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SOUND OFF Special Interview: Adam Shankman Talks ROCK OF AGES, HAIRSPRAY & More

Today we are talking to the noted director of one of the most successful stage-to-screen adaptations of the new century, HAIRSPRAY, about his brand new feature film adaptation of Broadway's currently running 80s stadium rock smash hit ROCK OF AGES - the eminently talented Adam Shankman. Discussing the starry cast of ROCK OF AGES - Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Mary J. Blige and more - as well as the expanded songstack of the reconceived film version - which now includes Joan Jett's "I Love Rock N Roll" and Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me", among others - Shankman imparts his infectious enthusiasm for the movie musical genre and expresses his relishment of the exciting possibilities afforded by this heavy metal jukebox property in particular - and his amazement in discovering its incredible effect on audiences of all ages, around the world. Additionally, Shankman reminisces about his experiences filming HAIRSPRAY and confirms his future re-teaming with HAIRSPRAY and HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL superstar Zac Efron on an upcoming film comedy which begins shooting next month, titled THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, co-starring Jason Bateman and Goldie Hawn. Plus, memories of choreographing Paul Thomas Anderson's BOOGIE NIGHTS, directing two episodes of GLEE, working with Carrie Ann Inaba on ROCKULA more than twenty years ago (his film debut), anecdotes about SMASH - and much, much more!

ROCK OF AGES opens in movie theaters nationwide on June 15. The soundtrack is available now. More information is available here.

Jukebox Hero

PC: HAIRSPRAY is one of the finest movie musicals of this century - or ever, frankly. It's pretty perfect, I must say, and you are to be highly commended for your work on it.

AS: Oh, my God! That is a hell of a way to start off this conversation, Pat! [Laughs.] Bring it on!

PC: It's true!

AS: Thank you so much for that, though - I really appreciate it.

PC: Considering your fantastic work with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman on that film, have you been approached to direct SMASH yet?

AS: Well, actually, they talked to me for a second about doing the season finale because I guess somebody fell out who was supposed to do the finale, but, then, I guess they came back. So... that ended that.

PC: Season Two is coming, though.

AS: Oh, yeah! We'll see how it goes - you never know. I am doing my next film here in New York, so I'll be around this Summer.

PC: Will that film be your follow-up to ROCK OF AGES - THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU?

AS: Yes. THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU will probably be starting in July, actually - really soon. It's a Fall movie, so we have to get it done.

PC: You work fast! Is your HAIRSPRAY and HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAl collaborator Zac Efron going to play the lead?

AS: Oh, yeah - he's just my itty bitty little baby, you know?! [Laughs.] We just love him so much.

PC: How can you not?! His "Ladies' Choice" and the other new songs are all true highlights of the film of HAIRSPRAY.

AS: Yeah - isn't he fabulous? Just amazing.

PC: ROCK OF AGES has a considerable amount of new songs not in the stage play - to start with, can you tell me about how you chose what you did? Had you seen the stage play originally?

AS: Yes, I did see it on Broadway, and, actually, I found it a little difficult to watch the show and kind of know what was really going on...

PC: Why so?

AS: Because the audience was going so crazy!

PC: They are known for being very vocal.

AS: Yeah! Yeah. So, for me, the audience became its own piece of theatre - at least to me. So, I was sitting there and thinking to myself, "Oh, my God! What is happening in this room right now?!" And, that was kind of what triggered it all for me - because, you know, the play is fun and it's a great ride and all of that stuff, but the audience reaction is so out of control!

PC: That's the element that drew you into the ROCK OF AGES universe.

AS: Yeah! I felt like, "There is really something here." So, then, I said yes to doing it and we started developing it from there. And, since I was obviously working with the same studio who did HAIRSPRAY, they really wanted to model it on the way we approached that.

PC: Which was a unusually smooth process - especially for a movie musical; yes?

AS: Yes. So, they were very clear that they wanted us to do ROCK OF AGES exactly the same way that we did HAIRSPRAY - which, first, meant getting big movie stars in key roles.

PC: A dicey proposition. How did you manage to land Tom Cruise?

