Over the past four decades, Cameron Crowe has written and/or directed over a dozen critically acclaimed films and won an Oscar in the process. The California-born filmmaker has created some of the most memorable moments and lines of dialogue in movie history: Who can forget Lloyd Dobler blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” from a radio held high above his head in Say Anything…, or Tom Cruise uttering the classic phrase, “You complete me,” in Jerry Maguire? In celebration of Crowe's 60th birthday, here are 20 things you might not have known about some of his classic movies.
1. FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH BEGAN AS A NONFICTION BOOK.
While a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, Cameron Crowe spent a year secretly embedded at Clairemont High School in San Diego, California under an assumed name (and in cooperation with the school’s administration) to gather stories for his nonfiction book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Crowe’s book was published in 1981; a year later, it was adapted for the big screen by Amy Heckerling.
2. HE HAS CONSIDERED WRITING A SEQUEL TO SAY ANYTHING...
In a 2015 interview with Film School Rejects, Crowe admitted he would like to revisit Lloyd Dobler and work with John Cusack again. “I only mentioned it to [Cusack] once,” Crowe said. “In the spirit of the Truffaut movies, where Antoine Doinel would come back and be in a different context, I really did think that Lloyd could be worth revisiting in maybe a completely different context. So, I don’t know. I guess it would be a spiritual follow-up. I don’t know how strict of a sequel it would be. I don’t know which characters would appear or reappear. It just feels like a character I could still write for.” Cusack told the ladies of The View he’d be up for doing a sequel if Crowe asked him.
3. CROWE BELIEVED FRIENDS WAS A RIP-OFF OF SINGLES.
Crowe was asked by Warner Bros. Television to turn his 1992 film, Singles, into a TV series about “a group of six 20-something roommates searching for love.” Crowe passed. But when Friends, a Warner Bros. show, debuted in 1994, the show was so familiar looking to Crowe that he had his lawyer look into it. Apparently, just enough of the details were changed that it wouldn’t be an easy lawsuit, so he dropped the matter.
4. THE LACKLUSTER SUCCESS OF SINGLES PROMPTED CROWE TO WRITE JERRY MAGUIRE.
Disappointed by Singles’s lack of success, Crowe decided that he wanted to write a more personal and emotional movie. “And all of a sudden I just looked around and—it was a good thing—many false friends disappeared,” Crowe told Paste Magazine in 2005. “And the people that sort of stayed behind, who you realize were your true friends and would be your friends for life, were not the people I expected. And that became one of the first ideas that drove Jerry Maguire: what if you lost everything, or lost a lot, and you looked around and all those people that you thought would be there for life are gone. Who’s left?”
5. THE ROLE OF JERRY MAGUIRE WAS WRITTEN FOR TOM HANKS.
Crowe spent almost four years writing the script for Jerry Maguire. “I took so long doing the script that Hanks was no longer a 35-year-old man. By the time he got [the script] he was almost 40 and had two Academy Awards and wanted to direct,” Crowe told Empire Magazine in 1997. Apparently Hanks rejected an earlier version of the script, because he “didn’t buy the marriage part. But without that, it became just a story about a guy sleeping with a girl from his office.”
6. AMY HECKERLING AND CROWE FILLED THE CAST OF FAST TIMES WITH FRIENDS.
Judge Reinhold was asked to play Brad because he was Heckerling’s upstairs neighbor in Los Angeles. Heckerling also cast her ex-husband, David Brandt, and his real-life band, Reeves Nevo & The Cinch, as the band at the dance, and her ex-boyfriend, Beverly Hills Cop and Scent of a Woman director Martin Brest, as the doctor on the field trip near the end of the film. The woman who pulls up next to Brad’s car and laughs at him while he’s wearing his Captain Hook Fish and Chips uniform is Crowe’s then-girlfriend/future wife/current ex-wife Nancy Wilson, guitarist for the band Heart.
7. CROWE AND NANCY WILSON WROTE A LOT OF THE SONGS FOR ALMOST FAMOUS ON THEIR HONEYMOON.
Crowe told Film Comment that while honeymooning in 1986 with Nancy Wilson, they holed up in a cabin in Oregon and created a fake band and wrote songs, “knowing sort of one day we might do a movie where we could use the stuff,” he said. “Almost 15 years later, those songs became a reality.
