THE HOT SEAT WITH CAMERON CROWE
“I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen.” “Show me the money!” “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”
When it comes to penning highly quotable lines, director and writer Cameron Crowe had us at hello. His knack for tapping into the Zeitgeist turned movies like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Say Anything,” “Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire” into instant pop culture classics.
On October 14th Crowe will be back with his first feature film in four years: “Elizabethtown,” in which a young man (Orlando Bloom) heads back to Kentucky – and an eccentric group of relatives – for his dad’s funeral. Along the way, he meets flight attendant Kirsten Dunst and, as you might imaginge, witty romantic complications ensue.
Q: In “Almost Famous,” you chronicled your past as a young rock writer. Is “Elizabethtown” autobiographical too?
A: Sort of. It’s inspired by things that happened when my dad died, but it’s kind of a banquet plate full of characters.
Q: So what’s it about, in a nutshell?
A: It’s a bunch of different things. It’s a love story and a folk tale about how loss can open doors to the greatest things in life, and it’s four days in life of this guy who goes back to Kentucky to bury his dad he didn’t really know very well.
Q: How did the idea first come about?
A: My wife [Nancy Wilson] is a musician – she plays in Heart – and she talked me into joining her on her tour bus. I woke up one morning on the bus, and looked out the window, and there was Kentucky. This is a place that’s a big part of my family history – I hadn’t been back since my dad’s funeral. And I just had to get off the bus.
I rented a car, and I just got lost in Kentucky for days, with no intention of writing. Of course, that’s when the ideas really come. The whole idea of this movie really arrived there. It’s a story about discovering your family roots, and who you are, and your whole lineage. And how this feeling of what it’s like to be truly alive can come from tragedy, or chaos, or failure.
Q: So then how’d you end up with a British actor, Orlando Bloom, in the lead role?
A: I auditioned a lot of guys and Orlando I had worked with before. The one commercial I had ever done was with him, and I really enjoyed working with him. He really soaks up music, and I knew I wanted that. There’s a lot of music in this movie, even more than in “Almost Famous,” which is all about rock.
Q: So you didn’t have trouble thinking of Orlando as an elf.
A: I didn’t have any archery associations – he’s simply a man. [laughs]
Q: Before you settled on Orlando, Ashton Kutcher was up for the role. What happened?
A: I did have a detour with Ashton. This has happened to me before – I think the part ends up in the hands of the guy who’s destined to play it. Tom Hanks was originally Jerry Maguire. Brad Pitt was originally Billy Crudup’s character in “Almost Famous.” With Ashton, it seemed like it was going to work out, and I think we just figured it wasn’t quite the right thing. I think there’s a big performance in Ashton, and he’s inching toward it.
Q: Did Orlando have problems with the accent?
A: He really worked on it, he’s completely diligent and only spoke in the [American] accent. It was wild because he basically left “Kingdom of Heaven,” got off the plane in Kentucky and started being this rather un-bronzed guy. He pretty immediately fell into it.
Q: Country musician Patti Griffin has a cameo in this movie – any others?
A: Loudon Wainwright plays Uncle Dale, Orlando’s uncle. And My Morning Jacket play the band Ruckus in the movie – that’s his cousin’s band.
Q: Will we spot any shout-outs to your other movies?
A: There are some motifs in the movie that kinda call back other movies I’ve done. Like the phone call. For me, John Cusack in “Say Anything” is the king of the phone call scene. And in tribute to him, I’ve written other phone call scenes. I started writing this one, and it got longer and longer, and it was like, either cut it out or turn it into something big.
Q: And you did the latter.
A: Yeah, it’s this big conversation – one of those all-night calls where you’re getting to know someone, and you go into deeper water where you’re admitting all these truths. And then you agree to meet the next day, and it’s that kind of thing where you don’t really know the person yet and you’re kind of embarrassed to have admitted all these things. And now you have to deal with fact that you’ve told them all these secrets. And you kind of don’t remember what they look like, and here they are in different clothes.
Q: How is your directing style changing as you get older?
A: I’m trying get more visual, to not depend on dialogue all the time. Hal Ashby was a music lover, and Wes Anderson is the same way – they’re music lovers who also paint with visuals, and the two come together in their stuff. I like visuals that tell the story more than I used to. Say what you will about “Vanilla Sky,” it was a turning point for me in terms of using visuals. And on this movie, I think we really shot Kentucky in a cool way.
Q: You tend to include an airport scene in your movies. Why?
A: I guess the appeal is that it’s kind of a passageway. It’s this hermetically sealed capsule where you’ve come from someplace, and you’re going someplace and you’re stuck in time with other people. I’ve done that so much, just sitting and watching the flow of human traffic. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’ve gotta stop writing it into scripts! But I’ve really enjoyed shooting airports and doing scenes in airports. It sort of peaks with Kirsten playing a flight attendant, I think.
Q: So are you a good flier?
A: I’m a terrible flier – but I’m great in the airport.
Name: Cameron B. Crowe
Birthdate: July 13, 1957
Born in: Palm Springs, CA
Married to: Musician Nancy Wilson of rock group Heart
Big break: Writing for Rolling Stone magazine while in high school
First script: “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982)
Awards: Best Original Screenplay Oscar for “Almost Famous” (2000)
Cameos: Club interviewer in his own film, “Singles” (1992); bus passenger in Spielberg’s “Minority Report” (2002)
THE HOT SEAT WITH CAMERON CROWE