AS: Well, Tom Cruise is also a fan of HAIRSPRAY, and, because of Suri, he has seen it a billion times, so he made some off-handed joke to me at a party we were both at, saying, you know, "Let's make a musical," and that was that. Then, when this opportunity came up a little while later, I called him and said, "I think I actually have one for you - at least if you can really sing, I have something."

PC: And what a delicious role Stacee Jaxx is!

AS: It was right after he had done MISSION [4] that we started, so we talked about it for about a year - I was developing this and bunch of other projects at the same time. So, then, when he came back, we went to a vocal coaching session together and I discovered he had this giant, fabulous voice... I mean, have you heard the soundtrack yet?

PC: Of course - his voice is absolutely astounding; shocking, really. I can't believe the falsetto in "Rock You Like A Hurricane" and "Pour Some Sugar On Me", especially.

AS: Oh, I'm so glad you love it, Pat - I mean, isn't it insane? He has like a four-octave range! So, yeah - it was very apparent very quickly to me that he could do this.

PC: What a casting coup.

AS: It was, but, you know, I have to say, though, that it was very much the same thing in HAIRSPRAY - where the fans of the show have a very seriously strong point of view; and many wanted Constantine. I actually - swear to God - received death threats when I didn't cast Constantine in this.

PC: No way!

AS: I did - I really did. I was like, "Seriously, guys?! Death threats?!" I mean, that's crazy...

PC: It really is. Were you aware of or even considering Constantine Maroulis for a role?

AS: Oh, I've known Constantine for ages - I've known him since he did IDOL. I knew Constantine way before ROCK OF AGES on Broadway.

PC: He spoke so favorably of filming his cameo in the film when he did this column a few months ago.

AS: Oh, that's nice of him - but, you know, I just felt like I had to do the right thing; Constantine is just such a part of the mythology of ROCK OF AGES that he just had to appear somewhere in the film. He just had to be in this movie somewhere!

PC: It was destined to be - and you deemed it so; in "Any Way You Want It", which is a highlight.

AS: Oh, thank you! You know, it just barely, barely worked out in his schedule and everything, though - and we were really just lucky to get him when we did.

PC: It's sure to appease his multitude of fans, as well - and fulfill the legacy of the show for the film iteration.

AS: I hope so - and, really, to me, it felt to a certain extent the same as having John Waters appear in HAIRSPRAY as the Flasher during "Good Morning Baltimore", you know?

PC: A star cameo if ever there were any!

AS: Or Ricki Lake, too, in that! You know, it's one of those things where I don't think about it very much, I just do it. It's about crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. And, it worked!

PC: Ricki told me some great stories about her time spent on set in HAIRSPRAY when she did this column - she particularly loved having her cameo alongside you, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman at the end.

AS: Oh, that was hilarious - she's really lovely. But, I have to say, that was a real experience on that day - I don't know if Marc and Scott told you, but there was some serious drama back then so it was pretty much a nightmare to film that scene. [Laughs.]

PC: I was curious: did you originally meet Tom Cruise through Paul Thomas Anderson - who you did BOOGIE NIGHTS with and Tom did MAGNOLIA with - by chance?

AS: No - actually, I met Tom for the first time, oddly, at Sadie Sandler's first birthday party; Adam Sandler's daughter.

PC: So, it was a BEDTIME STORIES connection, then.

AS: Yeah - yeah.

PC: How do you look back on BOOGIE NIGHTS fifteen years later? The disco scene you choreographed in that is perhaps the most iconic moment from the film - and one of the most memorable musical moments in a movie from the 90s; which was a desert for any musical sequences at all, really.

AS: Oh, I know! I'm flattered to hear you say that, though! You know, that's one of those scenes where the choreography was so simple - it was basically just step-touch, step-touch - but, you're right; everyone remembers it.

PC: Why do you think that is?

AS: Well, I think it's because the spirit of it was fun and it was very period correct and it was winking without being campy - and, you know, it was just fun to see. Actually, it marks the turning point in the film - the point where it goes from being a pretty light movie to being a... very, very dark movie. [Laughs.]

