Rock in the 80s meant raspy vocals, long hair, and that anarchist, never-gonna-quit attitude. What happens when you take all the power anthems of the era and throw them together in a gigantic mash-up musical? You get Rock of Ages, the comedy/jukebox musical by Chris D'Arienzo. This summer, Rock of Ages makes its way onto celluloid with an incredible cast of heavy metal singers, sleazy managers, and small town kids with big dreams. While discussing their new film, Russell Brand, Mary J. Blige, Catherine Zeta Jones, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, and director Adam Shankman let Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier in on the true meaning of rock 'n' roll.
Emmanuel Itier: What is ‘rock’ to you?
Russell Brand: Rock is many things to me. It is a type of mineral, it is a type of wrestler, it is a type of music, it is a type of movement. In the case of the film Rock of Ages, it is the idea of freedom and listening to the voice within yourself and connecting with others through that voice. So it is sort of sexy freedom, is it not? Not boring freedom, seen quietly on a beach pondering a lily. It is… [roars] freedom.
EI: What sort of music do you listen to?
RB: I only listen to people that are dead and dying. I listen all the time to like a musician called Nick Cave. Nick Cave and the Bad Seed. That is what I am into. I like people with this dark theatrical drama, people singing about, “Oh, my nurse will not let me out of the house. People that are singing about sort of rain clawing against the glass. People that understand imaginative language. I listen always to Morissey. Do you know what I listen to sometimes? Have you seen that film The Wicker Man? I listen to the weird pagan soundtrack of it and it makes me go mad. Like this weird pagan stuff.
EI: And which song do you think sums up rock 'n' roll?
RB: Hmm. Remember, I like unusual music. I like Motorcycle Emptiness by Manic Street Preachers. But you want an answer to this question more appropriate. Like maybe Ace of Spades, Mohead [?]. That is pretty dark. It is somewhat a bit of devil worship, is it not? Remember, when people go, “They are devil worshiping.” And they worry about worshiping the devil, which is a strange thing to worry about.
EI: What sort of challenges did you face with this movie?
RB: The challenges of it – the main challenge was, how do I keep these filthy paws of mine out of Alec Baldwin’s trousers? The answer was I cannot. It was like a silken purse dangling from the belt of a medieval maiden.
EI: How does Rock of Ages compare to other musicals? What’s unique about it?
RB: What is unique about is, it is different. There are many, many things that are unique about it. Perhaps it is like a particular form of nostalgia that will appeal to people because all the eighties, all the decadence of it, all the wonder, the chaos, the excitement before people realized the consequences of that kind of behavior, with massive hangovers, ecological and economic disasters, for the excess and celebration of the individual that this film stages for us to enjoy.
EI: Did you have any fun moments with Tom Cruise?
RB: Yeah. He made us work with a monkey that I did not want to work with. A baboon. I could not say anything because he was Tom Cruise. You just got to go along with it. But there is this baboon there –
EI: A man?
RB: That is what it was called. His real name was Mickey. I did not know what to call it or even if it understood language. It was really proud of itself, patting its own ass, thinking he was better than us. In his trailer he had three baboon girl monkeys. He could go in there and have it off with them in the afternoon to relax. I go, “What about me? I am not very relaxed.” They said, “Well, you can have it off with the baboons if you want.” I said, “I will then.” That was my favorite moment.
EI: What would you call your most ‘rocking’ moment?
RB: Most rocking moment in my entire existence? Every single moment is rocking. The one I am currently living. Because that is the only moment that is real. Everything else is [makes sound] rhubarb, is it not? Rock your way forward.
Catherine Zeta Jones
Emmanuel Itier: What does rock mean to you?
Catherine Zeta Jones: Well, rock is – especially the eighties rock – is a lot of the songs that are in Rock of Ages. It is the epitome of L.A. in the eighties -- big sounds, big speakers, big hair, big voices. Everything was big. I think rock means big to me. And the epitome, I think, is the eighties, during this time that Rock of Ages is set. I have never heard a bigger sound or seen bigger hair or on the women bigger shoulder pads or bigger face makeup. So I think the epitome is right here on the Sunset Strip.
EI: What song represents rock?
CZJ: Oh, well, that is – you are putting me on the spot here. I mean, there are so many. I was working during the eighties so I have not got one that springs to mind. But I think rock for me is Rolling Stones. What is when I think of rock, I think of the Rolling Stones.
EI: You’ve done musicals before. Was this one any different, or more challenging?
CZJ: Oh, yeah. I mean, I have not danced since Chicago – that was ten years ago. And I have had another baby since then. So it is always a challenge because it is not lot doing a regular movie. It is a different process. It is much harder work. It is more intense. It is angle, a shot, shot, shot. You just keep doing it until you cannot do it anymore. So it is always a challenge for everybody.
