I once loved a woman, a child I’m told. I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul.”
– Bob Dylan, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
“When you were young and on your own, how did it feel to be alone? I was always thinking of games that I was playing, trying to make the best of my time. But only love can break your heart. Try to be sure right from the start. Yes, only love can break your heart. What if your world should fall apart?”
– Neil Young, Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Snowboarding through life, David Aames appears to lead a charmed life. Handsome, wealthy and charismatic, the young New York City publishing executive’s freewheeling existence is enchanting, yet he seems to be missing something. Like the pointillism of an Impressionist landscape, a life can appear to be entirely different when examined close up.
In one night David meets a girl of his dreams and loses her by making a small mistake. Thrust unexpectedly onto a roller-coaster ride of romance, comedy, suspicion, love, sex and dreams, David finds himself on a mind-bending search for his soul and discovers the precious, ephemeral nature of true love.
Paramount Pictures presents “Vanilla Sky” A Cruise/Wagner – Vinyl Films Production. A Cameron Crowe Film. The film stars Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor and Cameron Diaz. Directed by Cameron Crowe, “Vanilla Sky” is produced by Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner and Cameron Crowe, from a screenplay by Cameron Crowe, based upon the film “Abre Los Ojos” written by Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil. Jonathan Sanger and Danny Bramson serve as Executive Producers. The Associate Producer is Michael Doven.
Paramount Pictures is part of the entertainment operations of Viacom Inc., one of the world’s largest entertainment and media companies, and a leader in the production, promotion and distribution of entertainment news, sports and music. This film is rated ‘R’ by the Motion Picture Association of America for
ABOUT THE STORY
Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 Spanish romantic thriller, “Abre Los Ojos,” became the catalyst for “Vanilla Sky.” Producer Paula Wagner says the film appealed to her, Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe, and it offered an opportunity for them to work together again.
“We saw ‘Abre Los Ojos’ separately and together,” Wagner notes, “and we all knew that this was the right project. To us, ‘Vanilla Sky’ is the equivalent of doing a cover to a great song. We pay homage to the film, but we also hope to bring our own nuances and interpretations to it.”
“What I wanted to do with “Vanilla Sky” was to take people on a modern, emotional journey,” says Crowe, “I think people go to the movies to be transported, and this film gently guides you to a bizarre and passionate place in your heart. We constructed the movie, visually and story-wise, to reveal more and more the closer you look at it. As deep as you want to go with it, my desire was for the movie to meet you there.”
Wagner feels certain that ‘Vanilla Sky’ lives up to not only the filmmaker’s expectations, but that it will also live up to the audience’s.
“This film pushes the edges,” she says. “It breaks the mold of conventional filmmaking, while at the same time, it is very accessible, warm and emotional. There are many elements and layers to it, and at the end, you realize something more about the truth of life.”
Indeed, “Vanilla Sky” pushes the envelope in many ways. In fact, Crowe adds that he also wanted to take a deeper look into the meaning of love and sex in the new millennium, and that “Abre Los Ojos” was a catalyst to exploring this very rich topic.
“I wanted to do a movie about the world of casual sex and about young adults taking responsibility for their lives,” Crowe explains. “‘Abre Los Ojos,’ inspired me to make my own statement. It was like a perfect kind of Petri dish to explore all this stuff. Hopefully we’ve created a cool dialogue with Amenábar’s original movie.” To that end, Wagner likens Crowe’s directorial style to that of a conductor leading a symphony. “Cameron orchestrated ‘Vanilla Sky’ beautifully,” she says. “It was his vision. He put in all the players, all the notes and all the tones, and every performance has been finely tuned.”
But an actor’s performance is only as good as the dialogue he or she has to work with, and “Vanilla Sky,” like all of Crowe’s screenplays, is laced with dialogue so memorable that much of it stays with viewers long after the film is over.
