"People who donít know my story watch the movie and say, Ďas if that
could happení," Crowe says with amusement as we sit down in a hotel in New York,
where he is currently filming his next romantic comedy Vanilla Sky, reuniting him with his
Jerry Maguire star Tom Cruise. "If I lived to be 100, I couldnít make a movie
that is closer to me."
In the film, his character is played by newcomer Patrick Fugit and the fictional band
of Stillwater includes actors like Billy Crudup and Jason Lee. So how much is fact and
fiction? And who are some of the real musical acts that inspired scenes in the film? And
was there a groupie like Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson, the daughter of Goldie Hawn,
whose poignant portrayal won her a Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actress? This
fascinating filmmaker who straddles the worlds of movies and music Ė thanks to his
wife, former Heart musician Nancy Wilson Ė reveals all.
So how true is the movie really?
Itís agonizingly true, to be frank. I still get a pang of embarrassment when you even
ask that question because this is the one where I couldnít hide behind a sports agent
character or anything. It happened that way. At the time I met all these vivid, very
passionate people that had this love of music so thatís what I wanted to capture. But
I think itís good that Iím slightly embarrassed about this stuff because if you
arenít, then maybe you arenít telling the total truth.
How did it feel to be 15 and travel with these amazing bands?
I felt like I was a fan and Iíd somehow found a front row seat and I felt like I
snuck in, so I wanted to be true to the other fans and give them the experience that I was
having. My original goal as a journalist was to be a fly on the wall and thatís still
my goal today as a filmmaker.
So in the movie your character writes the story and then the singer flatly denies
saying the quotes. Did that ever happen to you?
Yeah, it happened a couple of times and it was really painful. I spent a couple of weeks
on the road with Neil Young who was an artist that I really admired and I turned the story
in and the fact-checkers called him and he said, ĎI never said that. Iím not
approving the story of the photos and I donít want to be on the cover of Rolling
Stoneí. The magazine called and said, Ďyou spent three weeks on the road with
Neil Young and cost us money and now heís setting the story aside - youíre in
troubleí. I called his manager and told him I was in trouble and what happened was
Neil changed his mind at the last minute because he didnít want me fired.
What about the real woman that inspired Penny Lane? Are you in touch with her?
Yeah, I called her when I was making the movie and she said, ĎI hope youíre just
true to the music and donít do some tell-all sensational thingí. She herself
never did a tell-all book and was nervous about what I would write so we brought her to
L.A. and showed her the movie and she wrote me a letter saying, Ďif I die tomorrow, I
would be satisfied that there was a movie out there that described what it was like to
love music and dedicate your life to ití. Iím going to save that letter forever
because a lot of the stuff you see is all sensation and itís all behind the music and
itís all the Spinal Tap version, but a lot of those girls really did believe in the
music and she was one of them.
What does the title Almost Famous mean?
I fought hard to call the movie Untitled because I thought it would be great to put a
movie out with no title. The studio didnít agree with me so we went back to this
title Almost Famous, because I used to go to concerts and Iíd see Mick Jagger or
whoever standing off to the side looking at everybody and asking; Ďwho are these
people? Are they groupies? Friends of the promoter? Married to the bass player? Because
theyíre almost famous and the movie is a lot about those people as well as the people
on stage. Iím still a fan. Iíve met with actors who are shocked that I show
enthusiasm but I try and be a fan of the people I work with and I believe in fan-dom.
Thatís why thereís that speech at the end of the movie about what it is to be a
Youíve said you also made this movie to bring your sister and mother back
together. Were you successful?
Weíre still working on it. They were together watching the movie the other night and
itís always a tender thing when my mother and sister get together. You never know how
itís going to go, frankly. Theyíre strong personalities and they sat one row
apart watching the movie. When Frances McDormand, who plays my mother, says in the movie,
Ďyouíre rebellious and ungrateful of my loveí, my mom turns around and very
loudly patted my sister on the knee and said, ĎI never said thatí and I was
like, Ďmom, please not in the middle of the movie!í But this movie was a very
personal thing to put out there for them too and I just hope it helps build a bridge.
What can you tell us about your next film, Vanilla Sky?
Itís a contemporary love story set in New York and itís just got some really
strong, modern characters. Itís Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz so
itís Cruise, Cruz, Cameron, Cameron and I figure if we found a way to get Russell
Crowe in there we could make it really confusing!!!
How do you come up with ideas for your films?
Every time Iíve tried to write a so-called successful film, it either hasnít
been made or at a certain point I figured if I was given the privilege of making the
movie, I wouldnít even want to go see it myself! I think my taste is such that there
hopefully would be other people like me out there. The movie ideas come a lot of times
from the music because I sort of work from the score and music first. Itís an odd way
to work, I know, but it works for me because Iím married to a musician and there is
always music in the house.
Being a writer-producer-director today must be difficult with the Hollywood studio
system being what it is. How do you maintain control of your films?
The directors I admire were the ones that were able to work in the mainstream and do
personal movies, sometimes subversive movies, like Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, William
Wyler, even Truffaut to a certain extent. I donít know how mainstream Truffautís
great hit was but I think thatís my goal. They are my heroes, directors who reach
people with universal themes but donít make it bland and make it true to yourself.
Published February 22, 2001