BY GENE TRIPLETT
LOS ANGELES — They say people will talk about you if you don’t show up for the party, and the absent Tom Cruise was the hot topic of conversation among the cast members and filmmakers of “Rock of Ages” when they gathered at the ritzy London Hotel last week to promote their film.
It’s Cruise, after all, who’s generating the most buzz for his electric portrayal of rock god Stacee Jaxx in the screen adaptation of Broadway’s musical comedy celebration of the ’80s.
“He really is, I mean, he is a rock god,” said Julianne Hough, the actress and two-time “Dancing with the Stars” champ who plays Sherrie Christian in the film.
“I would have loved to have seen him actually in the ’80s as Stacee Jaxx because I think he would have been the most sought-after rock star in the ’80s — if he would’ve been there,” she said.
Of course, unlike Hough, who wasn’t even born until 1988, Cruise was there, and he knows what it was like to become famous in that decade of hair metal decadence, even if he didn’t succumb to the same marathon-party temptations that ravage his character in “Rock of Ages.”
That was just one of the actor’s attributes that Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) considered when he was tapped to direct the film.
“For me he was the only candidate the second I said yes, because I’ll tell ya, his audition was ‘Tropic Thunder,’” Shankman said, referring to the Ben Stiller-directed 2008 action spoof featuring Cruise as a hotheaded, foul-mouthed movie studio executive.
“The second I saw him in ‘Tropic Thunder,’ I thought, ‘Oh my God, I never knew that this guy would commit to a comedic character with such success, and he’s hilarious and totally willing to take the p— out of himself.’ And I needed that from this character.
“When this became very real, I thought, ‘Oh my God, here I get one of the biggest movie stars in the world to play one of the biggest rock stars in the world, he’ll come with some knowledge of that discomfort about fame and talking about what this kind of fame is. He’ll have more knowledge than if I just got someone else. And (Cruise is) someone who had so much fame in the ’80s.’”
About the movie
“Rock of Ages” actually focuses on Hough’s character, Sherrie, a country girl from Oklahoma (Where else?), and city boy Drew (newcomer Diego Boneta), who meet and fall in love while working at the Bourbon Room, the hottest rock ‘n’ roll spot on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, circa 1987.
Both are hoping to hit it big in music, and club owner Dennis Dupree (a hilarious, long-haired Alec Baldwin) may be just the guy to give them their break, but his priority at the moment is to save his struggling club.
Enter Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, lead singer of Arsenal, who’s about to embark on a solo career and is bringing his band back to the Bourbon — the venue that launched them to stardom — for a farewell performance. It’s a show that could make or break Dupree’s club, and the success of the event hinges on whether Jaxx — a boozed-up, burned-out, hedonistic heel — will even show up.
All of this plays out to a soundtrack of ’80s hair metal hits by such acts as Def Leppard, Foreigner, Journey, Pat Benatar, Poison, Twisted Sister and others, and most of the lead cast
members (Hough, Boneta, Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige and Cruise) sing those tunes themselves — which required a bit of voice training for some.
Hough’s musical success has been in country, with a self-titled hit album in 2008, and Boneta is an award-winning pop singer in Latin America.
“What was really fun was taking Julianne and Diego and explaining to them who they were and how they fit in,” Shankman said. “Educating them, kicking the country out of her voice, kicking the boy-band out of his voice, sending them to kind of rock star college.”
This involved a vocal consultant, choreographers and even guitar consultant Eric Jackson, who taught both Boneta and Cruise to play for the film. Jackson also had his students study the stage moves of such rock royalty as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Slash and Eric Clapton, as well as some of the artists whose music they’d be playing, including Brett Michaels, Jon Bon Jovi and Dee Snider.
The star pupil turned out to be Cruise.
“We took him to a voice coach, and he worked with him in one session,” Shankman said. “Believe me, I was holding a glass to the door. It was amazing, the range that was coming out of him and the size of his voice. Every note is him. I mean, the last challenge I threw at him was ‘Paradise City’ (by Guns N’ Roses), and I turned to (Executive Music Producer) Adam Anders, I said, ‘Is he gonna be able to do it?’ He said, ‘We’ll see,’ and he came in and he knocked it out.”
Cruise apparently proved himself to be quite the athletic hoofer, too, impressing even Hough, the prizewinning professional ballroom dancer. In fact, one song and dance scene with Hough and Cruise was deemed too hot for a PG-13, and had to be cut from the film.
Hough called it a “musical lap dance.”
“‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ was the duet I did with Tom, and it is bad (expletive deleted),” Hough said. “I mean it is really (expletive deleted). Literally, this was like the sexiest … performance in the movie, and I think it was a little too much for people. I think people — especially mothers — didn’t like Sherrie after that, so they cut it out. But it will be out on the DVD for sure.
“This is the most physical dancing that I saw Tom do,” she said. “I can’t wait for him to see that, too. He was just amazing.”
Boneta recalled that Cruise’s performances also impressed several real ’80s rock stars who were present on the set to do cameos.
“Joe Elliott of Def Leppard went up to Tom and goes (affecting a British accent), ‘You’re a movie star, you’re a rock star.’ I mean, what can’t Tom do?” Boneta said. “And not only is he very talented, but he’s just as humble as he is talented. That’s my favorite combination.”
Shankman enthusiastically agreed.
“I now think there is actually nothing Tom Cruise can’t do,” the director said. “If someone asked him to play an invisible water buffalo he would do it very successfully. He’d probably say, ‘Give me some time. Let me work on it.’”