“Somehow, Cameron has the ability to sum up a human experience in a single line,” muses Wagner, who adds that while “Vanilla Sky” marks Crowe’s first screenplay to be adapted from an existing film, the writer/director had a singular vision about the material from the start.
“It’s a romantic thriller about the search for the eternal nature of love,” Wagner says. “It’s emotional, it’s humorous, but it’s also a thrill ride as the character David Aames uncovers eternal truths about love, himself and the world. Cameron had a deep connection to the story and the characters.”
As excited, as Crowe was about the film itself, he was equally as enthusiastic about working again with Tom Cruise.
“Tom is a gift to any director,” says Crowe. “He brings a kind of emotional center to anything he does, and in our movie he makes David Aames every man so the audience can identify with him. Tom captures real life. He puts everything you want to express in a script on the screen and he works tirelessly until you’re happy.” In turn, Cruise had nothing but praise for Crowe, as well as for the film itself.
“I think “Vanilla Sky” is terrific, and a definite credit to Cameron’s storytelling.” Cruise says. “He’s a brilliant writer, a brilliant director, and he’s brilliant with actors. When you’re working with him, you’re just constantly growing and challenging yourself.”
Cruise describes his character with just as much passion. Like Crowe, he says that David Aames is kind of like a “Prince of New York,” who has inherited everything, worked hard at nothing, and is essentially the facade of what people think they want to be.
“He’s a guy with a lot of potential, and the film is his journey of self-awakening,” explains Cruise. “It’s the price that he pays for being careless with other people’s feelings. It’s a great character to play.”
The love of David’s life appears in the small, sensual form of Sofia Serrano, portrayed by Penélope Cruz. Ambitious and optimistic, Sofia exudes a positive, down-to-earth life force and a sexuality that cuts through David’s rarefied world of sycophants and opportunists. Instantly, she attracts him. She’s the last ‘guileless’ girl in New York City, says David Aames.
Cruz says she lobbied for the role, which she secretly considered her own, since she had played Sofia in “Abre Los Ojos.” It didn’t take much to convince Crowe, Cruise and Wagner that she was their Sofia as well. “Casting Penélope is an example of how we pay homage to the original film,” says Wagner. “With Cameron’s direction, she’s basically created a completely different character.”
“Penélope Cruz playing Sofia Serrano was a dream of mine,” admits Crowe. “She’s a wonderful link to Amenábar’s original inspiration…and I also heard privately that she was going to come after whoever remade “Abre Los Ojos” with an Uzi if they didn’t cast her.” Crowe laughs, then adds that he thought at the time, “Now that’s the kind of passion you want in your leading lady!”
Crowe went on to describe how both Penélope’s and Tom’s passion for their roles translated into a wonderful on-screen chemistry.
“I fell in love with this couple through the lens,” says Crowe. “In fact, I would come to work every day and be anxious to see their scenes together, to see what their characters were going to bring out in each other.”
“We worked very hard, but we had a blast together,” admits Cruise, who also had a lot to say about his leading lady. “Penélope brings reality and humanity to her character with such grace and perfection. It’s no wonder anyone would immediately fall in love with her, and that’s what happens to David Aames.”
Although Cruz’s part in “Abre Los Ojos” and “Vanilla Sky” are technically the same, Cruz adamantly considers the two Sofias completely different women.
“It really wasn’t the same part at all, and I felt like I was in an entirely different movie,” Cruz says. “Cameron brought out so much more of the love story between Sofia and David. You got to know much more about Sofia as a person through their relationship in ‘Vanilla Sky.’ That’s why it never felt like I was redoing a role I had already played.”
Cruz is a friendly, open woman whose staggering beauty belies an engaging, ingenuous goofy streak that manifests itself in her fondness for the animated hit, “South Park.” She also has a big-hearted ability to take a joke. For example, Crowe and cinematographer John Toll delighted in sometimes hiding wicked little notes for the actress to discover on the set during her scenes. The Spanish-born Cruz’s reactions to these playful pranks, as well as her occasional malapropisms, earned her some good-natured ribbing and the nickname “Lupe,” which Crowe bestowed on her. In fact, the director probably called out, “Action, Lupe,” as much as “Action, Penélope” throughout the production.
