I did this set visit back in July, but when I spoke with producer Tom McNulty on the set, he ended up revealing something that Fox wanted kept under wraps, so after the visit, the studio embargoed me from revealing the news he gave me until August 31. So here it is -- drumroll please. This film, which has been described over and over as a 'Pete Best story,' actually has former Beatle Pete Best! He's in the movie! Tom also revealed that 30 Rock's Jane Krakowski has joined the film's cast. He also announced that a quasi-sequel to The Rocker, based on the film's fictional hair band Vesuvius, is moving forward with Will Arnett attached. A writer is currently being hired and Rainn Wilson will presumably take part. Interviewing Tom was a lot of fun -- the guy was a ball of fire, ready to talk about anything, and even though he talked a million miles a minute, he still gave us a half-hour interview that covers a lot. I've cut the whole thing down a bit, but you still get the big picture.
What kind of rock n' roll are you celebrating with this movie? What's the vibe?
TM: The vibe is big, full-on heavy metal kind of rock. Not so much glam rock. I mean, the guys are definitely, you know, Aerosmith, but there is definitely some Whitesnake, Poison, Ratt, Pantera, Winger, Cinderella ...what other bands do we reference. The band he's kicked out of, Vesuvius, when we began to kind of figure it out and write the songs for it, we did a lot of research watching Heavy Metal Parking Lot and you don't really have to do characters for those guys, because they pretty much ... there was a documentary and they talked about how these lead singers ... 98 percent of the audience were heterosexual dudes and these guys are wearing tight spandex pants and thrusting their crotch into a male audience. So it's this weird celebration of, like, male masculinity, but the guys are full-on lipstick, blush, rouge, women's wigs basically. Look at Motley Crue, for God's sakes, or Van Halen or Poison. It was all dudes and no one ever thought about the idea of, like, this is very into homosexuality. Glam rock was one step away from that.
So looking at it at the time, in context, it didn't really seem weird, but when you step back and look at it objectively, it's like 'Holy shit, this was really a bizarre time in American music, you know? It was about theatricality. I think that -- this is just one man's opinion -- the advent of MTV and literally, suddenly, your image and what you look like and actually making a video became an important part of being a successful band is probably why it went from 0 to 60 overnight. Those guys were just ridiculous. It became about showmanship, and 'can you top this?' and, you know, in terms of the hair and lip-stick. Tommy Lee resembles nothing of what he looked like. Look at Nikki Sixx and those guys -- that Girls, Girls, Girls tour was ridiculous. So that's the basis of the band he was kicked out of. In the movie, the band has become as big as, say, Aerosmith, in terms of the world domination that they have. The idea is Aerosmith or The Stones, a band like that. They don't have the integrity that those bands have, but they definitely have the kind of vibe and popularity.
Did you ever think about getting cameos from those old guys?
TM: We thought about it, but the things is, the movie, I didn't want it to be just become a ... I've done those movies before. I did this film, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, not a great movie by any means, but it definitely had 35 former child stars in that film, and it suddenly becomes this circus of people just showing up. Some show up for ten grand, and some just want, like, an apple. It's just a complete ... for an armchair observer it's kind of cool, and kind of kitchsy, but in terms of the elegance of the story, it takes the audience out of the movie. Pete Best is in the film, I'm not sure if you knew that or not. So he's kind of the classic ... obviously the most famous guy whose greatness was kind of pulled away from him, as it were. I'm friendly with his niece, she's actually a very good friend of mine. So I called her about two and a half months ago, and she loved it and thought it was sweet. Pete was actually not the inspiration for the story originally. It was a guy whose friend was a hockey player and his career went to shit, and so long story short, he ended up playing in his nephew's band at age 40 as a drummer, so it's actually more about that and less of an homage to what happened to Pete Best, being kicked out of The Beatles.
We have him, and the cameo is not so on the nose like, Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball, it's more that Rainn, Fish at the lowest point in the film, says, kind of bemoaning the fact that he can't get ahead, and Vesuvius is just bombarding him every which way, he kind of turns to this guy and the guy is sitting down and he hits his head against the wall in frustration and the guy says "what's wrong?" and he goes "Oh, nothing, I was in that band," and Pete Best says "Oh yeah? I was in a band once too" and he goes "No man, you don't know what it's like" and he goes "Trust me brother, I know more than you think." It's kind of as subtle as that and then we kind of throw it away, cause I didn't want to go too heavy-handed like "Hey look, it's Pete Best!" so it's very subtle, but fans will know. He's a super-sweet guy and I'm friends with his brother and niece, so it was a personal thing for me, to make sure that we didn't bastardize his situation or say "Oh great, we can use you as a fucking publicity stunt, and we're going to take this tragedy and mine comedy out of it. It was an incredibly special day on set. Everyone was really respectful and he's a super-sweet guy.
Has the story evolved a lot over time, or stayed pretty much the same?
