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.