“I didn’t mind. Everyone was so kind, and all the teasing came from affection,” says Cruz, who in turn cheerfully pronounced Crowe’s first name with a Spanish cadence, camarón, which in Spanish means, “shrimp.”
Names, in fact, were a big issue on “Vanilla Sky.” Between Tom’s and Penélope’s similar last names, Cruise and Cruz, and especially between Crowe’s and Diaz’s identical first names, Cameron, monikers were a bit confusing. Ultimately, Cameron Diaz answered to “CD.”
“Yes, the solution was to call me CD. It took me awhile to get used to it because I’m usually the only Cameron in the room,” Diaz notes. “People would talk to Cameron Crowe, and I’d instinctively respond. It was always very surprising, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was fun to have a new name.”
Diaz says her character, Julie Gianni, is a vulnerable woman despite her outward assurance and allure. She finds herself in a precarious emotional position common to many women.
“Julie is the good-time girl, the one who always knows how to make people, especially guys, feel comfortable without any pressure. But that isn’t enough for her anymore, especially once she meets David Aames and falls in love with him. They don’t make that commitment to one another, and at first, that’s fine. But when we meet Julie in the film, she’s trying to define the direction of the relationship, and that affects everything in her life.” Diaz explains that she was drawn to the role because Julie not only has a unique personality, but she is also someone with whom many women can relate.
“She’s 27 years old, she’s not in a committed relationship, and her career is in transition,” Diaz says. “She feels disconnected, even desperate, and then she meets David Aames. She loves him, and he seems to have feelings for her, but the relationship is not quite coming to fruition. Slowly, she realizes he won’t protect her, he won’t be her knight, and she loses her step a little bit.”
Diaz adds, “I think that all women have experienced that moment in their life when they’re just not getting what they need from a relationship, and instead of walking away, they keep trying. I think we’ve all driven by a guy’s house on the way home, just to see if the lights are on, because he didn’t call. And Julie’s gotten into that place, with very dire consequences. I understood what she was going through. It was pure pain, and when you are in pain, you do stupid things. If she had another chance, if she was able to get some perspective, Julie would probably do things differently.”
Meanwhile, Diaz’s off-screen relationship with her co-star Cruise was much more rewarding than Julie’s fictional one with David Aames.
“Tom brought complete humanity to the role,” Diaz says. “He’s got everything that David Aames doesn’t have, in that he is caring, compassionate and generous. David Aames might have all the charm that Tom has, but he can’t be there for people. He can’t commit to anyone or anything, not to his friends, or to his career. He lives in a self-centered world, which doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. It’s just that that he keeps life at a distance, in a very appealing, but ultimately, lonely way.”
A friendly working relationship between the two on-screen rivals, Diaz and Cruz, also developed, and together with their shared on-screen paramour Cruise, the trio had a great time. In fact, though the three actors didn’t share many scenes together, they were inseparable on those days that their work dovetailed, laughing and joking between takes. Both Cruz and Diaz attribute that happy environment to Crowe and Cruise and their passion for the project.
“Cameron and Tom are so thoughtful and appreciative that it was always a pleasure and fun to come to the set,” Cruz says. “There was a sense of friendship and playfulness that created a safe place to do the best work possible, to explore the characters and their relationships.”
According to Cruz, Crowe worked in a particularly nurturing way with her. Often rehearsing with her off-set, he’d toss her not just new lines, but also less obvious artistic cues, from various sounds, to Spanish expressions, to feelings. It was a lot like a jazz musician riffing with a band mate.
