Rock of Ages: Tom Cruise
The casting of Stacee Jaxx turned out to be somewhat serendipitous. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we got one of the biggest movie stars in the world to play one of the biggest rock stars in the world?’” Shankman reflects. “And, as luck would have it, I ran into Tom Cruise, told him I was directing this movie, that it was a musical, and that I was going to offer him this part. He said, ‘Are you serious?’ I said I was. Then I described Stacee to him and he laughed really hard. The next thing I knew, he was in, and I was making a musical with Tom Cruise.”
To play the role, Cruise underwent a complete transformation, and Shankman admired his diligence. “From the moment he signed on, Tom started training his voice with an incredible vocal coach, Ron Anderson. I remember the first time we heard him sing. He’s got this outrageous, four-octave range—turns out he has opera singers in his ancestry, so he’s probably genetically predisposed to sing, but no one’s ever asked him to before. I’m just the lucky recipient of this revelation, I suppose,” he smiles.
With an entourage at his beck and call 24/7 and groupies professing their undying love for him at every turn, only one individual has the integrity to see Stacee Jaxx for who he really is: Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack.
The hard-hitting journalist is played by Malin Akerman, who says, “Constance comes to The Bourbon to interview Stacee Jaxx, who is on the road to becoming a washed-up rock star but who was a truly great rocker in his early days. She really believed in him, so she’s frustrated that he’s given up. And he’s clearly never met a woman who has stood up to him before, which intrigues him, excites him, and confuses him all at once. But when she tries to pull the truth out of him, things don’t go quite as she’d planned.”
Constance may have difficulty getting Stacee to open up to her, but, Akerman says, Cruise couldn’t have been easier to work with. “Tom not only wants the scene to be great, he wants you to shine in it. He’s so respectful and generous. It was an amazing experience working with him.”
The rock ‘n’ roll life is not entirely foreign to the actress, who is married to a drummer and who was briefly in a band herself. “I’ve never had to sing while acting and handling so much choreography before, but every single lyric has such meaning that it wasn’t hard to find my way through, and I think I did justice to the song.”
“When we met with Malin, she came in totally prepared,” Garrett Grant says. “She wore glasses, a little business suit, and she nailed it. She didn’t try to be funny; it just came across in her performance. And when it came time to shoot, she played the role absolutely perfectly.”
Constance’s interview is arranged by Jaxx’s manager, Paul Gill, who struggles to control his uncooperative client’s image, but not necessarily with Stacee’s best interests at heart.
Paul Giamatti, however, puts it a little more bluntly. “He’s a sleazy, manipulative jerk who’s in it to squeeze as much money as he can out of the artists he manages,” the actor states. “He and Stacee have a very dysfunctional relationship. Stacee may be a monster, but Paul created the monster, and now the monster is terrifying to him. It’s a pretty sick association at this point.”
“Paul Giamatti was at the top of our wish list to play the manager, and we were thrilled when he said yes,” Gibgot relates. “He took what was on the page and made it even better than we’d ever imagined.”
Gill is in it for the money, and he knows that Arsenal’s farewell performance—which all hinges on Stacee’s frame of mind—will make or break the struggling Bourbon Room. But still he only sees dollar signs, despite the desperate pleas of club owner Dennis Dupree, played by Alec Baldwin.
“Alec is a friend, and I was thrilled to have him in the movie,” Shankman says. “I got to direct him singing and dancing, and he was just awesome.”
Baldwin found a unique way to look at his character. “Dennis Dupree’s whole life has been music. Rock ‘n’ roll is his religion and The Bourbon Room is his church, which I guess makes him the pastor.” The actor, who has gone on record as being much more a fan of classical music than rock, kept an open mind. “The ’80s is about when I turned off the radio,” he quips, “but there’s just as much good music from that era as from any other, and it was a lot of fun to revisit it through this character.”
Dupree’s best friend and sounding board at the club is his technician, Lonny, played by comedian and actor Russell Brand. Baldwin says of his on-screen partner, “Nothing could have prepared me for what an incredibly clever, funny and alive person Russell is.”
“Lonny represents the spirit of rock as the spirit of freedom and change,” Brand says of his character. “He and Dennis are true rock ‘n’ roll veterans, and Lonny’s devoted to the music and to the club.”
“Russell was basically the one person I thought of who could get away with playing this part,” Shankman allows. “He’s out of his mind, and I love him. He brings so much fun to the table because he’s so unpredictable, and absolutely brilliant.”
The pair provides a good deal of comedy in the film, much of which was instigated by Brand on the set, who says Baldwin had no problem jumping in. “Alec was very happy to accommodate however I was improvising in the scene, and he really encouraged me. He’s charismatic, authoritative and playful; I liken him to a great British theatrical knight. Plus he’s got endless anecdotes and spellbinding, twinkling eyes,” he teases.
Resolved to keep the club up and rocking, Dennis and Lonny have more trouble to contend with than just Stacee Jaxx’s commitment issues. Patricia Whitmore, wife of the mayor, has declared war on the Sunset Strip, and her inaugural battleground is The Bourbon Room. The character does not appear in the stage musical.
“We created the role of the mayor’s wife in order to revisit the cultural censorship that was going on in that period,” Shankman says.
Catherine Zeta-Jones took on the film’s villainous role. “I think Patricia Whitmore is the kind of woman who sees her role as first lady of Los Angeles as being much more important than her husband’s role as mayor, and there’s no question as to who wears the pants in the family,” Zeta-Jones suggests. “She’s an outspoken activist who feels rock ‘n’ roll is satanic music, and she creates a campaign to clean up what she believes is the real filth sullying her city’s streets: rock music.”
The actress didn’t even see a script before she agreed to play the part. “When Adam called me up, I just said, ‘When do I start?’ I knew it would be a blast and I had to be a part of it.”
“Patricia is a strong woman, so we needed an actress with a lot of presence. Casting Catherine was a dream for me that basically came true,” Shankman says.
While Patricia Whitmore threatens to forever alter life on the Strip, Justice, owner of the Venus Gentlemen’s Club, makes her living on it. A woman who has paved her own way, she literally picks Sherrie up when she’s at her lowest, a place Justice has undoubtedly been herself.
Mary J. Blige, who plays her, offers, “Justice sees herself in Sherrie. She’s been down that road, she’s been in that alley crying over some guy, and she understands this young girl’s self-esteem is fragile. So, in the kind of place where some people would look at women as powerless, Justice’s goal is to make them strong, to show them how to take their power back from the place that it was lost in their life.”
“Mary J. is an unbelievable artist; there isn’t anything she can’t sing. She can roll out of bed and hit any note you throw at her,” Grant says. “And she’s a sweet, lovely person on top of it. I think Adam would’ve had her in every scene if he could have.”
To add a subtle touch of authenticity to the film, the filmmakers invited several recording artists—many of whose songs are featured in the movie—and stage performers to appear in cameos, including Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme; Night Ranger’s Joel Hoekstra; Debbie Gibson; Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach; REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin; from the stage version of “Rock of Ages,” Constantine Maroulis; several members of the musical’s U.S. touring cast; and “Saturday Night Live” actor Will Forte.
“Top to bottom, we have a remarkable cast in this movie,” Shankman declares. “You start out with a wish list, and we were so fortunate as to get really everyone we wanted. We were truly blessed.”
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