Almost Famous – E! Online

Q & A With Cameron Crowe

The man from Ridgemont on touching Tom Cruise, ’70s rock and being Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe has always looked a little young for his age, but his achievements have consistently managed to outstrip whatever birthday he happens to be celebrating. When he was 16, Crowe was traveling around the country with rock hedonists like Led Zeppelin and producing cover stories for Rolling Stone. When he needed a new challenge at the ripe age of 22, he went undercover at San Diego’s Clairemont High School and wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Now, at 43, and after writing and directing acclaimed movies like Say Anything and Jerry Maguire, Crowe has decided to revisit his youth with his new film, Almost Famous. The movie follows a wide-eyed, 15-year-old rock fan who wangles an assignment from Rolling Stone to go on the road with a fictional band named Stillwater. Along the way, he learns about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and discovers that getting too close to your subjects can have its consequences.

Does it take a certain amount of, well, let’s say healthy self-esteem to make a movie about yourself?

In other words, am I an egomaniac? I hope not. I’ve been writing this movie since 1988, and the only way it worked was to make it personal. When it got more personal, it got more purposeful. Earlier versions were funnier and more like Spinal Tap and The Rutles. But then, those movies are the peak, and we don’t need an imitator.

So, you got personal. Was that hard?

It was a lot more embarrassing and scary than I anticipated. I guess I could have turned back at a couple of points, but I didn’t. It’s a little different if somebody says about Jerry Maguire, “Oh, I’m not really into sports. I didn’t care for it.” That’s different than, “I’m not really into your life. It bored me.”

In other words, you want people to like you.

What writer doesn’t? Not to be too sensitive about it, but all writers have to have a certain degree of sensitivity to write. I felt like I had to put on a protective covering to do a movie like this, but I found you can’t wear that protective covering because then the movie becomes fake. So, I ended up feeling everything a little too much while I was making it. And I still do.

Did you get the feeling people were thinking this movie was a $60 million therapy session for you?

Oh, yeah. Crew members, people from the studio are immediately going to say, “Well, it’s about him…of course, he’s going to be fragile. Of course, he’s going to work longer on the edit.” What would be the version of prejudice that would involve autobiographical filmmaking? It’s the prejudice that happens when everybody thinks you’re a little more of a skinless newt because it’s a personal movie. And there’s a lot of truth to that.

And yet, it’s all there in the movie–your battles with your mom, your ups and downs as a teenage reporter, even how you lost your virginity. Which, by the way, has us wondering if it really happened with three beautiful babes crawling all over you.

It happened just like that. I’m afraid it’s all true. It was a Lee Michaels tour, believe it or not. You know, the guy who sang “Do You Know What I Mean?” It happened in Portland. And can I just say, embarrassing but true, that Steely Dan was playing “Reeling in the Years” and “Do It Again” on Midnight Special at the time? I begged for that actual clip and got it for the movie. How sad is that to need to put that into the movie like that?

I don’t know. I could see it being a point of pride. But I could see how maybe your mom might not like it.

Oh, she was fine with that. She just wants it pointed out that she did not go around barefoot. She said, “Cameron, I’m really happy with it. I love Frances [McDormand]. But one thing is bothering me…I never went barefoot. You know that.” And I’m like, “Mom, what about the deeper stuff?” “Oh, that’s fine,” she says.

She should be flattered; the movie is kind of a tribute to her, as well as to your sister, who turned you on to rock.

They are my heroines. I hope this movie brings them together a little bit, because there were about 10 years when they weren’t talking. My mom was a little less flexible when she brought up my sister, and my sister carried a little bit of a heavy load. When I was growing up, my mom chilled out.

She must have. She let you go on tour across the country with bands like the Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin, groups that weren’t exactly known as pillars of upright behavior.

She trusted me a lot. But I think she knew that for me, it was all about the music. And you see that in the movie. Not to be Pollyanna about it, but the times I remember were about the music, not the traditional rock decadence. That’s why the women following the band in the movie aren’t the groupies with needles hanging out of their arms. They’re muses. I wanted to show that time in the past when you sort of had a glorious but passionate naïveté.

You wanted to avoid the story arc seen on VH1’s Behind the Music.

Definitely. That show basically turns everybody into Spinal Tap.

You’ve stayed friends with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. They even let you put five of their songs in the movie and one on the soundtrack. Did they like the film?

We went to England and screened it for them, which made me pretty nervous. Afterward, they said it reminded them of the time. Robert said, “Wow, we were really sort of like that, weren’t we? It was all so deep and meaningless.” And I thought, That’s interesting, because it was all so deep and meaningful to me.

Is Stillwater more or less Led Zeppelin?

Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers. There’s a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Eagles in there, too.

It’s remarkable you did all this as a teenager. Did anyone ever intimidate you?

Dylan. It was 1978, and I was so intimidated by the fact that I was finally able to interview Bob Dylan that I don’t think I was able to ask good questions. And it was a great opportunity. He had just gone to the store and bought all these punk records by people like the Sex Pistols, and he was sitting there on the bed looking at the albums while I interviewed him. How I couldn’t turn that into a piece worth publishing I’ll never know.

Obviously, you were passionate about the music and the artists. Typically, that kind of passion tends to dull a bit with age. Did making this movie cause you to be a little wistful?

I get wistful more and more these days, but I’m trying not to fall into that trap. I feel things pretty deeply still, maybe to a fault. But that’s good, because that’s what allows me to write.

And some of your writing has become part of the pop lexicon. Jerry Maguire had “Show me the money!” and “You had me at hello.”

Don’t forget “You complete me,” which I thought was sort of cheesy when I wrote it–but Tom Cruise felt that very deeply. Tom attacked that line so voraciously. To him, that was a statement about his marriage, and when he came to do it, he just took swings at that line I never imagined possible.

So, to hear people quote that line must make you proud.

The most joy I have in life, apart from my marriage [to former Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson] and my seven-month-old twin boys, is to observe people’s behavior and be the fly on the wall. To just sit in a Denny’s or watch people unguarded on the street and then maybe someday put that up on the screen and make people recognize something real about life…well, that’s my biggest privilege, and I love it.

Courtesy of E! Online – Chris Schlegel – September 12, 2000