The writer-director of ''Jerry Maguire'' is a winning player in Hollywood

By Steve Daly
May 30, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hollywood adores a winning player, especially one who performs in the clutch. And right now, the town’s heartily cheering the s-u-c-c-e-s-s of Cameron Crowe, the 39-year-old ex-rock reporter who wrote and directed Jerry Maguire. Not yet a star quarterback after one great script (1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and two fine, quirky writing-directing efforts (1989’s Say Anything… and 1992’s Singles), Crowe became a super-hot draft pick when Maguire victory-danced its way to five Oscar nominations and a $150 million gross.

With all the huzzahs — and now talk of working with Tom Cruise again on a biopic about record producer Phil Spector — Crowe says it’s easy to forget that as Maguire‘s clock ran down last June, he nearly got sacked.

”I wouldn’t settle, and I went 10 days over budget,” he says, radiating the precocious enthusiasm that landed him a Rolling Stone writing gig at age 15. ”Nobody remembers now, but it was a big deal. Studio production guys were showing up outside the stage door. Then one guy came to my trailer, and I finally said, Step back a second and see what’s happening here. I spent three and a half years on this script. You have the biggest star in the world. Gimme some room to breathe, okay?”

Crowe had the wind knocked out of him more than once as he put Maguire together. Tom Hanks, for whom he wrote the earliest drafts of the script, rejected it because he ”didn’t buy the marriage part. But without that, it became just a story about a guy sleeping with a girl from his office.” Legendary director Billy Wilder turned down the role of Maguire’s mentor agent, Dicky Fox, ”and he was nasty,” Crowe jokes — though the 90-year-old fellow ex-journalist has since mellowed, giving Crowe a lengthy interview that may or may not become a book.

The whole tackle-laden trail will be documented, says Crowe, in a Maguire laserdisc due out at Christmas. It’ll include lots of Cruise outtakes, which took some doing, since the star ”usually feels strict about no peeking behind the curtain.” So why raise it now? In part because Cruise and Crowe bonded so well. ”I told Tom the last night of shooting how my dad always wanted me to make a Tom Cruise movie,” recalls Crowe (his father died in 1989). ”Months later, Tom calls me, right after the Jerry Maguire reviews started coming out. He goes, ‘Y’know, I’ve been thinking about your dad, and I hope he’s somewhere appreciating what’s going on.’ It killed me. I mean, Tom didn’t have to work me like that. I had the movie in the can.” Now, that’s what Rod Tidwell would call the true kwan.