Vanilla Sky – Movie Chicks

Cameron Crowe/Tom Cruise Interview

Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe first worked together on ‘Jerry Maguire’. Both men have been looking for an opportunity to collaborate ever since. They expressed a mutual interest in remaking ‘Abre Los Ojos’ by Alejandro Amenábar. Cameron took on the task of adapting the script and Tom got involved as the producer and the result is a unique psychological thriller with Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Jason Lee, and Kurt Russell.

Question: Why did you guys want to start a project that had been done before and is a pretty well respected Spanish film? This is sort of unusual for both of you.

Tom Cruise: I dug the movie – I thought it was great. First of all, I’m sent an awful lot of films to look at or remake. Normally, they’re cultural dependent when you look at them and this had some universal themes and ideas. The structure of it had this adrenaline rush that I thought was extraordinary. What I did was called Cameron on the phone.

Cameron Crowe: He said, “I want you to see this movie. It’s from Spain and I’m not going to tell you anything about it.” The last time he said, “I want you to see this movie” – it was ‘Trainspotting’. So we saw the movie and couldn’t stop talking about it. He had the rights to any kind of other version or remake, but anything that happened later came out of us being fans of the movie. I think what we stumbled on was an idea hopefully to make it original, even though it was based on the other movie. Maybe get a dialog between the two movies. The blessing from Alejandro Amenábar came as quickly as we expressed interest and we’re all kind of together in this dialog between ‘Open Your Eyes’ and ‘Vanilla Sky’. Hopefully the two movies complement each other.

Tom: In theatre, people do plays over and over again and painters paint the same scene. I talked to Amenábar and said, “Listen, are you sure you’re okay, cause I’m not going to just do a frame-for-frame kind of [remake]? How do you feel about this?” He got very excited about the idea and about Cameron doing it. It was a challenge. When you look at the two films, one is distinctly Amenábar, a young filmmaker at the start of his career, and one is distinctly Cameron Crowe. I like what Alejandro said when he saw the movie, “that it feels like the films are two brothers posing the same question coming to different conclusions.” It allowed for a lot of the themes that Cameron had been discussing with me (we’d wanted to work together after ‘Jerry Maguire’). The kind of dialog we’d have about society, pop culture, humanity, and casual sex – what is casual sex in relationships. With Cameron, he could tell a modern love story and weave in the themes he’d been exploring before.

Question: Can you talk about the challenges about the shoot – didn’t you shut down Times Square?

Cameron: I have always wanted to do a movie in New York City and they always tend to come along and say, “Central Park – there’s a place in Pasadena that’s better than Central Park. Times Square – the back lot works. Listen, it’s easier, it’s cleaner.” Of course, it’s not true – New York is New York. Because Tom and Paula Wagner [the co-producer] really protected the production, we got to shoot for six weeks in New York City and New York was great to us. We shot in the streets, we shot underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, we shot in Times Square, which is kind of the big kahuna. They said, “Know your shots, know what you want to do. We’ll think about it.” And then ultimately the police department, the film commission, and the mayor’s office said, “OK, you have a brief window early on a Sunday morning in November.”

Tom: And they’re excited about it – they did get behind it.

Cameron: They wanted to let us know how unique it was that they were letting us do this – “Don’t tell your friends.” They said we could get a couple of hours and then we’re going to flood it with people and traffic as soon as we choose to at this appointed time. We rehearsed a lot in between the other shots and knew what we were doing. Got out there early. The first shot wasn’t the same if we didn’t start with the character, Tom, giving you how he’s reacting to the empty place. Once we had that, coming off his face and then showing the empty Times Square, we had our shot. We got it pretty quickly and then he ran for about two and a half hours. It was eerie because all the electricity was on – it’s like life had just gone away. It was there a second ago and now it’s all gone, except for some birds. It still gives me chills.

Tom: We were rapping about where should this be – we were talking about pop culture and iconography, what piece of real estate would represent that a guy running through looking for humanity and being invaded by pop culture advising you on life, love and [Cameron] said Times Square. We shut down about 40 blocks around Times Square.

Question: What was the toughest day? Was it the same for both of you?

Tom: Remember that day in the park – we were shooting Central Park?

Cameron: Yeah, it’s the first day.

Tom: That was wild. We were shooting the park scene the first day; we had great weather. Before you go to shoot exteriors like this, you study ten years of weather patterns. I don’t know why – you have to shoot on that day anyway, but I’m just kind of obsessed with that thing. Well, you know, ten years ago it was snowing here, but percentage-wise it looks good – I don’t know why we do it, but we do it. And everyday I looked out my window where we’re shooting the park – the scene after the crash where I meet Sofia. The leaves are changing and everyday, I was going, “Hold on. Please, hold on.” We showed up and it was a beautiful day, the leaves perfect, the light was gorgeous, everyone was very excited, and then we go to do the scene and there are 75 paparazzis about [10 feet away], while we were doing that scene the first day of the shoot. He ad-libs and told Penélope to jump on me in the scene and you could hear [all the cameras going off and them talking] – please just not while we’re shooting. That was tough.