“It was a very organic kind of acting,” Cruz says. “Cameron and Tom made it all very safe and comfortable to play with new ideas. Cameron encouraged me to experiment, too. He talked to me all during the takes, suggesting different things for my character. It was a very exciting way to work, really thrilling.”
Diaz agrees with Cruz. “Cameron and Tom were two people that I wanted to work with for a long time, so this was a great opportunity. Cameron is the nicest man who ever walked the earth. He’s so generous and gifted. He really knows how to be there, to be present, and he totally loves his actors. Tom is so supportive, and was there for us every second, in terms of acting, so it was like constant, instant gratification with him. And Cameron, he knows what he wants. His style is so laid-back, and when you do something he likes, he’s so enthusiastic that you can’t help but want to please him. It was a wonderful atmosphere on the set, and the team of Tom and Cameron was amazing. They really connect creatively, they speak the same language, and they have great chemistry that they convey with such joy and energy. We all really enjoyed one another as people.”
The feeling is mutual for Crowe, who admits that he is a big fan of his stars, not just because of their acting ability, but because of whom they are.
“These are all people that just kind of voraciously enjoy every minute of the process, and I was inspired by them,” says Crowe. “Penélope throws herself into the experience of filmmaking, Cameron Diaz is the same way…and Tom, he’s legendarily known for that. It’s really telling that many of the very biggest stars are fans of the process themselves. The joy shows in the way they act.”
“Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz, Jason Lee, Kurt Russell, all of these people are professionals, and they really brought their game on this picture,” adds Cruise. “We were like a community of people all working with the same intention and working toward the same goal – to make the best picture we can. In fact, the mood on every set Cameron works on is one of generosity and communion.”
Besides reaping the benefits of Crowe’s insightful direction, Diaz also received an additional gift from him in the form of a theme song for her character.
“Julie is making a transition in her career from model to singer, and she’s cut an album,” Diaz explains. “So she’s got this CD that she shuffles around town, trying to get people interested in her music. Her songs, of course, are inspired by her life, and the song we hear, naturally, is called I Fall Apart. Well, Cameron Crowe is married to Nancy Wilson from Heart. I grew up listening to that rock band, and I used to stare at the album covers of these talented, beautiful women. My sister and I were in awe of them, and we saw them in concert 400 times. So, at one point, Cameron told me, ‘We have this song we’d like you to sing. Actually, Nancy has been working on it, and she wants to come in to sing it for you, to find out what you think about it.’ I thought, Nancy Wilson wants MY opinion? I was completely stunned.”
Diaz and Wilson later recorded I Fall Apart in the same studio that Fleetwood Mac recorded the record-breaking album, “Rumors.”
“The whole experience was really cool,” Diaz says. “Of course, they had to add some of Nancy’s voice over mine, but I’m still totally delighted.”
Not surprisingly, music was an integral part to Crowe’s directorial style. With the help of associate producer Scott Martin, who served as the set’s unofficial DJ, Crowe used an eclectic array of music throughout the shoot. Signaling Martin to play a key piece of a certain song right before various takes and sometimes during them, Crowe set the mood for the actors and provided them with a new avenue of inspiration. He used the same technique while shooting “Almost Famous,” with equally good results. On that film, however, he veered toward classic rock, and while he did use some Beatles tunes on the set of “Vanilla Sky,” Crowe usually turned to edgier fare, such as imported dance music and techno beats.
The actors loved this musical influence. In fact, during a weeklong party scene on the set of David’s apartment, the music played nonstop during takes and while the crew set up shots. The whole shoot was very festive, and the grips, camera operators and electric crew practically danced as they rigged equipment.
“Music is very important to me, and often it is the jumping off point for a movie,” says Crowe. “A lot of times it begins with a song, and in the case of “Vanilla Sky,” this great, little-known artist named Julie Miller had a song called ‘By Way of Sorrow’ that started everything rolling. So we play it all the time on the set, and it changes the way everyone works. It even changes the way the actors act.”
