Adam Shankman successfully brought Hairspray to life after it became a musical on Broadway. Now the director is charged with bringing another Great White Way smash to the big screen with Rock of Ages. Considering he has Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Malin Akerman, Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta… casting spectacularly is a great start. The director spoke with Movie Fanatic and said that putting this film together had him feeling like a certain character played by Russell Crowe.
“It was actually scary because you had to do this A Beautiful Mind thing. You’re tracking all these storylines. With Hairspray, there was a nice little train that you got on. This was like tracking all these different stories with less time than I had on Hairspray and the exact same amount of money. Basically everything in this movie is made of paste and papier-mache.”
He began with a crystal clear picture of what he wanted to do: Pen a love letter to his youthful days inhabiting the Sunset Strip-adoring 1980s music, a stone’s throw away from where Movie Fanatic is meeting him at the London Hotel. “I grew up two miles down the street. My dad’s office was around the corner. He was a music business manager. I graduated in 1982 and I lived in this world,” Shankman said.
“I wasn’t a metal head, but this music was on MTV. Every other video was Hot for Teacher, Pour Some Sugar on Me, White Snake or Twisted Sister… whether or not you had them in your Walkman, they were everywhere.”
In Rock of Ages, Shankman wanted to capture the last era where rock stars were expected to act outrageously and be rewarded for it instead of lambasted. “The news was full of the antics of these guys. These were guys who could throw a couch out of a window of a hotel and it was a funny thing! I wanted to make sure that I was honoring that,” Shankman said.
The filmmaker also did not want to make a film that made fun of the era. “The period makes fun of itself for God’s sake,” he added. “It’s its own gimmick, a joke, so to speak. Shoulder pads, come on!”
Rock of Ages, the film, began with a suggestion from the person who would eventually star and would subsequently blow us out of the water with his performance (stay with Movie Fanatic for our review June 15). “Tom Cruise is the first person who said to me, ‘Dude, when are we going to make a musical?’ He was laughing because Suri’s favorite movie was Hairspray,” Shankman proudly said.
“Then when this opportunity came up, I thought, ‘Oh my God, if I could get one of the biggest movie stars in the world to play one of the biggest rock stars in the world, that would be amazing! I’ll tell you what was his audition for this movie: Tropic Thunder. So knowing he could commit to a comedic character the way that he commits to a dramatic character, there’s no 100 percent with him, there’s only ten billion percent. I knew it was going to fly.”
When it came to the voices, although Cruise is sensational at singing, Shankman zeroed in on an R&B superstar he’s dreamed of working with. “The first person I wanted in the movie was Mary J. (Blige),” Shankman said. “Why did I choose to start with Mary J. Blige? [Laughs] She’s Mary J. Blige!”
Shankman made the conscious decision to alter certain parts of the Broadway production to make it work for the screen -- something that was quite time consuming, but all-important. His inspiration came from the man whom he inherited Hairspray from. “When I got Hairspray I emailed John Waters (creator of the first film the musical is based on) and said, ‘Dear Mr. Waters, my name is Adam Shankman. I was just invited to direct the musical of Hairspray, hope you don’t mind, love Adam.’ I was in Baltimore making the first Step Up at the time and he immediately emailed me back saying, ‘So, where are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m in Baltimore,’ and he said, ‘So am I! Let’s have lunch.’”
What Waters told Shankman worked brilliantly for Hairspray and it's his same modus operandi for Rock of Ages. “He told me, ‘Do not do what I did. Do not do what the play did. You can only do what you do. You have to tell the story through your own filter otherwise it will be a disaster. You can change anything as long as you make a good movie.’ With this one, I just had to go with how I thought the story was told most honestly.”