Accept No Limitations

The characters in his new film Rock of Ages might not all be homos, but there’s no mistaking out director Adam Shankman’s work for anything but gay.
June 15, 2012

(Russell Brand, Adam Shankman and Alec Baldwin on the set of Rock Of Ages)

"I’m gay!” Adam Shankman blurted out after introducing his newest film, Rock of Ages, just before jetting off to introduce another screening—such is the life of a sought-after director/actor/dancer/choreographer wunderkind.

He says that he hopes audiences will see the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway show the way he does: one big party. “It does have this feeling, this energy,” the 47-year-old Los Angeles native tells me during our phone conversation the next day. “Listen, I’m nothing if not chatty and clear. And I was very specific about what it was we were doing and what I hope that the outcome would be,” Shankman explains.

The film, which features pretty much every major 1980s rock ’n’ roll hit, is as much of a fun-loving affair as Shankman set out to make it. Certainly, the star-studded cast doesn’t hurt. Put Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, Mary J. Blige and—who could forget—Tom Cruise in a movie, and it’d be pretty hard to miss the mark. Especially with Tom Cruise buff, shirtless and in chaps.

“Yeah, it was his idea,” Shankman admits. “I was going to actually be more careful about it.” Shankman says that he told the cast that none of the songs, jokes or relationships that develop in the film could be done halfway. They had to go full-throttle. “There [were] other options to assless chaps,” he says, “but [Cruise] just sort of was like, ‘Adam, we can’t do this halfway.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’”

Still, in a film full of gay sex appeal (Spoiler Alert) the only gay relationship (hilariously enough, between Alec Baldwin’s aging stoner character and Russell Brand, who plays his semi-androgynous sidekick) feels like a cheap joke—one that got audible laughs in the theater. But Shankman says that wasn’t the intention at all. “That’s in the play,” he says. “I mean the motivation is that you know it’s one of the ways I got Alec into the movie and when I was describing to him what the character was, I said, ‘You’re a guy who started a rock club in the ’60s, and you have been smoking pot for 30 years and you were so stoned that you didn’t realize you were gay,’” Shankman recalls. He says Baldwin laughed, and jumped at the part.

Is he worried about the message the scene may send to less-than-tolerant audiences? Not at all. “I think it’s a fantastic message,” the director says. “They find each other. They come out to each other.” He says that it’s a movie about self-discovery. “I mean the whole movie is about discovering that nothing really means anything without love and support, and not sacrificing your integrity.”

It’s not the first time that he’s been called out for not including overtly gay characters or plotlines in his films. “There was one person who said in a gay publication, ‘You know, you didn’t have any gay characters in Wedding Planner,’ which was my first movie with Jennifer Lopez,” he recalls. But just because there weren’t gays in his film, doesn’t mean he wasn’t going for gay appeal. “I was like, the whole set is pink! And have you seen Jennifer Lopez’s hair? The whole thing is like the gayest thing I’ve ever seen,” he laughs. “I don’t address it necessarily in my work, because my work is all informed by it.”

Shankman points out that that way of thinking about his film projects has made him into the director he is today—one who may not always include a gay character in his work, but who isn’t afraid to loudly out himself to a theater full of film critics. “Listen, I did the same exact thing with Hairspray,” he recalls. “And you know, John Waters so gave me his blessing when he said, ‘You have to tell the story your own way. Don’t do what I did; don’t do what the play did. Do it your way; otherwise it will be a disaster. You can’t try to imitate anybody else.’”

Rock of Ages is now playing. Visit RockofAgesMovie.WarnerBros.com for more info.