EI: How was your experience with Tom Cruise?
CZJ: Well, I do a scene with Tom at the end of the movie. I am not going to give it away. You have to go see the movie. And it is a lot of fun. It kind of does a 360 on my character, which is really interesting. I play a very right-wing conservative bad girl, but not bad girl in the way of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. This is bad girl as boring, who wants to put an end to rock and roll. Take away the filth from the streets of Los Angeles. So she was a lot of fun to play.
EI: What has been your most rock ‘n’ roll moment?
CZJ: Yeah. My favorite rock and roll moment is when I was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Bono serenaded me. Yeah, that was full on. Not only do I sit there in the presence of Bono and U2, which is probably one of the best rock bands of all time, but he sings to me, which is pretty – it goes down in my historic book anyway.
EI: What type of music do you listen to?
CZJ: Oh, I listen to a real cross section. I listen to from Van Morrison to Adele to U2 to Jeff Buckley to Leo Sayer to Eartha Kitt to – it is a real cross section. I love music and I cannot imagine my world without music. And I certainly cannot workout without my music. I have music playing in the house a lot. My kids have a great sense of music, new and old. They start to educate me now on what is a hit right now on the Billboard charts, and we keep educating them about the real music when I was younger – like my parents used to say to me. “You call that music? This is music.” So it all comes back around.
Mary J. Blige
Emmanuel Itier: Which song do you think sums up the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll?
Mary J. Blige: The Guns and Roses song, “Welcome to the Jungle” is just the epitome of what rock ‘n’ roll is.
EI: What sort of challenges did you face in your first film?
MJB: The only thing challenge for me was the acting, so that is why I got the acting coach to help me to work certain things out of me.
EI: Do you think Rock of Ages has a particular message or theme?
MJB: I think the message is for you to not stop believing in your dreams and to follow and never give up and go after it. You just never know where you are going to end up. As long as you think positive, you will end up in a positive place.
EI: What was it like to work with your fellow castmates?
MJB: It was so inspiring. It just made me realize how far I have come to be part of a cast like this and even a movie like this. It made you realize you have done something good in your life to end up in such a positive place.
EI: Did you encounter Tom Cruise a lot while filming? Did he surprise you in any way?
MJB: The thing that surprised me with Tom Cruise is that he is a singer. I had no idea he could sing the way he does. We all know he is an amazing actor. But the singing was like, wow, ok.
EI: What has been your most rock and roll moment in your entire life? Did you ever have a rocking moment where you felt, “Yeah, this is rock”?
MJB: Wow, rock and roll moment. I think when I covered Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. I felt like a real rocker when I did that. [Laughs].
EI: And what type of music do you listen to yourself?
MJB: I listen to all types of music. Even when I was a kid, I listened to soft rock, I listened to hard rock. My father is a musician so he had Grateful Dead albums and we knew about Ambrosia, which was soft rock. And the Eagles – my goodness. So all types of music, not just soul music and hip hop, just different types of music ran through our homes.
Julianne Hough & Diego Boneta
Emmanuel Itier: What does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you?
Diego Boneta: To me rock is all about the heart. It's not about tattoos or how many earrings you are wearing. It comes from the heart. True rock stars come from the heart. That is why I think Tom Cruise kills it. And the best song that embodies that is the soundtrack – the entire soundtrack. I mean, that is one song, one long song that tells the entire story. And the mash-ups – where storytelling uses the best songs of all time.
EI: What song most embodies rock ‘n’ roll for you?
JH: Man, I mean, I Wanna Rock, that [my character] Diego sings, is pretty rock and roll. But Dead or Alive and Pour Some Sugar. I mean, to me rock and the eighties were all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That is what this movie is, too. Just add a big humor/comedy aspect to it and that is what this movie is.
EI: Did you have a favorite musical number to perform? What were some of the challenges working on such an intense musical?
JH: Harden My Heart, that I sing ,and then I move into Shadows of the Night where we mask it up with Mary J. Blige. I did not love Harden My Heart when I first heard the song and then once I started working on it and recording it and then shot it, it has now become my favorite. So I loved that number. The whole aerialists, the athletes – not the pole dancers – but they were –
DB: Pole specialists.
JH: Yeah, pole specialists. They were incredible.
DB: And I think that the hardest song to perform – it was very hard, it was very tricky – it was the boy band song, Younger Love. With that wink and that wardrobe, that was pretty embarrassing.
EI: So really a lesson of humility, right?
DB: Yes, yes. It made me love rock that much more.
EI: What was it like to work with such strong personalities like Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, and Alec Baldwin?