This musical approach was no surprise to Jason Lee, who plays Brian Shelby, David Aames’ best friend. Lee is an alumnus of Cameron Crowe’s films, having played lead singer Jeff Bebe in “Almost Famous.” A gifted musician himself, with an impressive recording studio in his apartment, Lee says that music on the set helps clue him into the attitude of the scene and of the characters.
“The characters and their relationships are important to Cameron,” Lee says. “For example, ‘Jerry Maguire’ is a film about the journey of one particular sports agent. But it was so much more than that because it was Cameron directing. He finds moments and touches that elevate the characters beyond the obvious and make them real. On ‘Almost Famous,’ the word he used more than any other word was ‘real.’ ‘This has to be real. The relationships have to be real. The situations have to be real. The stage presence of the band has to be real. This isn’t a movie about the ’70s clichés. It is a movie about people relating and having similar experiences. It happens to take place in ’73.’”
Lee explains that Crowe always puts the characters first, and in “Vanilla Sky” it’s especially true when fantasy and reality blend together.
“We always played the fantasy as reality, and that could be tricky with another director,” Lee notes. “With Cameron, however, you feel safe right from the get-go. You know he is going to put the character first.” Because of that, Lee adds, his part has become much more than just that of the standard “sidekick.”
“Brian Shelby is a good, honest friend to David Aames. They’ve been friends for 20-something years, and David is paying Brian to write his first novel. I tend to play ‘The Best Friend’ in a lot of movies. I’m the character who is always affected by something or someone. That could get old. But Cameron wants substance, and he never goes for the obvious. Brian changes subtly throughout the film, and in general, he has an integrity and dignity about him. So, while David Aames is the guy who has all the popularity, the women and the money, Brian is very cool about it and finds the humor in it, even when David does despicable things. In fact, Brian respects and admires David, even at his worst. Basically, Brian is big enough to let David have his world.”
Cruise adds that not only does his character, David Aames, believe in Brian, but also he, Tom Cruise, believed in Jason Lee as an actor to pull off such an integral character in the film.
“Jason’s character is, as always, incredible,” says Cruise.
“This is my second movie with Jason, and it’s a gift to work with people who know your idiosyncrasies,” says Crowe. “I’ve always admired the directors who have regular actors appearing as different characters in their movies. Billy Wilder often used the same stable of actors. They swirled through his films and gave his movies continuity that’s fun to follow as a fan.”
Kurt Russell plays psychiatrist Curtis McCabe. Although technically Russell was not an “Almost Famous” veteran, his stepdaughter Kate Hudson played the luminous Penny Lane in the film. It was on the “Almost Famous” set where Russell got his first taste of what it might be like to work on “Vanilla Sky.”
“I’d visited the ‘Almost Famous’ set a couple of times, and I was very impressed with the way Cameron worked,” Russell recalls. “Tom and I were friends already, and we had talked over the last ten years or so about the possibility of working together, but the right ingredients hadn’t come together for that to happen. I was at the point where I was wondering what path I wanted to take, in terms of the business, and what I really looked forward to was working with great people. In fact, I didn’t even read the script. That was not the point. I wanted to have the opportunity to work with people like Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise, and I thought it would be a blast. I was really thankful that the opportunity finally presented itself, and that they wanted me to do it.”
Happily, Russell did have a blast on the movie. His scenes were mostly with Cruise, and the two laughed easily and often between takes and while rehearsing lines with each other. Even when a movie light in the ceiling mysteriously popped during an intense scene, it was laughter that always prevailed.
“I had a ball working with Tom,” Russell says. “There are some people with whom, for some reason, you share a camaraderie. Tom and I have a lot of the same likes in life. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed his work. He’s extremely entertaining and a very good, accomplished actor.”
Russell went on to describe Cruise’s well-honed acting style.
