The Sunset Strip, 1987. Who could forget the hair, the debauchery and the totally awesome songs by iconic bands like Def Leppard, Poison, Journey and Bon Jovi? It’s all celebrated in Rock of Ages, the Adam Shankman-directed movie musical based on the Broadway hit of the same name. The film features an all-star cast of Hollywood heavyweights, including Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti and Tom Cruise, who portrays rock star extraordinaire Stacee Jaxx. As Stacee prepares to give a farewell concert with his band, Arsenal, before heading off on a solo career, he’s interviewed by [fictional] hard-hitting Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack, played by Malin Akerman (27 Dresses, The Heartbreak Kid), who winds up giving him way more than just a cover story.
Akerman checked in with Rolling Stone while in New York recently to offer her insights on Eighties music, her forthcoming role as Debbie Harry in CBGB and how working with Cruise helped improve her craft.
It really sounds like you were perfect casting for this movie, because you used to sing in a band called the Petalstones, right?
Yeah, and we did the L.A. circuit, so we did the Viper Room and the Whisky and the Roxy and all of those places. It was so cool, because Rock of Ages is about the Sunset Strip back in 1987, and it was just so much fun to have the firsthand experience of those clubs and the way they smell and the way it feels to be on a stage there.
So you‘re not performing with your band anymore?
Not with that band, but I’m working on music a little bit with my husband [drummer Roberto Zincone]. I don’t know what’s going to come of it, but we’re having fun right now. I was inspired after doing this movie. I was like, “God, I really enjoyed singing!” – not that I’m great at it, but I really enjoyed it. So after having had a few really great vocal coaching lessons for Rock of Ages I was like, “Oh, that’s how you sing that note.” It was amazing to just come back and say to my husband, “Let’s play some music together.” We have a bunch of friends who are musicians, so we’ve been recording some stuff just for fun and we’ll see if we ever release something.
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What‘s the style? Rock?
Well, I’m getting older – I can’t scream my face off anymore. It’s got a little bit of a more bluesy, jazzy vibe. Poppy blues, if that makes any sense? We’re just trying to think outside the box. Something we haven’t heard before, which is probably exactly what everyone’s heard before.
You’re playing Debbie Harry next, in the film CBGB. How’s that going?
I’m so excited. We start shooting at the end of July in Savannah, Georgia. The movie is based on the birth of [New York rock club] CBGB back in 1973, and the next four years to follow, and how it became the amazing landmark that it was. It’s by no means a biopic on Debbie, but hopefully this film will inspire someone to write one and then I can play her again! I was actually offered a different role in the movie which had more screen time, but I am such a huge Debbie Harry fan that I was like, “You know what, I would much rather just play Debbie instead.”
Are you going to be singing in CBGB?
I might just be lip-syncing, but I’m not really sure how they’re going to do this yet. They may want to use the live recordings from that time.
Do you have a favorite Blondie song?
“X Offender.” “Rapture,” of course, is amazing. And “Heart of Glass.” Those are the ones that I grew up listening to.
You have two sex scenes with Tom Cruise in the movie, and you guys also perform a duet together. What was it like fulfilling the ultimate Eighties fantasy?
It was phenomenal. I met Tom about a year before we did Rock of Ages because I did The Romantics with his wife [Katie Holmes]. I love when you get to work with people you know because there’s so much more trust, and you’re much more willing to be vulnerable in a scene with someone you trust. And this is important because, in Rock of Ages, it’s all these crazy make-out scenes. He’s so insanely brilliant that the most exciting part for me was acting with him. He’s so present, and he draws you in and you have no choice but to become a better actor.
Your character is a serious reporter, but her interview with Stacee Jaxx quickly devolves into a downright hilarious love scene in which he’s on his knees and singing into your “lady parts.“ How did either of you keep a straight face?
Luckily we got it all out during the rehearsals so that when we finally got to the day when we were on set, it got pretty technical. We were like, “Was my face too far in your crotch? Did we get the shot? Yeah, we got the shot, OK, good.” But of course there are so many moments where they just call “Cut” and we just break into laughter and go, “This is crazy! I’m singing into your crotch!”
I‘ve got to ask about Mickey, who plays Stacee Jaxx’s pet baboon, Hey Man. With all due respect to you and Tom Cruise, he steals the movie.
Yeah, and not only did Stacee Jaxx cop a feel of Constance Sack, but so did the baboon – off-screen. There’s a scene where I’m holding Hey Man’s hand, but initially he was going to be on my back. What happened was, the trainer said to me, “Why don’t we go into the next room and we’ll train Mickey to go on your back.” And the thing is with baboons, when they give you a hug, they kind of give you a guy hug where they pat you on the back. Now, Mickey is coming from behind, so his hands land straight on my boob and they start patting my boob. And I’m literally sitting there going, “Uh, do I do something about this? Or just let him go at it? Is this OK?” So I got felt up by a baboon.
Not everyone can say that! So what is it about the Eighties that resonates with audiences so much? Is it the music? The clothes? Is it the attitude?
I think it’s everything put together, but definitely the music. Most people have some sort of memory with so many of these songs. I mean, hair-band rock was so real and guttural – and it was during the time of sex, drugs and rock & roll. It wasn’t like, “Oh, do you have this amount of followers on your Facebook page? And have you been produced by someone?” It was people who were making music in their garage, they were walking up and down Laurel Canyon knocking on each other’s doors and jamming with each other and coming out with these amazing guitar riffs and just screaming at the top of their lungs. It was raw. And it just hits you in a certain place. I mean, I love a good Slash guitar riff. It’s sexy! I feel nowadays a lot of bands can be too overly produced. There’s something about the leather pants and bare bodies and Axl Rose running back and forth on a stage and going crazy. I love all that.