Cameron: That was day one.

Tom: That kind of broke it in – now we’re ready for anything.

Cameron: They’re right outside the frame in the movie. They are allowed to be there in New York City – which I never knew until the first day.

Tom: I knew that.

Cameron: He’s a little more experienced with that than I am. He’s really good with them – he talks to them and everything.

Tom: I said, “Let me make the movie.”

Cameron: This one guy said, “Hey, just pose for a picture – Penélope, Cameron Diaz, and Tom. Just everybody pose, and then we’ll all go away.” I was like, “Hey, maybe if you guys pose for a picture, they’ll all go away.” [Tom said,] “Yeah right. The paparazzi in New York City – they’re lying to you.” Anyway, it really was wonderful shooting in New York – that was a small price to pay.

Question: What was the most difficult part about doing this character?

Tom: The character is a big bite, in every scene. It has a range from physicality after the accident. Even before, because Cameron always talked about wanting this character to glide through scenes. There’s a couple of weeks where there is just one gut-wrenching emotional scene after the next, every day you go to work you really have to make sure it’s game day. You can’t have bad days; you have to be on top of it. That was physically and emotionally exhausting. The make-up was suffocating and it actually made me dizzy. There were times that I had to sit down, just make sure that I relaxed.

Question: Is it tough to leave behind characters that you play, especially something like this?

Tom: When I’m working on something, it’s fun – I think about it all the time. I don’t sleep many hours (I don’t need a lot of sleep), so I enjoy thinking about it and talking about it. But, I started ‘Minority Report’ about two days after we’d finished ‘Vanilla Sky’. We actually did a Vanity Fair photo shoot and I shaved my head that night – that was our wrap party. Then two days later Cameron came by on the set of ‘Minority Report’ for my first day to say hello to Steven [Spielberg] and kind of support me on that, hang out.

Cameron: He was a completely different character – in two days. You think you’re the center of the world and David Aames and this amazing ‘Vanilla Sky’ experience. Let’s see how he’s doing on ‘Minority Report’ – completely different guy, on fire.

Tom: After a first day, he was like, “Where’s David?”

Question: Can we talk about the leading ladies? Cameron, why you chose Penélope and Cameron? And Tom, what was it like to work with these ladies?

Cameron: Cameron Diaz – I love her name. For some reason, I felt there was a streak inside of her that would really suit that character, the Holly-Go-Lightly just past her prime. Somebody like herself (Cameron came from Long Beach), somebody that came from an outlying community to a bigger city – didn’t get to be Cameron Diaz. I thought she would be great at playing that and she was. She played it beautifully. There’s hurt inside of her and that’s sometimes why her comedy is so funny because you know her heart’s breaking a little bit. Penélope is magic. Penélope was magic in the original film. I urge anybody to go check out her Spanish films; she’s just a gift. She’s so fresh, she makes you think this is her first, second or third movie, when in fact, she’s done 30 and has done all kinds of stuff. As soon as I met with her, I knew that this was a beautiful link to the original film. I’ve loved her since ‘Belle Époque’. What you can do with Penélope is put the camera on her face, as in the memorial scene of our movie, and it’s more eloquent than what you could’ve written for her. She looks around that room and remembers the sights and smells of their relationship that’s now gone and it kills me.

Tom: Cameron Diaz – I remember the first time we met her was ‘Jerry Maguire’ and watched her career and you see she knows something. Both these women, I feel fortunate to have them, because casting these two characters was so important. Cameron Diaz is a life force and a very layered, skilled actress. And to have her play this character and jump in the way she did, I think added to how startling that character was. I think Cameron [Crowe] also creates that environment where people are very relaxed and able to just concentrate and work on the characters, so that it almost feels like rehearsal when you’re doing it. And Penélope’s the same way – distinct, skilled, Penélope has an elegance that she brings to it. Very easy to work with. Subtle, her comedic timing, also she’s an actress that in this character just allows you in.

Question: You acted as producer and actor on this picture? Were they ever any times that those two roles were in conflict with each other?

