An interview with Cameron Crowe, director of "Elizabethtown"
Cameron Crowe understands the flavor of a place. Watch "Singles," his 1992 valentine to Seattle, and see the details that make it unmistakably...
Seattle Times movie critic
Cameron Crowe understands the flavor of a place. Watch "Singles," his 1992 valentine to Seattle, and see the details that make it unmistakably our town at that time: the slightly grubby coffeehouse, where everyone seemed to be in a band; the easy camaraderie of a run-down Capitol Hill apartment complex filled with twentysomethings; the visionary concept, voiced reverently by Campbell Scott, of rapid transit.
Or remember how "Almost Famous" sets us firmly into the disarming strangeness that is Southern California in its opening moments: a goofy Christmas song (by Alvin and the Chipmunks) plays over the bright sunshine, as a boy and his mother step squinting out of a movie theater into the sunny, tinsel-laden streets.
At the Toronto International Film Festival last month, Crowe talked about translating the idea of Seattle into film.
"Seattle was the first place that I lived that felt like a real community, where everybody wanted to stay," he said. "That was sort of the original idea of 'Singles,' single people becoming their own family, in a place where they wanted to stay. That's the way it still is, to me." He and wife Nancy Wilson — whose band Heart helped shape the Seattle music scene — still have a home here, in Woodinville, though they're now based in Los Angeles.
With his new movie "Elizabethtown" (opening in several theaters tomorrow), Crowe takes on a very different place: a small Kentucky town. But, like many of Crowe's films, it's a place that's already in his heart. Crowe's father, who died in the late '80s (right after "Say Anything," Crowe says), was from Kentucky, and after his death Crowe and Wilson traveled there, to get to know the family.
"It felt like a faraway place that was still home," Crowe remembered of that trip. "I'd been to Europe, but for some reason Kentucky felt more far-flung. It feels like another place, and you feel like that to them.
"In Southern California, there's that feeling of people in transit. I grew up in Southern California, so whenever I ran across a world where your relatives stayed, and they lived a few miles away, and you have the roots that are really strong in your community, that always felt like a wonderful romantic notion. And this [movie] was about discovering this whole root system that you didn't realize you had."
Cameron Crowe trivia
His mother, Alice Crowe (who now lives in White Rock, B.C.), has appeared in all of his movies. In "Elizabethtown," look for her at the memorial scene, in an all-blue outfit with a blue hat.
The Tom Cruise role in "Jerry Maguire" was at one point offered to Hugh Grant. "Can you imagine, if he'd said yes?" said Crowe. He riffed some lines from the film, in a spot-on Grant accent: "Show me the money. Show it, to me. Rod. Oh, for God's sake, Rod. Show me, please. Let me glimpse the money."
Speaking of casting, Ashton Kutcher was originally slated to play Drew, the male lead, when Orlando Bloom — Crowe's first choice — had scheduling conflicts. Kutcher left the project at the rehearsal stage, at which point Bloom's schedule had cleared.
Crowe and Wilson continued their tradition of writing "fake rock songs" — begun while writing songs for Stillwater in "Almost Famous" — in "Elizabethtown," by writing a tune for the band Ruckus, of which Drew's cousin is a member. "If I ever tried to write a [real] song with Nancy, we'd never finish it, it would be too intimating," said Crowe. "But to write a fake song, for a wannabe Southern rock band, it's 'oh, right, it would sound like this. ' "
As its title indicates, "Elizabethtown" is at heart about the mood of a specific town, and the way a young man (Orlando Bloom) gets caught up in its spell. Mirroring Crowe's life, the film's hero travels there after his father's death. Reeling from a colossal business failure, he meets a charismatic young woman (Kirsten Dunst), and gradually comes to feel at ease in this very different place.
Though the town seems idyllic, "Elizabethtown" hasn't been a smooth journey; there were casting changes (Bloom was a late replacement for Ashton Kutcher) and last-minute edits after some less-than-glowing reviews. In Toronto, just a few weeks before tomorrow's release date, Crowe said that feedback from festival screenings convinced him that "Elizabethtown" needed more trimming.
"I felt, sitting in the audience last night, I know what to do," he said. "It was a movie about saying goodbye, and last looks, and I knew I had a few too many goodbyes and endings." The Toronto version clocked in at 2 hours 15 minutes; the new version is just under the two-hour mark.
"Elizabethtown" is Crowe's sixth film as director, following the 2001 romantic thriller "Vanilla Sky." He's looking to do something quite different next: a real out-and-out comedy.
"When I was on the plane the other day, I was walking past the cabin where all these people had their [movie] screens going. There was such delight over what they were watching, and I turned around and it was almost entirely comedies. And it made me think, I'm that way too. I just feel like laughing."
He's eager to return to the Northwest to work on the screenplay. "[Seattle] is the best place to just kind of be in the world," he said, "out of the environment where you generally work really hard to get movies finished, just breathe the air and feel life and tell new stories."
And while it's too soon to tell where the next one will be set, it's clear he still has some unfinished business with the city he documented in "Singles" and "Say Anything." He speaks, tongue in cheek, about how there's no plaque at that Capitol Hill apartment house to mark where "Singles" was shot.
"After 'Singles,' it was so funny," he said, "because nobody ever said, 'here's where they filmed 'Singles.' But they would say 'Sleepless in Seattle' was here, 'Sleepless in Seattle' was there, the people making 'Sleepless in Seattle' once walked through this building.
"Next time, my goal is to really leave a little something behind."
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