Vanilla Sky – Total Film Magazine

Dangerous Liaison – Cruise.Diaz.Cruz

Three sides of a love triangle in Cameron Crowe’s psycho-thriller Vanilla Sky. But why did the team behind feelgood smash Jerry Maguire want to make a dark tale of sex, obsession, disfigurement and delusion? And how did The Split affect the shoot? Total Film gathered the talent together and asked…

“Cameron Crowe and I had been trying to find a film to do together, we were working on a bunch of different ideas,” says Tom Cruise. “And then I showed him this.”

This was Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 Spanish thriller, Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), a movie that starts as a boy-meets-girl romance, before turning into a murky cinematic Rubik’s cube where seeing is most definitely not believing. Cruise first saw Amenábar’s twisty-turny flick in 1999 and snapped up the remake rights with producing partner Paula Wagner. The first helmer they talked to was Amenábar himself. But, maybe with thoughts of George Sluizer in his head (the Dutch director who remade his own classic chiller The Vanishing into a wretched Hollywood turkey), the Chilean-born helmer declined, although he did got on to make The Others, which Cruise produced.

Enter Cameron Crowe, who, after Almost Famous – his love letter to the ’70s – was desperate to turn his hand to something contemporary. Cruise screened Open Your Eyes for his Jerry Maguire director, who was hooked by the story of a playboy ladies’ man who meets the love of his life, only to be disfigured when his suicidal ex tries to kill him in a car crash.

With Crowe’s retooled script, which set the story in New York and made Cruise, a super-rich publishing titan, the pair threw out their casting net. Cameron Diaz signed up to play unhinged good-time girl Julie, while Hollywood’s favourite Euro-starlet Penelope Cruz – who’d starred in the original – lobbied to reprise her role as the sultry beauty who offers a lifeline out of the shallow bachelor pool. Cruz’s casting added some unexpected spice to the project when she and her leading man fell for each other.

The question now is how fortuitous the Cruise-Cruz coupling has been. In fighting a losing PR battle with Nicole Kidman over their broken marriage, Cruise denied whispers that his relationship with the Spaniard blossomed during shooting (before his divorce papers were signed). But Crowe sensed the couple shared a unique chemistry: “All that matters for the movie,” he says, “is do they fall in love on screen? And they do.”

With Vanilla Sky touching on themes of love, casual sex, virtual reality, and pop culture (look out for a Steven Spielberg cameo), Crowe’s take on the differences between the two films reflects his first love, music. “Open Your Eyes is like a song our band really liked,” says the former Rolling Stone journalist. “And this is our cover of it.”

Reaching For The Sky

Tom Cruise: When I first saw Open Your Eyes, I literally – as the end credits were running – got on the phone and said to my producing partner, Paul Wagner, “You’ve got to buy this!” It was a great story, but it was also dealing with universal themes and it left room for interpretation.

Cameron Crowe: After Tom showed it to me, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It left me with a feeling I hadn’t experienced in any other movie. And after Almost Famous, I wanted to do something super-contemporary.

Cruise: We talked about the film, and Cameron became involved. He’s unassuming, but an incredible person. You sit down and talk about film ideas, and he not only discusses them, but he can then go off and write it. The story is Alejandro’s, but the script and characters are Cameron’s. He pays homage to Open Your Eyes, but Vanilla Sky is very much from Cameron’s imagination. As an actor, I absolutely adore working with him.

Crowe: There wasn’t enough of the love story in the original for my taste. I wanted more and that’s what I thought I could bring to any adaption. I also wanted to explore how we treat the passing moments in our lives. Depending on how you react or what you say to a person, it might change your life or their life forever. My other concern, which I saw a little bit of in Open Your Eyes, was the notion of casual sex. How casual is casual sex really? I thought I could make a movie that would try and answer some of the questions Alejandro posed.

All The Right Friends

Crowe: I loved Penelope Cruz in Belle Epoque, and I loved her in Open Your Eyes. She always said that if somebody was going to remake it and not talk to her, she was going to get violent. But I would’ve talked to her anyway because I like her acting and she felt like a link to the original, a way of tipping your hat.

Penelope Cruz: I didn’t feel like I was repeating myself because, although the characters have many things in common, they’re not the same woman. So I arrived on the set fresh again, not thinking, “I’ve done this before.”

Cameron Diaz: I had read with Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise for Jerry Maguire. This was at the beginning of my career. It was such a thrill to work with them that day, and they both said, “We’re going to work with you someday.” And I’m like, “Yeah, right.”

