South Florida Stars in Rock of Ages
by tom austin
Tom Cruise, as Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages, performing at Revolution Live in downtown Fort Lauderdale
On June 15, the movie version of Rock of Ages—the Broadway musical set in the hair metal culture of 1987 Los Angeles and featuring songs by such bands as Def Leppard and Poison—will open starring Tom Cruise, who plays Stacee Jaxx, of the fictional arena band Arsenal. Arsenal is enlisted to do its final show at the mythical Bourbon Room, which is being threatened to be shut down, when the forces of civic betterment are protesting sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll and want to clean up the Sunset Strip.
In addition to a heavyweight cast including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin, and Paul Giamatti, Rock of Ages will come with a dollop of déjà vu for South Floridians. Last summer, the movie’s production consumed this area: Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale was used as a stand-in for The Bourbon Room; the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles was re-created on Monarch Hill Landfill, known as “Mt. Trashmore,” in Pompano Beach; on Miami Beach, the old theater at the Castle Beach Club—formerly the Hilton Playboy Club—became a fictional strip bar, the Venus Club, with lots of purple and gold décor and endless stripper poles. In downtown Miami, on 14th Street and North Miami Avenue, the production team turned an oddball mix of buildings in varying architectural styles into the Sunset Strip, with mock facades for The Bourbon Room and Venus Club. Rock of Ages also shot at the Ice Palace Film Studios, creating a backstage dressing room for Jaxx with a 10-foot round bed and other rock star trappings. Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” accompanies a scene where Jaxx has sex on an air hockey table with a female reporter.
The two young romantic leads are played by Julianne Hough (known for her work in Burlesque and Footloose) and Diego Boneta, an actor/singer from Mexico City. Boneta is rocker wannabe Drew, who works as a busboy at The Bourbon Room and eventually opens for Arsenal. Hough plays aspiring singer Sherrie Christian, who winds up stripping at the Venus Club, belting out bitter anthems like Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart.”
“They’ve pumped up and made the world of hair metal bands campier, even more fun and crazy, and it’s a pretty epic movie,” Hough says during a phone interview. “I loved shooting in Miami, from my apartment at the Continuum to eating at Casa Tua and running on the beach to work it all off. My first love scene with Diego on top of Mt. Trashmore was challenging, though, with all the mosquitoes flying up my nose and dress. We were standing on a pile of s*** trying to look romantic.”
To Boneta, meanwhile, shooting in Miami was “fun but dangerous, with all the temptations—from the beach to Prime One Twelve to salsa dancing. I’ve done television and recorded in Mexico, but to have Rock of Ages as my first movie is really an honor, very humbling. This music is huge in Mexico City—there’s even a big cover band, Moderatto, performing these songs with all the hair and eyeliner on—and I was raised on ’80s music. The melodies are so powerful.”
For director Adam Shankman, who also did Hairspray, hair metal culture had “a certain kind of innocence.” “These man-children were running amok and having fun, living their dream in a pre-Internet age before the party ended,” he says during a phone interview. “It’s hard to understand what the protests against metal bands back then accomplished, and now conservatives want to turn back the clock again in this country. Nothing ever really changes.”
photograph by david james/new line productions inc.