Vanilla Sky – Providence Journal

A challenge for Vanilla Sky ‘s ‘famous’ director

BOSTON — Earlier this year , Cameron Crowe won the Academy Award for his screenplay of the semi-autobiographical Almost Famous, a film which had appeared on more than 150 critics’ top-10 lists for 2000. He was also nominated as best director for the film.

Four years before that, he had been nominated for Oscars for both his directing and writing of Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise who stars in Crowe’s latest, Vanilla Sky, for Paramount. It was part of a wave of movie success stretching back to 1983 when, at the age of 25, the former Rolling Stone rock writer got a Writer’s Guild nomination for his script for Fast Times Times at Ridgemont High, which was based on his popular 1981 book.

With all those honors under his belt, you’d think Crowe would be at least “almost famous.”

So he was startled, after flying up after an early-morning interview on The Today Show in New York to preview Vanilla Sky for film critics here, to discover that his name had been misspelled in the movie’s press kit. Cameron Crowe had become “Camron Crowe.”

“This goes back to the copy desk,” he wrote merrily across the page, circling the “E” in his signature.

Crowe may not quite be “almost famous,” but neither is he a pretentious man.

He laughed when asked why he wanted to follow up one challenging film — Almost Famous, which recreated the ’70s music era as it traveled cross country — with another equally harrowing movie — Vanilla Sky, which zips from the present to the past to a dream state in the blink of an eye.

“I usually spend a couple of thousand years between movies,” he says with a chuckle over lunch in a suite at the new Ritz Carlton Boston Common Hotel. “But they called and said a strike is coming and so I went to work on it. Writing-wise, a deadline is nice to have: ‘Here’s a date. Write and see if you can hit it.’ And then Tom and Cameron Diaz were available.”

The Hollywood writer’s strike never materialized, but at least Crowe had a workable script for the film, which is loosely based on the 1997 Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), about a hot-shot publisher who is disfigured in an accident and discovers new facets of himself because of it.

Cruise, who stars as the young publisher, had gotten an Oscar nomination when he worked with Crowe on Jerry Maguire. He owned the screen rights to the Spanish film and persuaded Crowe to team with him again, perhaps hoping that lightning would strike twice. Plus, “We really had fun on Jerry Maguire. I think it was the best working experience I’ve had so far.

“Almost Famous, on the other hand, was really hard. There were a lot of actors who had little working experience. We traveled to a lot of cities, almost a different one every day. And then I’d be asked things like, ‘What kind of rig should we have on the bus?’ And I’m thinking, oh, I don’t know, whatever gives the smoothest ride.

“Actually, Vanilla Sky seemed more challenging thematically . . . and my mom was on the set a lot, too.”

Few people have seen Vanilla Sky, but months ago it gained a measure of tabloid fame as the movie that brought Cruise and co-star Penelope Cruz together. That affair didn’t begin, however, until several months after filming had been completed.

“It didn’t happen on the set,” Crowe says, while adding that Cruise and the vibrant Spanish actress “were very comfortable with each other. But then he was very comfortable with Rene [Zellweger, his co-star in Jerry Maguire] .”

Crowe recalls the morning Cruise brought the entire crew together to tell them that he and his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, were separating. Crowe, who hadn’t an inkling beforehand, reports, “He told us something was going to happen that we’d hear about in the next day or so and he wanted us to hear it from him.

“It brought everybody closer. And his work ethic is so strong that it didn’t change things. Actually, he worked harder after that.”

Crowe remembers that it was the day they shot a difficult nightclub sequence in which Cruise’s recently disfigured character goes out into public for the first time. If anything, his real-life experience added a stronger dimension to the scene.

Logistically, there were some tough moments on the film as well. One very early Sunday morning Crowe found himself in the middle of a very empty Times Square with Cruise and the crew shooting the film’s opening sequence. “We had only three hours and we filled it up. [The city] told us, if you don’t get it, you’re not coming back.” They got it.

Although Vanilla Sky’ s major opening day competition is the teen comedy Not Another Teen Movie, Crowe realizes that his movie had better get out of the gate fast or it won’t last long against all the other big movies waiting to roll out in the next 10 days, such as Ali, Joe Somebody and The Majestic, although that’s not an unusual situation this time of year.

“It’s Christmas, man,” he says brightly. “With Harry Potter on 7,000 screens, I just want to be able to stay in theaters.”

Courtesy of Providence Journal – Michael Janusonis – December 14, 2001