How much does Cameron Crowe love rock & roll? So much that the former Rolling Stone writer married a rock star (Heart’s Nancy Wilson), while his movies — from Say Anything … to Singles to the Oscar-nominated Jerry Maguire — practically ooze the music. Here, the 43-year-old writer-director talks about his latest, Almost Famous, the intensely personal story of a rock journalist’s coming of age.
EW: Why do a ’70s movie now?
CROWE: The story was slipping away, I was starting to see the ’70s as kitsch. I tried to tell it in different ways over 10 years, but it didn’t work. This time I wrote nakedly about my life and family. Unfortunately, that became the right tone.
Because the only way to do it was to be raw. But, also, I just love music. I write scripts with music blasting and my perfect day is buying bootlegs. I’ve always been that guy.
It shows — like in Singles when Kyra Sedgwick and Campbell Scott pore over his record collection.
Or even John Cusack making a mix tape to impress Ione Skye in Say Anything … The first thing I did when Tom Cruise said he was going to be in Jerry Maguire was I pulled him into this room and played him the Who’s ”Magic Bus” from Live at Leeds, and said, ”This is what the movie is going to feel like.”
In Almost Famous, which names have been changed to protect the innocent?
The band [in the movie] was all the ones I wrote about. The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, the Allman Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ronnie Van Zant from Skynyrd singled me out from a lot of press buzzing around in 1973. For some reason he loved my writing and tried to sponsor my stuff. He actually was the first guy that I knew really well who died, and I could never write about him afterwards. I was supposed to do his obit and I couldn’t. I was shattered. I couldn’t even listen to Skynyrd for 20 years after [the plane crash that killed Van Zant and two other band members]. Writing this movie helped me pay tribute to the guys who took care of me.
That lends Almost Famous an intimate feel.
What I’m proudest of is that I was able to champion my mom. She never did reconcile with my sister until about [two months] ago. And the movie had something to do with it because my sister knew that it was coming out and we all got together. When my mom and sister hugged, it looked almost exactly like Frances McDormand and Zooey Deschanel in the movie and I just thought, Okay, anything can happen now.
How do you go about casting an actor to play you?
You say you’re not. You lie to yourself. They bring in actors that look like you. You sit in the room with your hands dangling between your legs, going, ”So, uh, hi.” And the guy’s like, ”Uh, hi.” And you’re both looking at each other going, This is weird! There are moments when the crew watch you and think, ”Hey, therapy would’ve been cheaper and we could be working on Charlie’s Angels.”
A major theme of the movie is finding community, fitting in.
Yeah! Music became a friend; it gave me that feeling of ”you’re not alone.” Particularly Todd Rundgren. That sad-sack, lovelorn geek guy was me. When I heard Rundgren, my first reaction was Holy s—! There’s more of me out there … People still feel that. There are little girls who listen to Britney Spears and feel someone finally understands them.