Cruise: Cameron and I had wanted to work with Cameron Diaz for a long time. We just talked to her and she said she wanted to be part of it. We felt very fortunate to get her, because it’s such a challenging character. I don’t think Cameron met with a lot of other people for any of the characters. People would call, but he always had Penelope in mind, he knew he wanted Jason Lee, he new he wanted me [laughs], so that was done.

Kurt Russell: I’d watched by step-daughter, Katie [Hudson], work with Cameron Crowe on Almost Famous. I’d been on the set and I remember saying, “If the movie’s as good as what I saw today, this guy’s going to get nominated for Best Picture. This guy is the real thing.” When my agent phoned up later and said, “Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe want to know if you’d be interested in a supporting role in their movie”, I said, “Tell them I’m there. I don’t need to read the script.


Diaz: The thing with Cameron is he creates moments. He leaves the camera rolling for a minute longer where another director would have called, “Cut!”. He lets it get past that moment where you’re acting.

Cruz: Both Alejandro and Cameron take care of the actors first. Cameron already knew what he wanted to do but he was also open to suggestions. We he was looking for a profession for my character I told him I danced for 14 years, and I became a dancer in the movie.

Crowe: She played the character very differently from the way she played it in Alejandro’s movie, She was more of a carefree clubgoer in the original. In our movie, she’s struggling a little bit, juggling jobs to make it in New York.

Russell: Cameron is one these people that seems to be able to get everybody to feel like they are in cahoots with him. He has a tremendous ability to communicate.

Love And Other Catastrophes

Cruise: The story really pivots on the one night that David and Sofia spend together.

Crowe: Chemistry between your leads is what you dream of. I’ve been in the situation where there was no chemistry, and I’d go home at night and think, “It’s a love story and they hate each other. Oh my God!”

Cruz: The love scene between David and Sofia is one of the most romantic and poetic I have ever known. It wasn’t about my body. My career has never been based on that and I’ve said no to many things that were a temptation in that way because I didn’t want to be put in a box forever.

Russell: Tom’s character makes a decision to get in a car with somebody he shouldn’t get in a care with: Julie. He didn’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings, and also he might get laid. What’s the difference? The difference was that he had met someone he was really wanting to spend the rest of his life with – Sofia – and he was not man enough to say.

Diaz: I understood Julia because she’s someone we’ve all been at some point in our lives. We’ve all put ourselves forward and not had feelings reciprocated. I don’t see Julia as being obsessed with him. I mean, this is a man who invites her over to his home five nights a week. They’re sharing something very intimate and in the past it might have been okay for her because she’s a good-time girl. But she finds that she’s no longer willing to play the games, and decides she’s going to make him be honest about their relationship. But David is incapable of being honest with anyone because he’s completely self-absorbed.

Falling Apart

Cruise: Being disfigured in the movie wasn’t something that was necessarily freeing. In fact, it was very difficult. It was hard looking at pictures and seeing what people go through when that occurs. I’m a physical person, so when I’m going through it thinking this really happens to people, it’s very upsetting. It was uncomfortable wearing the mask, and disorienting. I’ve got really good vision and when I had something blocking my eyes, I felt nauseous sometimes. It’s the weirdest thing. As far as plastic surgery goes, I’ve broken my nose twice and my teeth have been knocked out a few times so I’ve had them replaced. But, no, I haven’t thought of plastic surgery for myself.

Diaz: The make-up was the physical manifestation of the deformation of his character’s soul. This man, who looks like he could have it all, but he’s severely deformed within himself. He’s incapable of making changes that would allow him to be the perfect man. It was very effective in that way.

Cruise: There was no concern from the studio about me being disfigured in the movie at all. No editing, no limitations. They didn’t interfere at all. They just left it up to Cameron and myself. We weren’t going to make the movie unless that make-up was perfect and reflected what happened in that accident. Michelle Burke, the make-up artist, did a brilliant job.

Crowe: We wanted it to be real. What would really happen after a car accident like that?

Hear My Song

Crowe: Vanilla Sky was a title I had come up with for Almost Famous, but it didn’t quite work. It sounded like the name of an album or a Beatles song, which I liked for this movie. Pop culture is a beautiful thing, but it’s also a dangerous thing when life is consumed by it.

Cruise: Cameron wanted the movie to be a pop culture experience. He wanted to create a pop culture ride, but also explore its effect on a society, as well as pose questions about casual sex and the little moments in our lives when you have a chance to turn things around and change your life. Those are all things that I have a great affinity for, and understanding of.

Cruz: I’ve always used music for acting to get myself in the right place, and Cameron used it on the set so everyone knew what atmosphere he was looking for. He could get a subtle idea that was difficult to put into words, and explain it with music.

Russell: He likes it because he can create a mood on set. To try to get you to feel as if you’re reminiscing, he plays ‘Yesterday’. That’s for everybody. Then he’ll play something that he knows just means something to you personally. You got pretty good at understanding where the music’s meant to take you.

