Almost Famous – Chicago Tribune

After ‘Jerry Maguire’ Crowe Heads for the ’70s

After scoring a critical and commercial smash with ”Jerry Maguire,” Cameron Crowe was in that rare, blessed position for a filmmaker: He could do whatever he wanted to do.

So Crowe turned to two projects especially close to his heart. The former journalist spent a year conducting interviews with his idol, director Billy Wilder, while struggling to write an autobiographical screenplay based on his experiences as a teen-age rock reporter for Rolling Stone magazine.

The interviews became the book ”Conversations with Wilder” (Knopf), which came out last fall, and the screenplay turned into ”Almost Famous,” which was enthusiastically received in its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last weekend. It opens nationwide Friday.

The movie, which had several reported working titles before DreamWorks finally announced ”Almost Famous” in July, is Crowe’s love letter to 1970s rock and the people who love it. It stars newcomer Patrick Fugit as William Miller, the young Crowe stand-in; Billy Crudup as ”guitarist with mystique” Russell Hammond, a role to which Brad Pitt’s name originally was attached; and Kate Hudson as the band’s passionate follower who goes by the name Penny Lane.

At 43, the putty-faced Crowe retains the youthful quality that enabled him, while in his 20s, to pose as a high school student to write his book ”Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which he subsequently adapted into the screenplay for the 1982 surprise hit movie. He also wrote the 1984 flop teen comedy ”The Wild Party” before moving to the director’s chair for the smart ”Say Anything …” (1989).

The Seattle-set, overly generalized ”Singles” (1992) and ”Jerry Maguire” (1996), followed, and now Crowe’s preparing to shoot ”Vanilla Sky,” which he calls ”a love story with some psychological elements.” It will re-team him with ”Jerry Maguire” star Tom Cruise.

While in Chicago recently, Crowe talked about his dual loves of music and movies, memories of Led Zeppelin in Chicago, the departure from the film of Pitt, the greatness of Elton John’s ”Tiny Dancer” and studio battles over money, the title and Lou Reed.

Q: If I had to trade away my favorite albums or my favorite movies, I’d probably keep the albums.

A: Absolutely. Commerce dictates music more than ever, but I smell the pursuit of money in movies more than I ever have. Even though I’m sure it was always about money. Even Wilder says, ”I’m a company man! I want to make back the investment!” The stink of cash has never been on movies as much as it is now for some reason. I just think movies are harder to make. Everybody is concerned about the investment.

Q: Were you bummed out when Brad Pitt dropped out (of the film)?

A: Yeah, I got pretty bummed out (laughs). But he wasn’t quite sure why he dropped out of it. It was all very fuzzy and vague. And the studio said, ”The script is the star; we don’t need stars to make it; we love the project; we really want to make this movie anyway.”

Q: The line ”Show me the money” (from ”Jerry Maguire”) — did you think it would become the catch phrase that goes on forever?

A: No, no. The only time I ever tried to coin a phrase was in this movie we did called ”The Wild Life,” which was terrible, and the phrase was ”It’s casual.” For some reason I always loved that, ”It’s casual.” I thought, you know, this is the next ”Hey, bud, let’s party.” And I fell for it. And of course you smell it a mile away.

Q: Did doing the Billy Wilder book make you want to be more prolific?

A: Yeah. Absolutely. That and having two kids, for some reason. And it’s not anything palpable. It’s just all of a sudden you start to say, ”Wait a minute, I have kids, I can’t even begin to fool myself that I’m not an adult. So there’s a finite number of movies I’ll be able to make or books I’ll be able to write, so let’s get it on.”

Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune – Mark Caro – September 15, 2000