An interview with filmmaker Cameron Crowe covering his long career ("Say Anything ... ," "Jerry Maguire"); new film, "We Bought a Zoo"; and positive outlook on life.
NEW YORK — Cameron Crowe is pulsing with enthusiasm.
He spent the previous night sitting outside New York’s Plaza Hotel, a spot that made him recall one of his first trips to New York — as a teenage journalist for Rolling Stone — in which he stayed at the Plaza while chronicling a Led Zeppelin tour.
“I was just thinking, ‘Man, it’s like no time has passed,’ ” says Crowe. “This is the future time. That’s what it was. You always wonder, ‘In the future time, what will this all mean? What will it all amount to?’ That was kind of the revelation of last night: Here I am. And it feels like no time.”
After six years of uncertainty, the present is feeling good for Crowe, the writer-director of earnest, personal films such as “Say Anything … ” and “Jerry Maguire.” He’s back with his first feature film since 2005’s critical and box-office misfire “Elizabethtown”: “We Bought a Zoo,” an unabashedly warmhearted family film about a father (Matt Damon) who, after his wife dies of cancer, impulsively buys a rundown zoo to re-energize himself and his two kids.
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“I don’t look at the time post-‘Elizabethtown’ as the bottom of the roller coaster. I kind of look at it as a gathering time.”
In those years, Crowe plotted a film about Marvin Gaye that failed to get off the ground (he hopes to still make it); scripted an adaptation of David Sheff’s “Beautiful Boy” and Nic Sheff’s “Tweak” (a pair of books about a father and his addict son); and made two music documentaries (the Pearl Jam retrospective “Pearl Jam Twenty” and “The Union,” about Elton John’s collaboration with Leon Russell).
He was also divorced from his wife of 24 years, Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, with whom he has 11-year-old twin sons. Crowe says Wilson remains a “close collaborator” with the children.
The parallels with “We Bought a Zoo” aren’t lost on Crowe.
“This movie is about keeping souvenirs of a lost love. Even in the broken relationships or people that have died or moved on, there’s valuable luggage to be kept that guides the future.”
“We Bought a Zoo” is considerably better than its title and plot synopsis suggest. It’s a rare film Crowe has directed but hasn’t written (he shares screenplay credit with Aline Brosh McKenna, who adapted Benjamin Mee’s autobiographical book), and it bears many hallmarks of the director. Recently on “The Daily Show,” Damon, realizing the movie didn’t sound like the most artistic enterprise, took to shouting at the crowd the simple justification: “Cameron Crowe directed it!”
That’s often all a film has needed to draw moviegoers. In person, Crowe has many of the qualities of his films: He’s uncommonly upbeat, sincere and utterly engaging.
Asked where he gets his positivity from, Crowe says, “It’s innate and a goal, really, to battle back the daily hurdles or the challenges and just say, ‘How can I turn this into a positive?’ It’s interesting how sometimes positivity is the door that opens to a greater understanding of how to deal with the darkness.”
Another hiatus is unlikely. The ever-writing Crowe is eager to work rapidly. He’s currently writing a script about a city with a rich music history. He’s also focused on rewriting and honing a number of scripts so that he can “deal from a deck.”
“My dream was always to be able to be like a guy like Spike Lee or Woody Allen or Truffaut where one day you can look at all the stuff and they all come together to give you a portrait of a human life, in different stages of it. So I’m always looking for what’s the next area of life to explore that will help me understand it and bring something universal to other people, too. I’ll be doing that as long as I can, as long as there’s a camera, or a page and a pen.”