TM: Pretty much the same. It was originally set in Los Angeles and I always have ... this is me, personally ... I always feel that every film in Hollywood is always set in L.A. and it's just a personal gripe of mine, so I always want to set films in different parts of the country to kind of vary the experience, make it feel a little more relatable, a little more real. So I thought setting it in Cleveland would be ideal because the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame is there, so I really wanted this character to literally and figuratively have the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in his backyard, just needling him constantly. He's a guy who just can't get a break and he becomes a glutton for punishment, but it's the old adage of a guy who does construction work and goes to lunch break and goes 'I hate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches' and his buddy goes 'Tell your wife to stop making you peanut butter and jelly sandwiches' and he goes 'No, I make my own lunch.' It's that kind of ideology.
He's a guy who makes his bed every day and is lying in it and he thinks the world is out to get him, and he gets this amazing opportunity which he initially just kind of does on a lark and then he parties too much, and realizes 'Wait, maybe we have a shot here at greatness.' But over time he realizes that the happiness is finding contentment in Plan B, and I think that's where this character comes to life. Again, it's a comedy so I'm not gonna sit here and say 'Well, we're curing cancer.' This is not Notes on a Scandal. This is not The Insider, or anything like that. It's a comedy, but it's a character-driven comedy. Actually, we'd be lucky if it's like The Full Monty -- that's kind of our goal.
Is there a lot of pressure to come up with a great soundtrack for a movie like this?
TM: It's hard. We only had six weeks to prep the movie, so my partner and I, Shawn Levy, who is the other producer of the film, he and I kind of had this insurmountable task of thinking of .. in the script it says 'they play...' and we kind of fictionalized song titles. One is called Torn Photograph, and that's not even in the current script, but they play their song and screentime-wise, it's four minutes. To shoot it takes six hours, but the screentime will maybe be forty-five seconds, but in the slug line of the script it says 'they play a song.' So, you know, it's easy on the page, but we think, okay, we actually have to write these songs. So we hired a composer named Chad Fisher, who wrote most of our songs. He wrote the Vesuvius songs, which are full-on heavy metal songs, as well as the ADD songs, which are somewhere between Coldplay and Arctic Monkeys. I mean, it's a bizarre ... I can't even really quite describe it. It's power pop, definitely, but it's not EMO music where it's all suicide ... it's aspirational and catchy. The other reason I set it in Cleveland was because I wanted it to have a little garage band sound and the music is not over-produced, by any means. It's very raw and original. It's not The Killers, but after you hear the musicianship, it's not about ... they're not a put-together band like Backstreet Boys or whoever.
As a producer, what most excites you about the project?
TM: The fact that if I don't make my days, the studio will kill me. The fact that I have a really phenomenal, talented cast, and I say that genuinely. I say this often -- in five years, I can't afford this cast. In a year, I can't afford this cast. I'll show you guys some outtakes of everything we've shot, but between Rainn Wilson and Christina Applegate, who, to me, is such an enigma in Hollywood, because when you see her stuff on screen, she is so, so unbelievably funny and gifted as a comedienne and as an actress. Literally, I've never seen a funnier actress in my life. I worked with Sandler for six and a half, seven years and he's worked with a lot of funny women through the years, but she is in a class by herself. To get Christina in the script ... it's really the cast that gets me going. I really do love the story. I believe in the story. The director, Peter Cattaneo and I, have a very close working relationship and it's harder than hell.
We're putting in fourteen, sixteen hour days, because three of our cast members have TV shows. Rainn has The Office, Christina has her new show, called Samantha Who? and Josh Gad has a new show called Back to You, so they all go back to their TV shows in early August so I'm running and running, doing six to eight weeks. I literally get to bed, whatever time I sleep, for six or seven hours, I shower and then come back to the set. So I haven't seen much of the fair city of Toronto. I believe in the story, I love the music, it's a pretty sweet movie. It's not push comedy like Talledega Nights or Dodgeball. It's grounded in real world comedy, but there are some audacious moments for sure. I'll probably never win an Academy award. If that happens, great, but it's never my goal.
What are your favorite films?
TM: My favorite movies ... Midnight Run is my number one favorite of all time. The Insider, I'm a huge fan of that film. I would say, probably, Animal House, Stripes, Groundhog Day. That's kind of what I gravitate towards. But then, I'm a sap like anybody else is too. I've probably seen A Face in the Crowd twenty times. I'm a huge fan of that movie. What other films do I love? North by Northwest is one of my favorite movies of all time. I run the gamut, but I'm not exactly an AFI boy, per say. Happy Gilmore is one of my favorites, as well. Sometimes movies are like old sweaters, you put them on and watch them over and over again, so there's the kind of guilty pleasure stuff, but I don't care.
What's up next for you?
