaters with all the familiar tunes on display in front of them.
Not much of the cast was on set, but if the couple trailers are any indicator, the rest of the cast including Malin Akerman, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Diego Boneta, Mary J. Blige, and Bryan Cranston will be singing their hearts out for a damn fun musical. And if all goes well, this will be more than just an 80's themed "Glee" episode, thanks to the spectacular, musically inclined direction of Adam Shankman, and plenty of manly, straight dudes will be singing along to all the greatest hits of the 80's when the film hits theaters on June 15th this summer. Sound good?