'Rock of Ages' director Adam Shankman talks casting Catherine Zeta-Jones
The starry cast of Adam Shankman’s big-screen adaptation of the ’80s-rock-and-roll Broadway musical Rock of Ages keeps getting starrier. Today, Shankman officially signed Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won an Oscar for her performance in the 2002 musical Chicago, to play the role of the Los Angeles mayor’s ultraconservative wife, a part created specifically for the movie. Zeta-Jones joins a cast that already includes Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Mary J. Blige, and Paul Giamatti. The announcement comes in the wake of Zeta-Jones’ recent revelation that she suffers from Bipolar II disorder, and when EW talked this morning with Shankman, he shared his thoughts on how the film represents “a wonderful homecoming” after a difficult period in her life and revealed some details about her “anti-sexy” villain and her showstopping musical number.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tell us about Catherine’s character?
ADAM SHANKMAN: She’s playing the mayor’s wife, which is a role that was specifically created for the movie to streamline the cultural discussions about what was happening during this period, when a segment of our culture was citing rock and roll as being satanic and awful. She plays an arch conservative who’s trying to kill the rock movement in Los Angeles in the ’80s. It’s totally against type for her — it’s anti-sexy. It’s just a superfun role. It’s very similar in tone to the Michelle Pfeiffer character in Hairspray in terms of how she impacts the story.
Clearly she has great musical chops. Was that what drew you to her?
It’s like when we were casting Hairspray — when the idea of casting John Travolta was presented to me, it made sense because I wanted one of the greatest musical stars in existence to get up there and do that again. With this role, it was like, Well, why not go for one of the few women in history who’s won an Oscar in the genre and get her back up there singing and shining and sparkling in a way that only she can?
So what sort of musical numbers will she perform?
She has a couple of numbers. Her big showstopper is going to be “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar.
What was the process of getting her on board?
Well, the role only came about a month ago and we took it to her representatives just — seriously, I’m not kidding — a week or a week and a half ago. She was in the midst of all this other stuff, and I got on the phone with her the other day. She and I have worked together on a number of benefits and things, and we have a social relationship. I said, “Hey, are you down for this?” And she said, “Darling, nothing would make me happier than to come down to Miami and sing and dance for you.”
Obviously this casting announcement comes in the midst of the news about what she’s been struggling with in her personal life. What part did that play in your discussions with her?
First of all, when I talked to her, I’ve never heard her sound happier or more together. I think she’s seeing this as a wonderful homecoming for her. It puts her in an incredible comfort zone. The truth of the matter is, I’m working with a lot of the same people that she worked with on Chicago, so she’s going to be returning to a real family situation. There’s a group of people that are there literally just to kind of be with her and support her. Having rehearsed with her, she’s so happy and at home in the rehearsal room — when you put that quarter in her and turn her on to sing and dance, it’s just magic. And I think it gives her a giggle to be playing something so against type.
How long will she be shooting?
We start shooting May 19, but her part actually only shoots for about two weeks, so it gives her the opportunity to spend a lot of time with her family over the summer. It really comes at a great time for her.
This all-star cast just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
I know. All I keep thinking about is, What the hell is this junket going to be like? [Laughs] The last two big roles to be cast are the mayor — we’re in that right now — and the journalist who becomes Tom Cruise’s adversary. Every time I shoot off an email to the rest of my cast saying, “You’ll never believe who just joined the family,” the emails coming back are just cries of joy. Everyone is so excited to work together.