“We had several emotional scenes together, and Tom handled them with a certain ease and grace. For example, when McCabe tries to draw David out of his nightmare –that is, his literal and figurative mask — Tom just sort of locked into it. He gets to the truth. I also think Tom is extremely versatile in his ability to take a line and play it 20 different ways and still tell the story in a truthful, compelling way. I find his ability to move the story along in character, as opposed to doing things that just pull me out of the movie, very admirable.” Describing Crowe as “part of the pack of great directors,” Russell elaborates on his admiration for the gifted filmmaker.
“His perceptions are unique, and in my opinion, incredibly right on target,” Russell says. “I think that’s probably what other actors feel like when they work with him. His instincts make sense; that is, what he wants you to try and feel. The way he communicates that is in the way of the great directors. Life is interesting, and any one scene can be expressed in a number of ways. But Cameron is only interested in the choice that’s going to bring about the truest sentiment or perception. His work has a very realistic yet stylized flavor, but it’s all anchored in an emotional truth.”
Obviously, Russell eventually read the script…repeatedly.
“When I read the script the first time, I found it to be compelling,” Russell recalls. “By the seventh or eighth time, I realized that with every read, I got another piece of the puzzle. In fact, I think that it’ll be interesting to find out if this isn’t one of those movies that you get more out of the fourth or fifth time you see it.”
“I’ve always been a fan of Kurt Russell,” says Crowe. “He’s got such an effortless, likeable and somehow always deep quality. He’s just plain fun to watch. He works harder when something isn’t working. He wants to please you and you want to please him.”
Cruise, who has been not only a fan of Russell for years, but also his friend, couldn’t agree more.
“Cameron and I were discussing who could play the psychiatrist and we both agreed Kurt has to play it,” says Cruise. “So he came on the set, shot for a couple of weeks, and he just really scored.”
Crowe, who truly enjoyed working on the entire production, sums up his experience working with Russell and with the entire cast best: “It was truly a great collaboration.”
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The company shot for approximately six weeks in New York, during the city’s peak Thanksgiving/Christmas season. Moving back and forth, from Central Park and the Upper West Side to Times Square, Soho and Brooklyn, the peripatetic production provided an exciting attraction for tourists and throngs of paparazzi.
One of the film’s most ambitious and successful scenes occurred in Times Square. The shot required the Steadicam operator to build an apparatus, similar to a rickshaw, which allowed him to stay low enough to meet Cruise as he pulled up in his sports car. Then, as Cruise ran down the street, the cameraman hopped onto a crane and followed the actor from high above as he sprinted down Times Square.
What made the shot even more astonishing was that the normally bustling avenue was completely deserted except for Cruise and company. In an unprecedented event, the city gave “Vanilla Sky” permission to shut down Times Square one Sunday so that the shot could be completed. Of course, this also meant that all the support vehicles and equipment had to be parked elsewhere, giving “Vanilla Sky” sole access to everything between 48th and 42nd Streets, including the subway. It was a tight shoot, but because Cruise, Crowe cinematographer John Toll and the shooting crew had practiced it several times, the shot proved to be both successful and very effective.
“From the very beginning, I wanted a shot where David Aames is alone in Times Square,” explains Crowe. “We had to have the shot because it’s from a dream that David is having where he’s running tragically alone in the world. The producers did some magic to get us Times Square to ourselves, and it helped us provide the shot with an eerie, inspired feeling.”
In the stirring finale of this breathtaking scene, Cruise runs down the street and spins around. As the camera follows him, all the neon advertising and billboards that characterize Times Square are highlighted. At the time, the red Möbius strip of a news ticker was informing everyone of the voting snafu during the Bush-Gore Presidential election, which would have completely dated the film, so Crowe arranged to add anything he wanted to the NASDAQ sign in postproduction.
Although in this particular sequence Cruise is surrounded by obvious, contemporary pop-culture, more oblique references recur throughout the film. Indeed, Crowe stuffed his dog-eared script with various photographs and clippings — everything from advertisements and vintage movie stills to artwork and album covers — each a symbolic source of inspiration.
