Vanilla Sky – Philadelphia Inquirer

Crowe’s latest leads him in new direction

Last year, Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous offered an autobiographical look at a precocious pubescent rock journalist coming of age in the midst of all the sex, drugs and ego trips of a band on the road. Vanilla Sky, the newest from the writer-director – it opened Friday – is an adaptation of a 1999 Spanish pic, Open Your Eyes, about a guy who’s stalked by a jilted lover, who falls for Penelope Cruz and loses his grip on reality. (That happens a lot with guys who fall for Ms. Cruz.)

And still, Crowe says, he is as attached to the one, steeped in his own experience, as he is to the other – a rigorously faithful remake of Alejandro Amenábar’s art-house hit.

“It’s so different from Almost Famous,” Crowe says of Vanilla Sky, which stars Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and, yes, Penelope Cruz, too. “I really like looking at the two of them together because they’re both personal in wildly different ways. And it’s been great to have done two projects so fast.” (Almost Famous was released last year.) “Usually, I have three or four years of anguish in between these things,” he said.

The R-rated Vanilla Sky, which takes its psychedelic-y title from a Monet painting in the film, stars one of the world’s most famous Scientologists as a smug magazine magnate who beds a coworker (Diaz) and then goes gaga over a Spanish beauty (Cruz) at a party. The sexual entanglements are complicated by the fact that Cruise’s David Aames finds himself with a severely disfigured face, alone in a locked room, and being interrogated by a psychologist (Kurt Russell). He’s having dreams that he’s sure are real. Or maybe not.

“It’s very challenging, hopefully not in a pretentious way,” Crowe offers. “What it does is kind of presents some avenues for you to take – one of them, or a couple of them – and then you just have your own experience with them. I like that about it.”

Crowe saw Amenábar’s mind-messer while he was shooting Almost Famous and set about considering an adaptation right then and there. (The Spanish director, who helmed the ex-Mrs. Cruise, Nicole Kidman, in this year’s The Others, approves of the remake, by the way, calling it “a courageous, innovative work.”)

“I was writing [Sky] while we were doing Almost Famous, so now you can see how trippy the night sessions were.”

What about Open Your Eyes clicked with Crowe?

“The camera moved great, and I found myself wishing I was that guy – Alejandro – working in Spain that fast on my feet, just kind of writing this story in a fever dream. I loved how immediate it was,” he said.

Crowe had been talking to studios about trying a foreign-language remake – he’d been offered a version of Shall We Dance, which he thought was too rooted in Japanese culture.

“But for some reason, this one seemed so inviting because it was so open-ended. And all of a sudden, I was thinking about the music and what it could be. . . . I was so excited to ‘collaborate’ with this guy without meeting him.” (Crowe and Amenábar finally got together after Crowe finished the pic.)

Crowe, who is 44 and married to the singer-songwriter Nancy Wilson of Heart, says that working with his leading man a second time – Cruise, of course, starred in Crowe’s Jerry Maguire – was a pleasure.

“His directors love him for good reason because he just wants to be there for every word in your script. He never forgets the script. . . . And he studies other people’s scenes, sometimes more than his own.”

Crowe also found the psychological-thriller genre a liberating departure.

“It gave me a chance to be more visual – it’s a little more about camera movement, but even so, it’s still always fundamentally about character.”

Courtesy of Philadelphia Inquirer – Steven Rea – December 16, 2001