Adam Shankman, the gay director of ‘Rock of Ages,’ is a big tease


THEY CAN’T FIGHT THIS FEELING | Shankman, center, says directing the gay kiss between Russell Brand, left, and Alec Baldwin, right, was one of the easiest things he had to do on ‘Rock of Ages.’

Adam Shankman’s last film, Hairspray, was a musical set in an earlier decade that explored the transformative, social relevance of rock-n-roll. His newest, Rock of Ages, does basically the same thing, only the decade is different (the ‘80s instead of the ‘60s) and the rock? Well, the hair’s just as bad. Shankman discusses a gay on-set bromance and working with Tom Cruise (and no, those are not the same thing).

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Voice: Where were in you 1987 and what were you listening to?  Shankman: I was in New York screaming toward the end of my misbegotten youth, going to all the clubs. Back then I was listening more to Prince and Madonna and Janet Jackson. I had the most horrible hair ever. I tried to go with fashion; now I’m grateful for every hair that is still on my head.

In Rock of Ages, you kinda ignore other forms of pop at the time — you even make funny of boy bands. Lance Bass looked at me [at a screening] and said, “What’s so bad about being in a boy band?” I said, “Nothing for you!” We were going for New Kids on the Block [for the boy band scenes]. [Choreographer] Mia Michaels said to me, “You are not making me do this!” I told her, “Not only are you doing it, but do not make it look pretty.” That was even filmed on the same set as the “Opposites Attract” video from Paula Abdul.

But I was telling a very specific story about a very specific time and place. But there’s a fleeting scene when [some characters] go to Venice Beach, and if you look, everyone is dressed differently. But this movie is about the Sunset Strip.

There are no doubt going to be comparisons to your last film, Hairspray: Both are period pieces focusing on a specific kind of music with social implications. Do you see that?  There are massive similarities, not the least of which is, at the end of the day, both are about joy and happiness. I just want people bopping in the aisles. I can even use Hairspray song titles to describe Rock of Ages: “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is how man can’t end rock and roll. These people just wanna rock. “Without Love” is about sticking to your guns and you end up in a love place. That’s true of all the different love stories.

A plot point in the play I was pleased to see in the final film was the love story — including a kiss — between Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin. Did you ever consider taking that out, or was it something there was pressure to take out of a mainstream Hollywood summer movie?  Oh, God, absolutely not. It’s a fan favorite part of the play. And it works because those characters are so sweet and totally deserve to be happy. I talked Alec into being in the movie by telling him what this is gonna be. I explained how you founded this club in the 1960s and you’ve been smoking so much pot and having so much fun that you didn’t realize you were gay.  And Russell and Alec were madly in love. You wanna talk about a bromance! That kiss was not hard to get out of them.

Was it as freaky for you as it was for me to think that, in 1987, Tom Cruise basically was the superstar that Stacie Jaxx is in the film, and that he still is?  Yes! A lot of the reasons I went to Tom [for the role] is because no one will understand what it was to be that famous in the period and to know those people like he would, even though to my knowledge he has never taken a drink or done a drug. He loves what he does.

The first time we see his character, he’s wearing a leather studded jockstrap with a dragon on it — how did you convince him to wear that?  He convinced me! We saw in a picture the lead singer of a band called W.A.S.P. wearing a codpiece like that and he said, “That’s what I want to do!” He started pushing the envelope.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 15, 2012.