Almost Famous – Vogue Magazine

People Are Talking About Easy Street

In Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe revisits his gonzo youth – the early ’70s, on the road as a rock-critic boy in the band.

If Cameron Crowe weren’t so likeable, he’d be very easy to hate. At sixteen, he was a staff writer at Rolling Stone, traveling with bands like Yes and the Eagles. By 25, he’d scripted the landmark teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Now 43, he’s happily married to ex-Heart rocker Nancy Wilson, hangs out with Tom Cruise, and is following his smash hit Jerry Maguire with the hugely touted Almost Famous, which opens this month. Based on Crowe’s early days covering the concert circuit, it’s the most personal film he’s ever done, a fact he finds slightly unnerving.

“I spent a long time looking for reasons not to do this movie,” he says over sandwiches at the Fox studio¬† cafe in Los Angeles. “It was, like, did I really want to make a movie about me and my family and the music and all that stuff?”

Set in 1973, the movie tells the story of William (newcomer Patrick Fugit), a big-eyed teen whose rookie assignment for Rolling Stone puts him on the tour bus with Stillwater, an almost famous band with a charismatic guitarist played by Billy Crudup. (The part was originally written for Brad Pitt.) Along the way, William must juggle the radically different claims made upon him by his mother (Frances McDormand), his gonzo mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and a seventeen-year-old groupie played by Kate Hudson (“She’s going to be a huge star,” Crowe says). Darker and more complex than the filmmaker’s earlier work, Almost Famous is about the cost of growing up, the ambiguous relationship of reporters to their subjects, and the gap between public myth and private truth.

The last is a theme that Crowe knows firsthand. Sure, he was writer for Playboy before he was old enough to buy it, but by the time he was 20, his career was already starting to slip. “I had burned out at a young age, and Rolling Stone was moving me out of the assignments I wanted to do. I was no longer the youngest, prettiest girl on the block. And it scared the shit out of me. I was like, ‘I’m Britney, so why did they give Christina that part?'”

Fast Times made Crowe one of Hollywood’s hottest screenwriters, but another seven years would pass before his directorial debut with Say Anything… (1989), a critics’ darling that forever defined John Cusack as a romantic man-child. Even so, it wasn’t until Jerry Maguire that Crowe reached the highest levels of Hollywood mythography. Not only did the movie contain lines that entered the cultural lingo (“You had me at hello”) but it established Renee Zellweger, won Cuba Gooding, Jr., an Oscar, and found a charming new intimacy in Cruise, who performance bears a striking resemblance to Crowe’s own easy manner.

In person, Crowe’s a big-jawed, all-American enthusiast – funny, affable, endlessly gregarious. Unlike most directors, he never plays the genius – he has freely admitted that he didn’t come up with the line “Show me the money” – but bubbles with pop-culture opinions (“Somebody’s got to reinvent Costner”); tells stories about his director play Billy (with whom he collaborated on the book Conversations with Wilder); and can be wheedled into sheepishly recounting the time in Portland, Oregon, when he lost his innocence to three rock groupies.

Despite having made a semiautobiographical film, Crowe guards his privacy. He’s not slick, but he is hermetic. In this, he resembles old-school Hollywood filmmakers who never revealed themselves too cheaply. I suspect he’d be delighted to hear this, for he measures his own filmmaking in classic terms.

“I want to do it as well as movies you see late at night sometimes. Not the crappy ones that make you feel like, OK, I can do this. But the ones where you go, ‘I can’t do this. I cannot do this beautiful gossamer thing where the actors are all in tune and everything’s together, and it all looks effortless.’ I can’t do it yet. But I’m trying.”

Courtesy of Vogue – John Powers – September, 2000