Crowe: My feeling for a movie usually begins with a song. I feel like I want to make the movie to play this song. We’ll play it on set or it’ll end up in the movie. In this movie, it was Radiohead that we listened to a lot. And Peter Gabriel. The best music is very cinematic and a movie is your own radio station. You can programme it with music you love.

Diaz: Cameron Crowe said that his wife Nancy [Wilson, formerly of ’70s rock duo Heart] had written a song for Julie, ‘I Fall Apart’. Nancy Wilson, who was like a goddess to me when I was a child! I got to sit with Nancy Wilson in front of me singing me a song, and then I got to go to a recording studio and sing with her. It was one of those things where you just go, “This is why this job is so great.”

Crowe: A very cool thing happened – we called Paul McCartney and asked him if he wanted to come and look at our movie and maybe write a song. So he came and watched about 40 minutes. I said, “It’s about the sweet and sour of life, the fleeting qualities of life. If anything comes to you, we’d be honoured…” A few days later he called and said, “It’s Paul. I’ve written a song called `Vanilla Sky’, and if you don’t like it, I’ll just change the title to `Manila Envelope.'” We just screamed across town and he played us the song and it ended up being a really good way to end the movie.

Cruise And Cruz

Crowe: I have a built-in bias about actors who are married, you know, kind of playacting romance in movies. Sometimes it just seems like that’s not to be taken seriously because everybody knows they’re already together, and that takes away from the suspension of disbelief for me. What’s different, I hope, about Vanilla Sky is that it was made when Tome and Penelope were still finding out who they were.

Cruse: This relationship wasn’t going on when we were making the picture. I can’t control what people write about my personal life, I’m just going to make the movie. But people want to make money and sell magazines…

Crowe: I started to feel something was wrong the day before Tom and Nicole’s separation was announced – something was crowding his mind. The next day he brought the cast and crew together and told us, “You’re going to be reading something in the newspapers about my life.” For a guy who’s so much about work to be that open and personal in a work environment was a big deal. He never brought us together again like that, but in those days, there was a bit of a cloud around him. And he did some of the most challenging dramatic stuff right after the separation was announced, so I can only guess how it became part of his process.

Cruise: I’m not someone who lives in the past. I’m a realist. I will always love Nic, and we have a family together, but I don’t get stuck in, you know, difficult things.

Crowe: I don’t know if I share Taylor Hackford’s problem on Proof of Life where controversy seeps into the movie and it becomes, where does the controversy stop and where does the movie begin? To me, Vanilla Sky is clearly a love story made before they were a couple; it captures the start of a relationship.

Cruise: I want to be with someone who’s fun, who I can have great conversations with and who enjoys eating hamburgers late at night on the beach, as well as, you know, travelling. I’m someone who really enjoys flying airplanes, hiking, going for walks and spending time with my kids. That’s what I like.

Crowe: The scene right after the accident, when he sees her and she jumps in his arms, was the first day of filming. I watch that now and they look at each other in the way you look at somebody that you’ve just met. It’s fresh. I love that we caught that moment. Yes, they became a couple later, and yes, that surprised me, but in terms of the movie, it captured a moment that no longer exists.

Cruise: As far as I know, Penelope is coming down to the Vanilla Sky premiere in Australia. I don’t feel any animosity from Australians. My kids are half-Australian, and I am very protective of Nic and my family, so if someone has animosity towards me for whatever reason, forget about them. Go to hell. It’s nobody’s business what happened between us.

Everything In Its Right Place

Russell: Vanilla Sky asks you to be responsible for the way you feel. If you love something, why do you? If you’re afraid of something, why are you? If you’ve done something, why did you? It’s a life to be counted. I’d also like to go on record to say I think Cameron Diaz was absolutely spectacular in this movie.

Cruise: All of us make decisions every day, and those decisions not only reflect on where we end up but also have a ripple effect into other people’s lives. And sometimes people are totally unaware of the effects they have on others, and the repercussions of their actions. When I look at the world today, and I see what happened on 11 September, I think that a lot of the way I feel about life is very much in this picture and this character. It’s a very personal film for me. I’m very proud of it.

Crowe: I didn’t want people to come out of Vanilla Sky going, “Cute film. What are we having for dinner?” You’d want to talk about it. If somebody comes out confused and disillusioned, that would be a big disappointment. I wanted to give credit to an audience to think about the movie, but I don’t like playing the game of “Ha, ha, ha! You thought it was that, and it’s not!”

Courtesy of Total Film (UK) – Jenny Cooney Carillo and Matt Mueller – February, 2002