True, Adam Shankman's world has been rocked like a hurricane in the past couple months, but since it's all related to his new film, "Rock of Ages," he's taking it all in good stride.
Shankman, the acclaimed director-choreographer behind the brilliant film adaptation of the Broadway musical version of "Hairspray" in 2007, said the wild ride began in April, when was he thrilled to join fellow filmmakers Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton and Jay Roach at Warner Bros.' presentation of their films at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.
Then came a moment last month in which his "entire body was about to explode."
"I had written a piece for the New York Times about favorite summer movie memories, and I wrote about 'Jaws,'" Shankman recalled for me in a recent interview. "After that, Steven Spielberg wrote me a fan letter. I was like, screaming; running around my house after getting that."
The funny thing is, Shankman said he knows many of these filmmakers, but he just doesn't place himself in the same league.
"Even though I produced the Oscars before, I don't think I register with them and they remember me," Shankman added. "I think I just pass through their field of vision. I'm not being falsely modest. It's just too odd for me to think of myself in the same context."
It's refreshing to see a filmmaker of Shankman's caliber remain humble, because as much as he doesn't think he's contributing to the film world, it couldn't be any further from the truth. True, the material in his films may be much lighter than his fellow directors, but that doesn't mean it's less relevant.
"Their work is important, and I feel like my movies are like parties. They're just about joy," enthused Shankman, 47. "I'll get to 'important' at some point, but right now, I just want to do fun. I've made it very, very clear in my life that we live in a very complicated and fairly upsetting world a lot of the time, so if I do anything that's just about fun in any way, it makes me feel better."
Opening in theaters and on IMAX screens Friday, "Rock of Ages" tells the story of Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) and Drew Boley (Diego Boneta), a pair of starry-eyed singer-musicians who seek fame and fortune in the midst of the wild rock scene in Hollywood in 1987.
Both working at the Bourbon Room on the Sunset Strip, Sherrie and Drew encounter a variety of characters at the hot club -- from its owner (Alec Baldwin) and his right-hand man (Russell Brand) to a sleazy talent agent (Paul Giamatti) and a Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Akerman) to the Los Angeles mayor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) -- a religious zealot who's convinced that rock music is the root of all evil.
In the middle of the madness is Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), a rock icon who's returning to the Bourbon Room for a farewell gig with his band before he embarks in a new direction with a solo career. The problem is Stacee has lost his way.
Set to the hard rock tunes of the '80s, all of the musical performances in "Rock of Ages" are done by the film's cast members. But as emotional as the musical performances were, Shankman knew that he still had to find a way to deliver a story that could never be matched by anything done on stage -- and the answer was staring him right in the face.
"What I always say about 'what doesn't work on stage but that works on a film' is the eyes, because there is just no way to lie about your emotional state," Shankman said. "With a film, you can't be overly presentational with close-ups because it would just be weird. It would ruin the intimacy of the cinematic experience, and there's no way around it."
Cruise's eyes are vital to his performance because when he allows you to peer through Stacee's windows, you see a rocker's soul that is all but dead.
In order to achieve the performance, Shankman asked Cruise to bring to the "Rock of Ages" party the same sensibilities he brings to all his other film roles, as well as his life.
"I said to Tom, 'You have an enormous amount of intensity. You love life intensely, you love your family intensely, you love work intensely -- so what I need from you is to be intensely lost,'" Shankman said.
To put Cruise in the frame of mind, Shankman wanted the actor to imagine the events in the lyrics of one of Stacee's songs, a cover of Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive," and his real life juxtaposed against it.
"I told him, 'You are a guy who's surrounded by women, monkeys, managers, bodyguards and millions of fans that are always around you, but in your weird, drunk, poetic head, you see yourself as this lonely, solitary cowboy with people trying to bite off a piece of you, spiritually,'" Shankman recalled with a laugh. "I said to him, 'You are utterly and totally alone, when you are, in no uncertain terms, not.'"
While Stacee is surrounded in the film by sycophants -- save Akerman's brutally truthful -- Shankman said on the film set, Cruise expected no adulation, even if it were truly warranted.
"One of the greatest things about Tom is that you can tell him the way it is. He can smell bulls--- a mile away," Shankman said. "If I wasn't happy with something or didn't agree with an idea of his, it was really important in our relationship as a director and actor that we each have our say. He wanted to be heard, but all he asked for was his day in court if he felt differently."
Ultimately, Cruise left the decisions to Shankman.
"He'd say, 'You're the one telling the story. I'm not. I'm just one of your finger paints.' That relationship was essential in doing what we did together -- because I really see this as having done this film together," Shankman said. "He really wanted to know how he could best fit in a world of my creation. That was really special to have that kind of relationship with a guy of his stature and experience. It was crazy. I mean, he's Tom f------ Cruise."