JH: I just think that each one of them is so good at what they do that you have to hold your own. It is hard to hold your own with the two going back and forth, between Russell [Brand] and Alec [Baldwin], because those two can go for literally 25 minutes straight without taking a breath. They are hilarious. Keeping up with them is tough. But Tom, he just makes you feel comfortable and good at what you do that he gives you that room to explore and have fun.
DB: You forget that you are working with Tom Cruise just because he is just – he is just on with you. He is just another guy that loves what he does with everything he has. Seeing him on set was like watching him doing his first and last movie ever. That was very inspiring and very motivating. Again, this is my first movie. Russell and Alec and Catherine – I mean, Catherine is an Oscar winner. She is amazing in the film, and Russell and Alec are just ten steps ahead of everyone. They are just in another world. They are brilliant.
EI: Final question: what are you listening to right now? And what has been your most ‘rocking’ moment in your entire life so far?
DB: Working on this movie the most rocking moment of my life. What I listen to on my iPad... I am really into the Black Keys right now. I really like them.
JH: I like Gotye and I like my pop and my country, so the top 40 and the top country hits right now. But I like Phil Phillips from American Idol, so I cannot wait to be the first in line at his concert. I feel like a total groupie, but I love him. And, yeah, the biggest rock star moment I think has being on the front of this poster. I think it is crazy. There are no words to express it. It is crazy.
Emmanuel Itier: Rock of Ages is the latest musical-turned-film. How is this one different?
Adam Shankman: Well, first of all, one of the biggest challenges is that the songs are not written for the characters. The songs were written as big anthems and big rock and roll songs. So making sure that you have exactly the right song with the exact right character that had the right energy paced throughout the movie – that was really challenging right at the top. I remember when pretty close to when we started shooting, I looked and between the first set of songs and then the next song there was like 15 or 20 pages, which you cannot have that. I needed another thing in there.
So that is when I added in the Tower Records scene and did Juke Box Hero and I Love Rock and Roll because I also felt like it was important that Diego sang his back story, as opposed to just like told it as exposition. So that was challenging and then the schedule was challenging because the actors were only in and out and only there for a couple weeks at a time. Catherine only shot for five days.
EI: How was shooting in Miami?
AS: Shooting in Miami where it was so hot. But I will say this – that Miami was incredibly accommodating and they were so supportive of us being there and so grateful for the cash infusion into the city that they really made it as easy as possible. The weather was a nightmare, but whatever.
EI: Speaking of nightmares, how did you tackle working with big names like Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise? How does one survive that?
AS: I will tell you how. They were playing in my sandbox because none of them had ever done a musical before, so they all needed me. And they all were so surprised that they were actually doing this weirdness that they were incredibly easy to work with. They were so much fun. And at the end of everyday Tom Cruise would come up to me and just say, “Thank you. This is the most fun I have ever had in my life.” And when you hear that from somebody like that, it kind of makes your day pretty great.
EI: What about Russell Brand?
AS: Well, Russell and I made a movie before and he is so brilliant and he would come in – I talked to him before we started shooting and I said, “I really want you to bring what you bring to this and I am really open to you improvising and going off book.” But what he would do because Russell is so sweet and he is so calculating, he would write out like four or five choices of improve directions that he would go and he would say, “Is there one particular that you would like?” And I would sort of look at it and say, “Yeah, I would like that one, please.” And that is how we ended up with a lot of what we ended up with. And he would just go crazy. It was amazing.
EI: What song do you think represents the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll?
AS: Why did you ask me a question that hard? For me what rock is, is joy, expression, it is just like kind of this head-banging party, anthemic, great – it is a scream for happiness and freedom. So that is great. In terms of what song – I think the song that says it the most in the movie actually is I Wanna Rock. When Diego sings I Wanna Rock, he is saying what he means and that song says what it means. So that is pretty good. I mean, there are so many good songs in this movie. Come on, how do you be mean to Pour Some Sugar On Me? It is like one of the best songs ever.
EI: What was a time in your life where you felt like a rock star?
AS: The time where I felt like an actual rock star? I have never felt like a rock star. I do not know. I feel like the guy peeking behind the curtain who gets to look at rock stars. But I will tell you a great moment for me when I felt like a little bit of a rock star – when I produced the Academy Awards. When I produced the Academy Awards – and I really liked my show – Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were the hosts. And I liked the show. And as it was going on and I was watching it unfold before me, I went, “This is the Academy Awards, man. I am a rock star.” Like “I cannot believe I did this.” So that was a big moment for me.
EI: And one last question: what are you listening to right now on your iPod, iPad?
AS: The soundtrack to Rock of Ages. What else?
'Rock of Ages' will be released nationwide Friday, June 15th, 2012