8. ALEJANDRO AMENÁBAR WAS “HONORED” THAT CROWE WANTED TO REMAKE HIS MOVIE.
Crowe’s 2001 film Vanilla Sky was a remake of Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 film Open Your Eyes, which also starred Penélope Cruz—and Amenábar was honored that Crowe wanted to put his own spin on it. “When I learned, quite some time ago now, that Cameron Crowe was going to write and direct the film based on Open Your Eyes with Tom Cruise in the leading role, I felt honored,” Amenábar said. “Now that I have seen Vanilla Sky, I couldn't be more proud. Cameron has all my respect and admiration. Respect, for having plumbed the deepest meaning of the work. Admiration, for having sought new viewpoints and a fresh approach to the mise-en-scene, giving the film his own unmistakable touch. Vanilla Sky is as true the original spirit as it is irreverent towards its form, and that makes it a courageous, innovative work. I think I can say that, for me, the projects are like two very special brothers. They have the same concerns, but their personalities are quite different. In other words, they sing the same song but with quite different voices: one likes opera, and the other likes rock and roll.”
9. CROWE SAW VANILLA SKY AS A “REMIX.”
“The original film is like a song our band really liked and we decided to cover it our own way,” Crowe said of Open Your Eyes. “I view my adaptation as a 'remix' rather than a 'remake'; the film is a genre-bending, mind-twisting portrait of the American male as he exists five minutes into the future. Hopefully, it honors the original. I like the idea it could be sort of a dialogue between the two movies. I kept thinking of the original like a folk song. There's so many different ways you can play it, and you can reinvent it in your own way. I would never say to somebody, 'Don't see his, see ours.' I want people to see both."
10. SEAN PENN STAYED IN CHARACTER DURING THE ENTIRE FAST TIMES SHOOT.
Always the Method actor, Sean Penn forced everyone on-set to call him “Spicoli” and wouldn’t answer to his actual name. Other Fast Times actors made fun of him behind his back by calling him “Sean De Niro.”
11. LLOYD DOBLER WAS BASED ON CROWE’S NEIGHBOR.
Crowe was having issues writing the leading man for Say Anything…, but became inspired when he met his Alabama neighbor, Lowell Marchant. “He was this friendly guy with a crew cut who just wanted to meet everybody he could,” Crowe told Entertainment Weekly. “He knocked on the door and said, ‘Hello, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Lowell Marchant. I am a kickboxer, and I’ll be living here for a little bit. Are you aware of the sport kickboxing? It is now a major sport covered by ESPN.’ I’d tell [executive producer James L. Brooks], ‘The character’s not coming, and there’s this f***ing guy down the way who keeps knocking on the door and he’s a kickboxer.’ And Jim’s looking at me like, ‘And you’re wondering what to write?’”
12. JOHN CUSACK KICKBOXES IN REAL LIFE.
After learning the “sport of the future” for Say Anything…, Cusack continued training and has a level six black belt in Ukidokan kickboxing. Martial arts fighter Benny “The Jet” Urquidez has fought with, and trained, Cusack. “He’s got the kind of control that I can put a cigarette in my mouth and he can kick it right out without hitting me,” Urquidez told the New York Daily News. In an interview with Details, Cusack revealed, “I like fighting so much because it’s not passive-aggressive. If you want to fight, let’s fight. I appreciate the honesty of it.”
13. NICOLAS CAGE MADE HIS BIG SCREEN DEBUT IN FAST TIMES, AND CALLED IT A “TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE.”
Nicolas Cage was originally supposed to play Brad, Judge Reinhold’s role, but the filmmakers eventually relegated him to a smaller role. Why? The stories differ. One pervasive rumor is that his improvisations during the auditioning process were deemed too weird. But Cage says that it was because of his age, and the fact that he was using his birth name—Nicolas Coppola—at the time. "I must have auditioned for the Judge Reinhold part 10 or 11 times," Cage told The Hollywood Reporter, who described the film as a "terrible experience." "I was underage, so I couldn't get it because I couldn't work as many hours. And I was surrounded by actors, whose names I won't mention, who were not very open to the idea of a young guy named ‘Coppola’ being an actor. So that movie was instrumental in me changing my name because of the kind of unfortunate responses to my last name.”