“Vanilla Sky is a pop culture ride,” says Cruise. “It’s one of the sub-themes of the movie, how pop culture affects us, and how we use it as a standard as to what we expect from our own lives.”
Perhaps the ultimate pop-culture icon manifested itself as the entire set that served as Aames Publishing and David’s office. Vanity Fair kindly lent the production its advertising wing -in the new 48-story, Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square, in the heart of Manhattan. The company moved in to shoot in the magazine’s offices on the day of the famous Christmas tree lighting in Times Square, but because of the holiday event, the offices themselves were devoid of the usual staffers. They had just closed the magazine’s fabled Hollywood Issue, and everyone had happily vacated the premises for the film crew.
The Vanity Fair offices proved to be the ideal location. A long glass corridor lined one side of the bank of cubicles leading to David Aames’s office, allowing Crowe to set up a long moving shot that followed David as he charmed his office staff. Fittingly, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s office, with its broad window overlooking the hectic panorama of Christmas in New York, made the perfect office for David Aames.
“We needed a place with the texture of this kind of high-profile magazine, and Cameron liked the glassed-in hallway for the scene between David and the art director,” explains executive producer Jonathan Sanger. “Also, the view from Graydon Carter’s office just couldn’t be duplicated.”
The production then moved to Los Angeles to film the remainder of interior shots primarily at Paramount Studios. One of the most striking was David Aames’s sprawling, impeccably appointed penthouse apartment. A huge, high-ceilinged, multi-roomed place, decorated in muted blues and dark wood, the apartment’s size made it camera and crew friendly, and its design, as interpreted by production designer Catherine Hardwicke, made it credibly David Aames’s stylish Upper West Side abode.
“Tom explained that his character would have great style and taste, a really interesting take on things, a flair,” says Hardwicke, who accomplishes her task by using an abundant amount of what she calls “negative space.” “Throughout the apartment, I added more air. No furniture went to the ground. Nothing was stodgy or heavy. Everything was on legs. There was always a sense of luxury, of having a lot of room, instead of just cramming the place full of stuff. This guy has the money to have elegant things and the indulgence of a gorgeous space in New York to display them.”
To that end, Hardwicke adorned the walls with reproductions of classic works by Balthus, Rothko and Matisse, as well as some evocative canvasses by local Los Angeles artists. Quirky personal items also accented the rooms, such as a hand-painted Jason Lee original skateboard, emblazoned with the image of David Bowie; a huge surfboard sculpture from Hardwicke’s own collection; and an homage to Crowe’s rock & roll past in the form of several guitars, including a smashed one, lovingly framed behind glass.
“Tom and Cameron emphasized that they wanted to convey David Aames’ vitality,” Hardwicke says, “so we used sports equipment in a decorative way like this amazing, dreamlike painting of the side of a car by Robert Russell. The piece is just so indicative of everything that happens in the film, in terms of cars and driving, and I thought it kicked ass.”
Artwork, Hardwicke explains, is key in relating Aames’ personality, so it was very important to give his character one or two more blue chip pieces, like a Van Gogh and a huge looming painting of his father, which was Crowe’s suggestion. The idea was to splice Aames’ present life, such as his love of guitars and skateboards, with his past life, represented by his father’s portrait. Hardwicke worked closely with Toll, Crowe and Cruise to design and create all the sets. “Whatever I did became amazing and alive when John Toll applied his craft to it.”
“Tom has an incredible eye,” Hardwicke says. “He knows where everything exists in terms of the camera and in terms of the story, the characters and their emotions. Cameron is amazing, too. It blew my mind, the way he worked. He has a specific vision, and he conveys it in a way that allows me to bring my creativity to it.”
Betsy Heimann, who worked with Crowe on “Almost Famous” and with Crowe and Cruise on “Jerry Maguire,” created the film’s costumes. Like Hardwicke’s sets, Heimann’s wardrobe establishes a firm color scheme.