Tom: A couple of times I told him to get a little more sleep. I really enjoy producing films. The reason that I wanted to start producing pictures – I loved movies growing up and I wanted to learn as much as I could about what filmmaking is, acting, writing. I’m fortunate because I’m in a place now where I have a bit of clout and I’ve made a lot of movies and I’ve learned a lot of dos and don’ts, things that I need to do in a way that I feel I can protect the director’s vision of the film – trying to make the film in a way that he wants it made. I’m here as Cameron’s sounding board – his friend, his partner. I have great respect for him as a writer and director. Paula and I did everything we could to take problems off his plate just so that he could focus on making his movie. There’s a dialog that happens as an actor and a director and there’s a dialog that occurs with a director and a producer, especially if you’re in sync and challenging each other and it’s exciting – that conversation, that journey that you go on with a film. There’s a sense of community, there’s a sense of production because every day you’re faced with these challenges and these problems that you’ve got to solve together and I’m thrilled by it.

Question: Tom, how about directing?

Tom: I’ve been offered things to direct. It’s something that I will do one day. I will say that it will be my first film – so be patient. Having worked with the likes of the Crowes and the Spielbergs, I’ve learned a lot from them. I learned so much working with Cameron Crowe, as an actor, as a producer, as a filmmaker – the same with Steven. That’s something that I would like to try one day, I just have to find the right piece of material. I’ll just have to see.

Question: But you are preparing, by being on the set when you’re not especially needed and watching things, being a producer?

Tom: I think I’m always needed – maybe I am truly in a dream. I’m always learning – I’m always working on the set, seeing how different directors work. Each director’s different in terms of taste in film and their point of view of life. So I’m always learning. Every time a director sets a camera angle, stages a scene, it’s distinctly their own and really comes from them. It’s something that I’d like to try.

Question: Tom, you’ve worked with an amazing list of directors. Who’s out there that’s not on your list that you’d like to work with?

Tom: I really don’t have a list. I loved working with Cameron – I want to make many movies with him. Spielberg is a filmmaker who’s been a friend of mine for years and to have had the opportunity to work with him was extraordinary. I feel fortunate I got to work with Kubrick. I love film, so I like having this conversation. There really are a lot of great filmmakers coming up and I know I’m not going to be able to work with them all, but I hope that they’ll hire me somewhere down the line.

Question: Cameron, who’s on your list of actors that you’d like to work with?

Cameron: I really want to work with Emma Thompson.

Question: Is there a favorite line of yours from this film?

Tom: There’s a lot of them. Kurt Russell is a guy that I’ve known for years. We’re both pilots, we fly together; I’ve wanted to make a film with him for a long time. When he finally said yes to this, we were dancing in the Carlyle Hotel we were so excited. I just think he’s a great actor and in this role. I loved the scene at the end where he says, “I’m real.” And “Mortality as home entertainment, this can not be the future.”

Question: How long was your first cut?

Cameron: The first cut was not that long comparing it to ‘Almost Famous’, where the first cut was almost five hours. The first cut was about two hours and 42 minutes. We fooled around a little bit with 15 minutes that were in question and then a door opened in how we could tell the story and we were able to get it a little more economical.

Question: ‘Almost Famous’ was a film you said you didn’t want to make. Was it a conscious decision, initially, to go with something with which you weren’t so emotionally connected?

Cameron: I am emotionally connected to this movie. There was a moment there when this was going to go first, before ‘Almost Famous’. The two of them are linked in a way. One is set in the 70’s and the other is obviously about five minutes in the future, maybe more. But the thing is, it’s all personal – no matter what I try and do to pretend that film isn’t personal, I think it is and it’s not exclusive to me. A director that comes onto a movie four weeks in because another person got fired, that movie is going to be personal to that new director. This one was interesting, though, because there wasn’t a lot of time to second-guess things. So subliminal thoughts and less subliminal thoughts about casual sex and things that I’d wanted to write about, put on screen happened that way and it was kind of a joyful set – that having been said. ‘Almost Famous’ was really, really tough. I’m so glad I made them both.

Question: Did the work that you both did meet with your expectations? Are you happy with the final product?

Tom: I’m so proud of this film. The picture is kind of out-of-bounds. The ability to get a picture like this made, by Paramount, I’m really thankful for.

Cameron: It’s a different film, not just for me, and for us wanting to do something after ‘Jerry Maguire’, but it’s a different film overall. And different is often what you remember. I want people to kind of go on the ride with us. It’s about a different search for humanity, which I always like to write about and he loves to portray characters that are on their soulful search. It turned out to have rhythms deeper and more subliminal than I thought, but that was my dream – that there would be a sweet layer, there’d be a very deep, sometimes dark layer, but always you felt that you were in the hands of a haunting melody.

Question: What future collaboration do you have in mind?

Tom: I’ve been hinting about every day. I said, “Are you tired? Are you going to write? What are you going to do, are you going to get on the Internet, or are you going to write? Have some coffee.” I’d call him in the middle of the night.

Cameron: I would do another comedy with Tom.

Courtesy of the Movie Chicks – December 7, 2001