‘Rock Of Ages’ Spotlights A Tom Cruise You’ve Never Seen

'He's a guy who loves challenges,' enthuses director Adam Shankman, as part of MTV News' Summer Movie Preview Week.
By Amy Wilkinson

Tom Cruise in "Rock of Ages"
Photo: Warner Bros

This summer, the city — and the cinema — will be built on rock and roll when "Rock of Ages" packs its ax, journeying from Broadway to a theater near you.

Set in Los Angeles and featuring the biggest jams of the '80s, the movie musical follows busboy/ aspiring rocker Drew Boley (played by Diego Boneta) as he falls for new-in-town Sherrie Christian (played by Julianne Hough) and lands a gig opening for rock legend Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise). All the while, greater forces are at work trying to convert the drug- and sex-fueled Sunset Strip into a safer, gentler piece of prime real estate, much to the chagrin of the bandannaed masses.

In anticipation of opening night (June 15), MTV News caught up with director Adam Shankman ("Hairspray") to chat about Tom Cruise's crazy work ethic, '80s nostalgia and the perils of working with a baboon.

MTV News: Movie musicals are nothing new for you. What is it about translating a work from stage to screen that is so compelling?

Adam Shankman: It's a matter of, I guess, finding a story you enjoy telling and a medium you enjoy. I grew up doing musical theater, so it's something that's in my bones, and I love it. I feel it's always informed a lot of the way I think and the way I approach material. It's just sort of a natural thing for me to be doing, given my history with music and dance and all that. All I ever wanted to be in my life was a chorus boy, so how things turned out couldn't be a bigger surprise to me.

MTV: What was it specifically about "Rock of Ages" that drew you in?

Shankman: I thought, "Holy moly!" Here's an opportunity to make a musical truly for straight men. I mean, straight guys walk into the theater and they know every word of the music. So it's a completely different experience from girls having to drag their boyfriends to boys dragging their girlfriends.

MTV: There's been a lot of '80s nostalgia in pop culture lately. Is that an era you're particularly nostalgic for?

Shankman: I mean, that was my time. I graduated high school in '82. My dad's office was on Sunset. I saw my first concert at the Roxy. I was choreographing music videos in '87 when, it happens, I actually choreographed a video for someone whose music is in the movie. It was, you know, the last time I remember everything being kind of innocent. Everything kind of shifted then, suddenly fun became drug addiction and crazy, casual sex became AIDS. It was the end of all of that.

MTV: Diego Boneta, who plays Drew, is a fairly under-the-radar talent right now. How did he land the role?

Shankman: His audition just sort of stopped me in my tracks. I saw it on my casting website. I've seen hundreds and hundreds of guys on there, and his stopped me because there was no acting — he just was that guy. And he also sang so great. In the best casting moments, you're looking at somebody and saying, "How much do I have to do with this person to get them there?" I just looked at him and he just dropped into it very easily and naturally. And then, of course, there's that face.

MTV: One of the film's many familiar faces is Tom Cruise, though I have a feeling this is a Tom Cruise we've never seen before.

Shankman: We have definitely never seen him do this before. A lot of the joy in this for him was just the adventure of trying something that was so foreign. I think part of the reason that he said yes to doing it was that he was so stunned that he was asked, and he thought, "Oh my god, of all the millions of things I've done in my career, nothing has ever been like this." He's a guy who loves challenges.

MTV: We did see him sing in "Top Gun."

Shankman: Not like this.

MTV: For fans of the original, how closely does the film hem to the Broadway musical?

Shankman: It's pretty close. I mean, I changed who the villains are. They were Europeans in the play, and I wanted them to be more L.A.-based so it had more of a local resonance. The character Lonnie, the Russell Brand character, isn't the narrator. I didn't think the movie should have a narrator. But in terms of spirit, the boy-meets-girl and what happens to the boy and girl is very close.

MTV: Is there a favorite musical number for you?

Shankman: I never cease to be in awe of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" because it was Tom on his first day of shooting, and he spent the day performing it for a giant crowd, and Def Leppard showed up on set and were there. That was an incredibly crazy, magical day.

MTV: Conversely, there's always a scene or two that give a director pause. Any particularly difficult moments for you on the set?

Shankman: Well, I have one of those that turned into one of the best scenes in the movie. There's a giant protest outside of the Bourbon, where Catherine Zeta-Jones and all the anti-Bourbon moms and all the rockers are fighting and they do a mash-up of "We Built This City" and "We're Not Going to Take It." Then, you know, we had the baboon there and the baboon got loose, and it was a nightmare and nobody could move because it was going to eat your face off. And then we were standing there for 20 minutes stuck on the street. Bizarre, bizarre day. On top of which, it was just really daunting because there was a lot going on. We had Sebastian Bach and Debbie Gibson and all these rockers there from that period. It was insane.

Check out everything we've got on "Rock of Ages."

For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.

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