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'Rock of Ages' director Adam Shankman: Constantine Maroulis wasn't right for the lead role

April 4, 2011 |  6:00 pm

Adam Shankman decided a few days ago to bring on Diego Gonzalez Boneta, a Mexican actor on teen-friendly shows such as  "90210" and "Pretty Little Liars" -- and also an accomplished singer -- for the lead role of Drew in his filmic version of "Rock of Ages."

That disappointed fans of Constantine Maroulis, who scored a Tony nomination for his portrayal of the aspiring singer on Broadway and recently came with the production to the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. Shankman said he understood why fans felt strongly but didn't believe Maroulis suited his movie's needs.

"Constantine was perfection as Drew in the play," Shankman told 24 Frames. "But the truth of the matter is that I cast at age, and I wanted someone who doesn't have to act 20 or 23 but actually is 20 or 23 [Maroulis is 35]. The authenticity of someone actually being that age is important."

Diego Shankman said that he understood fans' attachment to the former "American Idol" contestant but believes others can and should be given a chance at the role. "It would be like saying Ethel Merman is the only one who could play Mama Rose. This is a great example of a torch being passed."

The filmmaker said he had reached out to Maroulis to see if he would be interested in a smaller part in the movie. Asked about Maroulis' reaction to the news that he wouldn't be playing Drew, Shankman said, "I can't put myself in anyone's shoes. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to hand over a role."

As for the man who did land it, the 20-year-old Boneta came out of nowhere, literally. He was one of about a thousand young actors whose name popped up in online auditions. But Shankman said he immediately felt drawn to the actor and singer, who's also recorded several hits in Spanish.

"The 'It' factor was impossible to deny," Shankman said. "Diego sang the ['Rock of Ages'] songs effortlessly, and they were written so high, for freaks of nature. But he handled them so easily. Everything about him was at ease. He was charming and innocent and guileless. He's a very handsome kid who seems to have no awareness of what he looks like."

Shankman said the move from the theater to the screen won't compromise the essential emotional ingredient of the story, in which, against the backdrop of the 1980s and the development of the Sunset Strip, aspiring rocker Drew and struggling actress Sherrie fall in love. "If you look at 'Avatar' or even 'Titanic,' " he said citing two cinematic blockbusters, "what's at the core of it is a little love story about people who are destined to be together and fate rips them apart. And that's right at the center of this."
While Shankman has been pestered by plenty of actors deluded about their own musical talents -- "you have no idea" -- he says his biggest name for the film, Tom Cruise, is a perfect fit.

The director said he, too, was skeptical until he saw the actor in "Tropic Thunder." "It was just the courage he showed as Les Grossman and how far he could go, and with this role [of veteran rocker Stacee Jaxx] the more out there the better," Shankman said. "Tom is so committed to the work; he would never expose himself if he didn't think he could do it. And he's from singing stock -- his grandfather and great-grandfather were opera singers."

The "Rock of Ages" cast -- which also includes Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige and, schedule-permitting, Russell Brand -- offers plenty of star power. But Shankman, who previously directed "Hairspray," believes there's a trove of musical talent here too. "You need to cast up in order to get movies of this size greenlit; we never could have made this movie with lesser-known people," the director said. "But I also think audiences are going to be stunned when they see it."

And yes, that stunning musical talent even includes Baldwin. "Alec sang on 'Saturday Night Live,' which was a joke, sure. But this guy can more than carry a tune."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Constantine Maroulis as Drew on the Pantages stage. Credit: Chelsea Lauren / Getty Images; Diego Boneta as Javier Luna on "90210." Credit: CBS Television

Comments () | Archives (29)

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No one bought a ticket because Cruise was in "Tropic Thunder."
Brand will be coming off a tremendous bomb in "Arthur."
How can Alec Baldwin be a top-bill on this film?

Constantine was the one to cast for this role.

Sadly, "Rock-the movie" is a dead-duck, money-loser box-office-laugher before a frame of film is shot.

Shankman is a classic age discriminator and his movie will flop as a result. This role was Maroulis' all the way.

What a casting blunder this is. Thanks Mr. Shankman for saving me the trouble to see this movie. Constantine Maroulis would be the only reason I would want to see this. I'll save my money and catch the touring company show with Maroulis. Tom Cruise in a musical, give me a break! Lousy,lousy casting job. This will be a major flop!

I don't mind this kid being Drew. As douchey as a lot of the news about this movie has seemed, I think Adam is right when he says Ethel Merman isn't the only Rose. Joey Taranto and several understudies have successfully portrayed Drew on stage and I think this guy will probably do a good job.
My problem is that it seems like they are sacrificing the show for the cast. It might just be exaggeration on the part of the reporters, but a lot of the casting articles have made it seem like the movie is more about Stacee Jaxx and Sherrie than anything else... and now it seems like they're writing out Franz in favor of a role for Catherine Zeta-Jones. And I have nothing against her, but Franz is a necessary bit of charm and comedy relief that this movie needs. But to everyone complaining about everyone else's ages... the point is that Drew and Sherrie are supposed to be the young ones. Although he is supposed to be young and energetic, his age is debatable, especially considering his washed-up-ness. But, without a doubt, the rest of the characters are supposed to be washed-up old guys who have given up on their dreams. Dennis (Alec Baldwin) is a metal rocker with remnants of the 60's in him, who has been trying to make it big for most of his life with his drummer Lonny, but never made it anywhere. I think Baldwin is perfectly cast and Russell Brand stands to be seen but I'm sure he won't do BADLY. What this movie really needs is for Chris D'Arienzo to step up and make sure his story and charm stays intact rather than writing in roles for every new celebrity that wants to be a part of it.

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