Director Adam Shankman amps up for Rock of Ages

Prepping his film, director Adam Shankman discovered Tom Cruise’s “insane” voice.

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      LOS ANGELES—Adam Shankman was a high-profile choreographer who had produced and directed several films when he was approached about directing a filmed version of the Broadway musical Hairspray.

      Despite his résumé, he was still humble. In an interview room at a Los Angeles hotel, he says he felt it was important to ask permission of John Waters—who had created the 1988 film on which the musical was based—out of respect for the work. He says the advice he received not only got him through Hairspray, but it also later helped him believe he could follow up with the filmed adaptation of the Broadway musical Rock of Ages.

      “I emailed him and said: ‘Dear Mr. Waters, my name is Adam Shankman and I have been asked to make a musical from Hairspray and I hope you don’t mind.’ Then I was in [Waters’s hometown of] Baltimore making a movie, and I wrote and said, ‘I am in Baltimore,’ and he said, ‘Let’s have lunch.’ At lunch, he said: ‘Don’t do what I did. Don’t do what the play did. You can only do what you do. You have to tell your movie through your own filter. It will be a disaster if you try to pander to whomever you think the audience is. You can change anything as long you make a good movie, because everyone involved in the original material will forgive you.’ ”

      Rock of Ages stars Tom Cruise as an aging rock star who returns to the club where he got his start to do one more show. The film, like the play, creates its scenes from hit songs of the 1980s. (It opens in Vancouver next Friday [June 15].) When Shankman approached Cruise about making the movie, he didn’t know if Cruise could sing a note. He was pretty sure, though, that the actor wouldn’t do the film unless he thought he could get the songs right.

      “I thought it would be great to get the world’s biggest movie star to play one of the world’s biggest rock stars. I think he was stunned that someone would ask him to do this. He took it seriously, and he was working with a vocal coach while he was prepping Mission: Impossible, so he had a year of back and forth to work on this. The vocal coach said, ‘It’s insane. He has this big voice.’ I was there, and I heard it all with a glass on the door. When he was done with the coaching, he said: ‘Let’s do this.’ ”

      The movie is set in the mid-1980s, an era that Shankman feels was one of the more fun times in recent American social history. “It was the last time this country was innocent. You could have all the sex you wanted because there was no AIDS. And you could do all the drugs you wanted because there was no rehab. Rock stars could throw furniture out of hotels and people loved it. So there were no consequences. It was a party.”

      Watch the trailer for Rock of Ages.