14. SINGLES MARKED PAUL GIAMATTI’S FEATURE FILM DEBUT.
If you don’t remember him, it’s probably because it was easy to miss him. He said “What?” while making out with his lady friend during Steve and Linda’s first date.
15. ALMOST FAMOUS IS A REFERENCE TO BEING ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF CELEBRITY.
Before Crowe produced Almost Famous, the original title was Untitled and then The Uncool, but the studio told him he had to rename it. “I used to go to concerts and I would see Mick Jagger, then off to the side are these people standing by the amplifiers,” Crowe explained. “You look at them, and you think, who are they? Are they groupies? Are they friends of the promoter? Are they married to the bass player? Because they’re almost famous."
16. SINGLES’S CITIZEN DICK IS ACTUALLY PEARL JAM.
Matt Dillon’s band in Singles, Citizen Dick, is made up of members of Pearl Jam. At the time they were known as Mookie Blaylock, but Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament, and Stone Gossard cameoed as Dillon’s bandmates. Most of Dillon’s clothes were in fact Ament’s. The bassist Ament also wrote all of the fake song titles for Citizen Dick; late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell decided to write actual songs with those titles; “Spoonman” was one of those songs.
17. CROWE EXPECTED “THE KWAN” TO BECOME A MORE POPULAR CATCHPHRASE.
When Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.) coerces Jerry Maguire (Cruise) to scream “Show me the money” into a phone, a world-famous slogan was born. But, Crowe thought Tidwell’s speech about “the Kwan”—an adage embodying the combination of community, love, respect, and money—would resonate more with audiences.
“I like to think that Tidwell had been jealous of Dennis Rodman’s blend of pseudo-French trash-talk ‘inspirato.’ He wanted his own language, too,” Crowe told Premiere Magazine in 2000. “So the Kwan was born. But once we began to show the movie, audiences were pleasant, at best, during Rod’s Kwan speeches.” Eventually Kwan found some respect, at the Olympics. “I’ve always held a soft spot for the unnoticed concept of Kwan,” Crowe said. “Some time later, during an Olympic performance by ice-skater Michelle Kwan, a friend called and told me to turn on the television. In the middle of a huge crowd, a lonely fan held up a sign reading, ‘Show me the Kwan.’ Thank you for that."
18. GLENN FREY TAUGHT CROWE HOW TO CRAFT A PROPER BUZZ.
Russell Hammond, Billy Crudup’s character in Almost Famous, was loosely based on Glenn Frey of the Eagles, and in real life Frey actually uttered the “Look, just make us look cool” line to Crowe. Frey also contributed a lesson on how to hold a drinking buzz, which Crowe scribbled down. “If you want to craft a buzz correctly, you walk into a party, you drink two beers quickly,” Crowe shared with Rolling Stone. “Then you drink a beer every hour and 15 minutes after that. You’ll always have a buzz and you’ll never get too embarrassing.” After their 1970s encounters, Crowe and Frey worked together again in 1996, when Crowe cast Frey as Dennis Wilburn in Jerry Maguire.
19. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN WORE CROWE’S VINTAGE GUESS WHO T-SHIRT.
Crowe admitted to keeping many souvenirs from his days as a teenage rock journalist, including a T-shirt from the group The Guess Who. When William Miller (Patrick Fugit) and Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) meet at Sun Cafe in Almost Famous, Bangs is wearing Crowe’s own T-shirt. “Lester dressed in promotional T-shirts, which was funny because his message was that corporate America is just around the corner ready to seize rock with merchandising and commerciality, but he had no problem wearing rock T-shirts,” Crowe told Entertainment Weekly. “They were free, and they fit."
20. VANILLA SKY IS FULL OF POP CULTURE REFERENCES.
According to Crowe, there are exactly 428 pop culture references in the movie. “What I wanted to do,” Crowe told Entertainment Weekly, “was make a movie that asks, What is real in a world dominated by pop culture? Are your standards dictated by things that impacted you from pop culture when you were a kid?” Among the references made? Jules et Jim, To Kill a Mockingbird, and a Bob Dylan album cover.