In the eighties jukebox musical Rock of Ages, Tom Cruise plays a hair-metal icon so dissolute off-stage that only a select few can get through to him, including his manager (Paul Giamatti), his trusted baboon sidekick Hey Man, and Malin Akerman’s Rolling Stone journalist, who calls him out on his bad behavior but isn’t afraid to get horizontal on a pool table with him, too. So what’s it like to play eighties dress-up all day and touch tongues with a heavily tattooed, shirtless Cruise? Vulture rang up Akerman to get the scoop.
Your character has some very 1987 permed hair. Was your hair like that growing up?
I always, always wanted permed hair. I begged my mother to let me perm my hair and of course she wouldn’t, because she was a good mother … and now I got to do it with the movie! In ’87, I was about 9 years old, and so at that point I was wearing, like, fluorescent green T-shirts and acid-wash jeans and leg warmers, and my hair was in a ponytail with a scrunchie and I had the teased bangs that were up in a rainbow shape. It was crazy.
You get to sing “I Want to Know What Love Is” with Tom Cruise. Had you ever done it before at karaoke?
I never thought I was good enough to do this song in karaoke! I usually tend to do “Paradise City,” or I’ll do “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, or I’ll even go as far as try to rap and do an Eminem song like “Lose Yourself.” But that one’s impossible.
When you went in to record your duet, had Tom already recorded his part?
I sang with a scratch vocal by a male vocalist, so I didn’t get to hear Tom while I was recording. I had a little bit of an inkling that he was good because we all had the same vocal coach and the vocal coach had said to me, “Oh my God, wait until you hear Tom’s voice. It’s insane. That man could be an opera singer if he wanted to.” So when I did finally hear it, it was so great and so powerful. And you know, we really did sing on set. When they played the playback of our song, we would also sing it so it looked real. So, I got it firsthand. He was right beside me, just belting it, and he’s got a great voice.
The choreography for your big duet is pretty sexual. You end up undoing Tom’s pants with your teeth.
The day they showed us the routine, the choreographer had two dancers that were doing our moves for us, and I just remember standing there slack-jawed. I mean, recording the song was so much fun, because I’m literally standing there singing with my finger in my mouth pretending like it’s the leather string on his pants. But it’s interesting, because when you do get into character, you forget that it’s weird. You’re totally in it. And as soon as they call cut, you go, “Oh my God, this is crazy! What are we doing?”
When you’re French kissing a major movie star while dozens of people watch you, how many of those takes do you ruin by laughing?
Oh my goodness, there were quite a few. But I do have to say, there’s a reason why we do rehearsal: to get all of the laughs out. That’s not to say that after every time we called cut we wouldn’t start laughing, but by that point, you’ve done it so many times in rehearsal that you’re mostly just concentrating on being in character, and the song is on and you’re feeling it. But of course, as soon as they call “Cut” and you’re in a weird, compromising position, everyone’s just breaking out in laughter. We didn’t ruin too many takes, but that frickin’ monkey ruined a few. Come on. Can he hit his mark? Come on!
Did you have a serious conversation with Tom Cruise and the director, Adam Shankman, about how much tongue to use in that big sloppy kiss?
We never actually even rehearsed or even spoke about that last kiss, which is described in the script as the “tongue-iest tongue kiss of all time.” Once we got on set, both Tom and I were like, “Okay, Adam, like what specifically is it that you want?” And Adam said, “Just go crazy. I mean, just lick her eyeballs if you have to. Just go for it.” Tom and I kind of looked at each other and were like, “Okay, we’re game. Let’s just do it.” You have to dive in head-first — or shall I say tongue-first — and just go for it.
And did he end up licking your eyeballs?
All I know is that there was a lot of face-licking, and it went on and on and it went all over my face. I can’t quite remember what made it into the movie because I was covering my eyes and sliding down my chair; I was so embarrassed watching it. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of DVD extras.
Did you drive home from set that day going, “I just tongued Tom Cruise all day”?
The time that really happened was after the rehearsals, where I was like, “Oh, okay. So, Tom Cruise was just on his knees singing to my butt. Totally normal. Normal day at work.”