TM: We have a couple of things in the fire. We have a movie the company is going to produce, called What Happens in Vegas with Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. I'm not really overseeing that one so much ..... we're doing a Vesuvius movie as well, the band. It's with Will Arnett, Fred Armistin and Bradley Cooper and Lonnie Ross and Rainn Wilson and Jason Sedakis.
TM: I don't know that it'd be a prequel -- I don't want to do a dated, sort of 70s comedy because then it'd be bad wigs. At the end of the The Rocker, I don't want to give it away, but they've kind of shown their true colors, and it's somewhere between Rocky III and Lost in Translation. They're kind of the laughing stock of the world and so they have to find they have to go back to Cleveland and work on music, and so it's called Vesuvius: Battle of the Bands and we're just hiring a writer right now, so it's way premature. So we've got that, and I know I'm forgetting other stuff right now.
It's weird, the one you haven't mentioned, Back Magic, is the only one listed on IMDB. They must not know what they're talking about.
TM: Back Magic was the second thing I set up. The Rocker was first, Back Magic was second, and that literally was ... the writer kept becoming unavailable. We'd have these massively long story meetings, as you tend to do, to break down the story further and say 'here's what we're gonna do' and then it was like 'Good lord..'...so that script comes in in about a month or so.
Is it gonna be PG-13?
TM: It's gonna be PG-13, for sure. You're allowed one f*ck in a non-sexual context in a PG-13 film. Great, right? So you have to choose. You can't say 'I wanna f*ck you, or I wanna f*ck her' or whatever. It's gotta be like 'what the f*ck?' And you usually try to pick it, if at all, for a moment of groundedness or a turning point for the film. So it'll definitely be PG-13. And we have such a kick-ass cast. We have Jane Krakowski from 30 Rock, and Jeff Garlin and Jane Lynch. I don't know if you know Jane Lynch, she was in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, she played the manager. She's fantastic. Aziz Ansari from Human Giant, a sketch show on Comedy Central. Or MTV, rather. Demetri Martin, from The Daily Show. Don't know if you know him, he's a stand-up. Daily Show correspondent. He's funnier than hell -- he's a really funny guy.
If you could go back six months or so, is there anything you'd change about the way you approached this production?
TM: Have more time for the production and more money. I would have pressed for a green-light quicker, so I had more time in pre-production. We prepped this film in six weeks. I hired Cattaneo and his deal closed on a Sunday night at like 10pm and a car picked him up an hour later in London and he flew over to Los Angeles. There was a round of meetings, music meetings, composer meetings, actor meetings, Christina Applegate meeting, back to Toronto, scouting New York to meet with a bunch of New York-based talent, cause he didn't really know a lot of the comedians and actors, cause he's been working in London for the past ten years.
Yeah, he's not a very prolific director.
TM: No, the thing about him is that's interesting is that he's such a talented director. You gotta realize, his first short film ever was nominated for an Academy award, his first feature film was nominated for an Academy award, and I think he was a bit blindsided by that. You know, suddenly he's in Bruce Willis's house and he's being whisked around the world and for three years he was on every director's list and he didn't know what to do. It was almost too much, too soon for him, and I think he's a really methodical, sweet, smart guy who didn't quite know how to handle it all at once. He's genuinely a gentleman who never loses his cool. He's genuinely like, a gentleman and never loses his cool. I can say 'Peter, we've got eight minutes to get four more scenes,' and he's like 'Okay, I'll figure it out.' There's no artifice to him, he's a very meat and potatoes kind of guy. And he's also elegant at the same time. He's a really wonderful guy.
Did you pick Richmond as DP because of his reputation for knowing how to light female stars -- because of having Christina Applegate on the picture?
TM: That wasn't why we chose him, but it definitely helps that he and Christina had a relationship in the past. He knows how to light her really, really well. For Tony, it was because Fox Atomic wants to make all their films on HD and he's shot HD in the past, so when we talked to him on the phone ... you gotta realize too, he shot Rock n' Roll Circus, he shot The Beatles, he shot The Stones, he shot The Who. This guy shot so many rock movies. He's seen it all, done it all. Give him a good cigar, and he'll tell you some stories. He's super sweet and he's fast as hell. He's probably the oldest guy on set, but he's the youngest and the most sprie guy on set. We were shooting this big arena scene, and he was probably all the way back at the back of the arena and there was a piece of set dressing that was wrong on stage. The logo on the drum kit had kind of fallen askew. And you hear him go 'This thing is all wrong, it's not right. I'll get it!' and literally, this British man goes sprinting across this huge stadium and he runs on stage. That's just who he is. He's a really amazing DP.
Do you have a release date yet?
TM: No. They're talking second quarter or third quarter of 08. The challenge with these films, when it doesn't have a Sandler or a Stiller or Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell, you don't want to get trampled. It's all about ... I've had great release dates and I've had bad release dates. September 5, weekend after Labor Day -- not a good release date.