“It’s a winter film and there are certain dark undertones to the story, so I wanted to use the deeper colors, eggplant and deep reds, what I call the colors of passion, combined with a New York palette of grays, blacks, camels and navies,” Heimann says. “Then, because those colors are solids, I had to replace pattern with texture. That’s why we use leather, suede, knitwear and a lot of woven fabrics. We then make up for the lack of patterns by putting olives and beiges with grays, or camels and browns with blacks, combining the neutral patterns and adding some texture on top of that.”
Heimann’s clothes help define the characters, and while defining the two leading women, she takes a rather unconventional route.
“The interesting challenge of this movie is to have Cameron Diaz, supposedly the ‘naughty’ girl, appear heartbreakingly appealing, while giving Penélope, the ‘nice’ girl, a kind of edge. To accomplish this, Julie, Cameron’s character, wears a lot of deep red, and I use a lot of softer fabrics for her, such as cashmere and chiffon, because even though she’s got this tough exterior, she’s just dying inside. Sofia, Penélope’s character, is a much clearer. She knows who she is, she knows what she is doing, she holds down three or four jobs, and she is very focused. Her clothes are much crisper, with much harder edges. She has a fitted jacket with a blouse underneath, nice jeans and high boots. It’s all very crisp and classic for Sofia.”
Cruise’s costumes, in particular, reflect the character’s journey as well as his changing state of mind. “Everything about this movie is not what it seems,” Heimann observes. “With David Aames, we are dealing with an incredibly rich guy who doesn’t feel the need to show that he is incredibly rich. Although he may have on Helmut Lang jeans that cost $150, they just look like jeans. His shirt will be costly, but he’s very laissez faire about his clothes, so his shirt won’t be tucked in, and he’ll wear a goofy hat to work. He is the most expensively casually dressed man you’ll ever meet. That’s the key to David Aames.”
Heimann notes that as David’s character makes inward changes, it is up to her to reflect those changes in his outward appearance.
“In the beginning, David is very underdressed, although he looks great,” Heimann observes. “But then there comes a moment when he wants to try very hard because something has happened to him that’s made him unsure of himself. You see, when he feels self-confident, he doesn’t feel the need to dress up, but when he is unsure of himself, he has to try a little harder. For example, when he goes to meet Sofia in a club, he’s less secure, so he really pulls himself together. There are actually three beats to David’s character — his careless confidence in the beginning; his setback in the middle, which leads to an awakening through fantasy; and finally, the emergence of his true self-confident persona in the end. And all these character beats are reflected in his clothes.”
Jason Lee’s character, Brian Shelby, provides the link between the film’s fantasy and reality splice, and once again, it is up to Heimann to define this through her costuming.
“In the beginning, Brian is just a regular New York guy. He lives downtown, he doesn’t have a lot of money, and he’s basically supported by benefactors. David Aames is Brian’s best friend, and though he doesn’t always show it, David wants the best for him. So, when the fantasy begins, Brian suddenly has the things that he doesn’t have in his real life. He has all the trappings — the beautiful coat, the nice clothes — and that’s a clue that something is askew. Suddenly, Brian is the one who is very cool, and that’s when reality begins to unravel into fantasy.”
Heimann, through her costuming, provides little “clues” about this switch along the way. She does this for the audience perhaps on an unconscious level, but she also does it very much for the actors. “Much of what I do is more for the psychology of the character,” says Heimann. “It’s not always what an audience will notice, but I hope on some subconscious level, they will respond to it. Take, for example, Cameron Diaz’s character, Julie Gianni. The neckline of the party dress she wears when she discovers that David is interested in Sofia is very unbalanced. On one side, the strap is thick, and on the other side, the strap is very thin. You may or may not notice, but I think it helps her, it helps me, it helps Cameron Crowe, and hopefully, on a subliminal level, it helps the audience, too.”
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures