With “Rocketman” set to delight audiences with another tale of how a rock icon found fame and fortune, let’s remember the movie that did it better than all the rest: the 2007 film “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” While not an actual biopic, a recent oral history for The Ringer shows just how much work went into making sure that the parody shone as brightly as the real thing.
To tell the story of the fictional Johnny Cash-like rocker portrayed by John C. Reilly, they built seven hotel rooms and three music studios, with music director Michael Andrews overseeing the creation of 45-50 songs within six months. “John was literally on set all day and then we’d record at night,” he said. “He was working around the clock making these records.”
Said songwriter Charlie Wadhams, “The description they gave me for ‘Guilty As Charged’ was something like, ‘Imagine Merle Haggard in a trashed hotel room with a bottle of whiskey after he’d just been dumped by his wife.'” (Marshall Crenshaw wrote the theme song, which was nominated for a Grammy.)
The filmmakers pressed the envelope on the film’s R rating, later releasing an unrated version on DVD. “There’s the scene with John and I, where I’m laying on top of him in lingerie,” said Jenna Fischer, who portrayed Cox’s future wife. “But we’re just friends. And we’re talking. I remember [the producers] saying, “Can you improv? Just say the dirtiest stuff but like super deadpan and earnest and matter of fact.” And I thought that was so funny. So I just started spewing the dirtiest dirty talk I could think of. And they were cracking up, and we were all cracking up, and then when we cut, I realized how revealing that was. I could only say things, maybe not that I had done, but that I at least knew about. I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve really revealed something about myself in this scene.’ I definitely felt very vulnerable for like a day and a half around everyone on set.”
Reilly and director Jake Kasdan also remembered, with some admiration, the shooting of the post-orgy scene that featured full-frontal nudity, male and female.
“They’re all naked,” Kasdan said. “I don’t remember exactly how it came to us that the button on the scene should be that this guy’s unit appears just over Dewey’s shoulder.
“It’s a two-shot,” said Reilly. “My face and a penis. That will probably never happen to me again.”
Dewey’s backup band included veteran comedians Chris Parnell, Tim Meadows, and Matt Besser, none of whom could play their instruments. The production sprung an upright four-string bass on Parnell after he’d invested time in learning how to play an electric one, while Meadows learning to play the drums is “the hardest work I ever did on a movie. I had to practice playing the drums. They had a set of electric drums set up in a room on the studio at the offices and I would go in on my days off and practice.”
The whole collection of interviews, with people from various departments, executive producer Judd Apatow, and a number of other cast members (Raymond J. Barry!) is a testament to how the movie managed to catch lightning in a bottle, even if the box office didn’t reflect it. For anyone with even a passing admiration for the film or never gave it a shot in the 12 years it’s existed, read Alan Siegel’s full piece on The Ringer here.