One of the biggest questions surrounding the star-studded cast of the upcoming movie musical "Rock of Ages," based on Broadway's jukebox hit of the same name, is "Can they sing?" Tom Cruise, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston, Malin Akerman, and Will Forte are not exactly known for their musical prowess, but they'll be belting out '80s hits such as "Paradise City" and "Pour Some Sugar on Me" on big screens this summer.
Casting director Seth Yanklewitz, who worked with longtime casting partner Juel Bestrop and director Adam Shankman to cast the film, says, "Nobody wanted to make a fool of themselves." So although some of the biggest names in the cast never stepped into the audition room, it was because he already knew they could sing. Alec Baldwin's theater background, Catherine Zeta-Jones' Oscar-winning performance in "Chicago," and Mary J. Blige being, well, Mary J. Blige were proof enough for Yanklewitz.
On the other hand, "if you couldn't sing, there was no point in seeing you act," Yanklewitz says of the casting process. "So it kind of doubled the length of the process, because we had singing auditions, then acting auditions."
Akerman and leading lady Julianne Hough were among the actors who had to prove their singing ability in their auditions. "The second she did the first scene, you knew she was the girl," Yanklewitz says of Hough. "Full-body chills, the sky goes clear, and you just say, 'We're done!' "
So did Tom Cruise have to audition to prove he could hit the high notes?
"Noooooo," Yanklewitz breathes. "No. No. I mean, no. No."
He also acknowledges that the idea of using the original Broadway cast for the film version was heavily debated, but in the end the producers made the difficult decision to start over. "They wanted to age it down, which basically aged all those people out of it," Yanklewitz says.
To fill the leading role of Drew Boley, originated by Constantine Maroulis in the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, Yanklewitz and Bestrop widened their search with a nationwide call for online video auditions. They found Mexican pop star Diego Boneta, a relative unknown who had appeared in episodes of "Pretty Little Liars" and "90210" in the U.S. "I didn't know who he was," Yanklewitz says, "and many people didn't know who he was. I guess you could say I gave him his break, but I didn't discover him."
A year before the months-long online search that produced Boneta, Yanklewitz and Bestrop had also combed through thousands of online video submissions for "Project X," the recent "found footage" film from producer Todd Phillips ("The Hangover," "Old School").
Jonathan Daniel Brown was one of the actors cast after he submitted his audition online. "Granted, he then went through 11 rounds of auditions in person," Yanklewitz says. And Bestrop had noticed Dax Flame in YouTube videos a couple years earlier, so she brought him in for a small part in "Project X."
Each year Yanklewitz attends college graduation showcases in L.A. and meets with students from schools such as Yale, Juilliard, USC, and NYU to evaluate talent and offer advice. "I always tell young actors to get demos and put material of themselves online," he says. "If they're comedy people and they're just starting out, produce a sketch, or do a bit. Just get it up online. Because now more than ever, obviously, the Internet is a way in."
Watch the "Rock of Ages" trailer below: