Vanilla Sky – Tulsa World

Cruise & Crowe

One of Hollywood’s most powerful movie-making pairs steps off into new, fantastic direction with “Vanilla Sky’

DALLAS — Tom Cruise and Cameron Crowe will tell you that they often communicate with each other through their own highly personal and idiosyncratic language of movies and music.

Crowe nods his head when Cruise describes himself as a lifelong film buff and DVD fanatic who’s always inviting friends over to see off-beat new movies. Responding to one such invitation a few years ago, Crowe found himself sitting through the harrowing, boundary- breaking experience of “Trainspotting.”

So, Crowe said, when Cruise invited him over to watch a certain Spanish-language thriller a while back, he went with great anticipation.

For his part, Crowe admits that his first love — the subject he took up pen as a teen to write about for Rolling Stone magazine — is still music, and it profoundly informs all his films. And Cruise allows that Crowe keeps him on the crest of any new musical wave. “Hanging out with Cameron Crowe, I get (discs) of all the great bootleg concerts,” he said. “He keeps me stocked.”

The superstar actor and the hip writer-director were thoroughly in sync with their shared passions last week as they barnstormed the country and stopped off at an upscale Dallas hotel to talk to the press about their latest film collaboration, the reality-bending “Vanilla Sky,” based on that Cruise-touted Spanish film from director Alejandro Amenabar (“The Others”).

For Crowe, whose previous work has been grounded in character- driven reality (“Say Anything,” “Singles” “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous”), this tale of a carefree playboy who confronts a nightmare existence when his handsome face is ruined by a jilted lover is a radical departure.

And Crowe is quick to credit Cruise, his long-time friend and “Jerry Maguire” star, with encouraging him to step off in this new direction. The director also evokes the spirit of the great filmmaker Billy Wilder (subject of Crowe’s recently released book, “Conversations With Billy Wilder”) as inspiration.

“I think about Billy every day really, and not just a filmmaker but as a human,” Crowe said. “He’s 95. He would have been gone long ago if he was the great cynical man that people sometimes think he is. He’s actually alive with wonder and curious about the world, and he’s always asking questions.

“As a filmmaker he just has this amazing body of work. I’m off to a slow start. I want to work more, but the great thing about Billy is each time out, though he has his voice, he’ll give you something different. He’ll do “The Apartment’ or “Some Like It Hot,’ and I just like the idea that if you just keep working you can take people on a ride with you through many different kinds of films. And that’s a great joy.”

Crowe also said that Wilder is an avid admirer of Tom Cruise.

“He actually brought this up to me after he saw “Jerry Maguire,’ ” Crowe recalled. “He said “you know, you’re very lucky, you have the great leading man who is also a great character actor. So you get both as a writer.’ I had the feeling after a while that he was trying to get past me to get to Tom for his next movie.”

While Crowe admits that the subject matter of “Vanilla Sky” is a reach for him, he said he found a way to put his personal stamp on the far-out fantasy through music.

The film’s soundtrack is a collaborative effort between Crowe and his musician-wife Nancy Wilson (half of the one-time sister duo of hitmakers, Heart), and it includes tracks from R.E.M., Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Todd Rundgren, Radiohead and others. But his biggest coup was scoring the title song from a living legend of pop music.

Here, Cruise cut in laughing and told how he got a call from Crowe one day, breezily informing the actor that he was waiting for a visitor at his Washington home. Oh yeah, Cruise coaxed, who? Paul McCartney, the director blurted out. Cruise admitted that he was duly impressed.

“We showed him about 40 minutes of film,” Crowe said, “and he said he would, maybe . . . well, he played us some tracks from his album, and I said we also kinda needed a title song so if something came to him and he had the time or something. And a few days later he called on the cell phone and said, “yea, Paul here. Listen, you asked me to write a song, and, know this about me, if you ask me to do something I just might come through. I’ve written a song called “Vanilla Sky,” and if you don’t like it I’ll just change the title to “Manilla Envelope.” ‘ And he gave us the song and it was really incredible.”

As for some of the more obscure cuts on the soundtrack — like that from the Nordic group Sigur Ros — Cruise said he’s a music fan who’s always having his horizons broadened by Crowe.

“I was a big Radiohead fan before this, and Paul McCartney, I’d heard of him,” he said with a wry grin. “Hanging out with Cameron Crowe, you’re always hearing new music.

“I think he uses music as character almost. It’s part of the scene; that is, you hear the music and it sets the tone for the scene. So it’s very unique how he uses music. As a writer and a director his scenes are very musical.”

Crowe attributes much of that to his working relationship with his wife.

“It usually happens in the kitchen, actually,” Crowe said in describing their working process. “I’ll read her something that I’m writing, that I know we need some help with, and I’ll say, “What about a thriller kind of idea or what about a Simon and Garfunkel idea. She’s so musical that she basically can just pick up a guitar and say, “is this what you’re thinking of?’

“She’s part of the creative process to begin with because she’s had to suffer through the writing drafts with me. Me reading drafts out loud. That’s kind of the creative period when we get to put the music on. I was really proud that she was able have a thriller score based on acoustic guitar, which you usually get those scores that are very keyboard heavy. She probably doesn’t get enough attention for pushing the envelope in her score work.”

Crowe said music will always play a crucial role in his creative vision.

“Paul Thomas Anderson works in a very similar way, where sometimes it begins with a song,” he said. “You know in “Magnolia’ there was a song — I’m going to get it wrong — “Now that we’ve just met and are falling in love let’s never see each other again.’ It’s such a good line that he wrote the whole script off of that. I’m the same way. If there’s something that’s inspiring, I’m trying to figure out if I can do, in my own way, something that answers it or is worthy of using that music later.”

“Vanilla Sky,” he said, is filled with such musical cues.

“It’s a different film, not just for me, for Tom and me wanting to do something together after “Jerry Maguire.’ And different is often what you remember. I wanted people to go on the ride with us and as we always intended it to be, it’s about a different search for humanity, which I always love to write about and he loves to portray characters that are on their soulful search.

“And I thought this was a very different way of doing it. The story turned out to have rhythms deeper and more subliminal that I thought. But that was my dream. I used to play Beatles songs on the set, and I used to think in a great world you’d get that sort of out- of-the-world kind of feeling where there’d be a sweet layer, there’d be a very deep, sometimes dark layer, but always you felt you were in the hands of a haunting melody. That was my dream for “Vanilla Sky.’ ”

Courtesy of the Tulsa World – Dennis King – December 16, 2001