PC: You can say that again! It gets about as bleak as you can get after that scene.

AS: But, as you know, I have built a whole career on those types of moments; just one-offs like that scene - and a lot of people don't even know I did any of them.

PC: From your 1990 screen debut in ROCKULA all the way to ROCK OF AGES over twenty years later!

AS: [Sighs.] Oh, God - ROCKULA. Yeah - Carrie Ann Inaba is in that with me, though, you know; as one of the Draculettes!

PC: I had no idea!

AS: She is! She is! I love that we are in that together - if nothing else. [Laughs.]

PC: Could you take me through the process of creating the epic medleys in ROCK OF AGES with your music supervisor Adam Andrews - specifically, "Jukebox Hero/I Love Rock N Roll", "We Built This City/We're Not Gonna Take It"?

AS: Well, a lot of it came out of just the pure and simple notion of opening up the movie - expanding it; making it bigger. You know, that's why I put those arena scenes in there, because I was like, "How do you tell a story about arena rock and never show how the scene of Stacee Jaxx actually really is - and what he's high off of?" you know, all of that stuff. So, part of the process was that I thought it would be very important in the third act to build to this protest - and, it wasn't really until we landed on the whole Catherine Zeta-Jones/Bryan Cranston story that we figured out how to make it work.

PC: "We Built This City/We're Not Gonna Take It".

AS: Right. That only came into being about a month before we started shooting. OK, how weird is this? The TV is on right now and Twisted Sister just came on TV. There's Dee Snider! So weird we're talking about this...

PC: How crazy is that? Dee Snider actually released a Broadway album very recently, too, you know.

AS: No way! He did? I didn't know that.

PC: How did you get the rights to Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me"? I've heard they were reticent to let it be used in the original stage show - as were many other artists.

AS: They were. Def Leppard, Joan Jett and Guns N Roses opened up their catalogs to us. So, I just knew, for myself - because a lot of that stuff is some of my favorite stuff - that I absolutely had to put it in the movie. I think that "Come On Feel The Noise" is a very fun, anthemic song in the stage show, but, in order to deliver really who Tom's character in the movie was, I definitely wanted "Pour Some Sugar On Me".

PC: A wiser - and wilder - choice.

AS: Yeah - I mean, I wanted it to really affect his back and forth with Constance [Malin Akerman]. Tom was like, "But I really like 'Come On Feel The Noise', Adam!" And, I was like, "We'll do 'Come On Feel The Noise' later, Tom. Just stop it, OK? I want some 'Sugar'!" [Laughs.]

PC: That's so funny.

AS: That's pretty much how that all really went down - I got my "Sugar".

PC: As someone who was born in the 1980s and doesn't really remember them, is this film perfect for my generation - something to elicit a bygone era and recreate its excitement?

AS: A million, trillion, bajillion percent! It's just a giant party, Pat! I just think that some movies are just made to be fun - and this movie was made to be fun, you know?

PC: "Don't need nothing but a good time?" - to quote Poison - right?

AS: [Laughs.] Exactly! You know, also, if you liked HAIRSPRAY, this is the same thing - ROCK OF AGES is like HAIRSPRAY except with booze and strippers and bigger hair.

PC: Sounds like a blast!

AS: At the center of the story, it's basically, "Nothing is worth anything without love," and, the other element is, you know, "You can't stop the beat!"

PC: Just like in HAIRSPRAY.

AS: Exactly. And, you know - you can't end rock n roll; I don't care who you are! Rock n roll is here to stay; it's eternal - just as we say in the movie. So, I think that those two things make it a much more universal film than even the stage show is - and, it's just such a fun, party experience. I am hoping audiences really love it.

PC: Is WICKED going to be your next movie musical? I have heard that you really want it - and you would be sublime doing it, I think.

AS: From your mouth to God's ears, man! I'm trying.

PC: Thank you so much, Adam - this was a real thrill. ROCK OF AGES is sure to be another smash hit along the lines of HAIRSPRAY. I can't wait to see all you do in the future!

AS: Aww. Thanks to you, too, Pat - this was fabulous. Talk to you later. Bye.

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)