'Rock of Ages' director Adam Shankman: Constantine Maroulis wasn't right for the lead role
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."
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."
Photos: Constantine Maroulis as Drew on the Pantages stage. Credit: Chelsea Lauren / Getty Images; Diego Boneta as Javier Luna on "90210." Credit: CBS Television