A Few Got Smashed: Roger Donaldson Remembers ‘Cocktail’

The director of the greatest bartending movie ever reveals how many bottles broke and why Elizabeth Shue was drinking while pregnant.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

 

In the 1988, Tom Cruise was riding high off the success of Top Gun. So what awesome feat can you do after you play a fighter pilot? Well, Days of Thunder would come in 1990 but first, the logical follow-up was “Daredevil Bartender.” Cocktail starred Cruise as a hotshot bartender who twirled bottles, surpassed his mentor (Bryan Brown) and romanced a rich girl (Elisabeth Shue). Now the film is out on Blu-ray June 5 so you can see the crisp images of trendy bars and colorful paradise of Kokomo, like the hit song from the film. Director Roger Donaldson was available by phone to promote the Blu-ray, so we got to ask all our lingering 23-year-old questions about Cocktail and some of his other famous films.

 

CraveOnline: Are you happy with the way Cocktail looks on Blu-ray?

Roger Donaldson: You know, I haven’t seen it yet. I’m dying to see it. One of the great things about seeing your films when they’re being scanned out to high definition and put out on Blu-ray is that you get to see them better than you’ve probably ever seen them.

 

When you were making a movie about a bartender, did anyone think you were crazy?

[Laughs] I think the fact that Tom was going to be in it, nobody thought I was crazy. They probably thought it was a great opportunity.

 

Did Cocktail inspire daredevil bartenders in real life?

I think it did. It’s amazing how many places around the world I’ve been where I see bartenders throwing the bottles around. Bryan Brown who’s a good friend of mine still, Bryan’s always getting free drinks whenever he goes into a bar and gets recognized as that guy from Cocktail. Maybe Tom’s not able to hang out in bars quite the same way. Bryan, you know, whenever he goes to get a drink somewhere, he usually doesn’t have to pay anymore.

 

How long did it take Cruise to learn how to throw the bottles?

They put an enormous amount of energy into perfecting all that routine. Tom’s known for the effort that he puts into the research and getting up to speed with doing particular skills, like when he’s race car driving or those sorts of things. What I saw firsthand was really committed. Every day they would spend a couple of hours for probably months just working on their routine to get it down.

 

Did you use all real bottles?

Always real bottles. A few got smashed.

 

Was there a lot of broken glass cleanup between takes?

Not a lot but there were some.

 

In movies, scenes in bars are actually quiet and there’s no music. Were the scenes in Cocktail like that?

Well, no, we had playback and then we would fill in the music. We were always doing the routines to real music. We never were just doing to it to a room and putting the music in later. One of the things about the music for the film was all of those songs that were in the movie for those sequences were songs that I had chosen before and we’d managed to secure the rights to them. We knew what we were doing with those acts before we actually did them.

 

Then were the crowds just mimicking talking and that would be looped later?

We would’ve put the sounds back in with a loop group and if there was dialogue, then obviously we would cut the soundtrack before anybody really spoke because we didn’t loop the dialogue tracks. I know that.

 

Which alcohol brands provided product placement? Miller and Jim Beam feature prominently.

You know what? I wasn’t personally involved in the product placement but I’m sure somebody was and whatever the prop department gave me, that’s what we used.

 

I liked the original tagline for the movie, “When he pours, he reigns.” What did you think?

I like that too. I thought it was great.

 

Was that a marketing idea?

The marketing department at Disney came up with that idea, yeah.

 

What was it like shooting in paradise?

Well, you know, paradise is great for a holiday but it’s damn hot if you’re there to work. I remember it being quite demanding. Heat tends to suck everybody’s energy out of them but the good news was that at nights there was always some great entertainment and I remember “This Magic Moment,” which is a song in the movie, I actually heard it one night at a nightclub there and got the band to come to Toronto where we did some of the filming for the interiors of the clubs that were the New York clubs.

 

How many takes did you do of Elisabeth Shue dumping food on Tom Cruise?

Probably not too many. I don’t remember.

 

I didn’t even notice this when I first saw the movie, but in the years since it’s been pointed out that she’s drinking champagne in the end, while she’s pregnant. When did you realize that and were you kicking yourself?

Well, you know, listen, times have changed. People have become more educated. They realize the impact that alcohol has on pregnancies so what was okay then you realize times have changed.

 

So in 1989 they weren’t even telling pregnant women not to drink?

No! No. It’s amazing how quickly times change and people get educated about the risks involved. Those warnings you see on alcohol bottles now about pregnancy and drinking didn’t exist then.

 

Seeking Justice is also coming out on DVD and Blu-ray this month. What was involved in all the title changes for that?

You tell me. I personally much prefer the original one. The Hungry Rabbit Jumps is my one. I wouldn’t have done the movie if it was called Seeking Justice. I love Hungry Rabbit Jumps. To me it was a much more enigmatic title but that’s just my opinion.

 

Well, to me, if it’s called Seeking Justice, it needs to have a scene where Nicolas Cage looks up at the sky and screams “Justiiiiice!”

[Laughs] Yeah, maybe.

 

Has it amused you that any time there are two rival movies coming out, like this year’s Snow White movies or even the two Capote movies, they always refer back to Dante’s Peak vs. Volcano?

What’s always a challenge is to try and do something original that nobody else has thought of. I remember when we did Dante’s Peak and then we heard that they were going to make a volcano movie over at Fox, there was serious competition in those two movies in terms of getting them out first. As I was determined that I wasn’t going to be second, we went to extraordinary lengths to make sure we were out first. Ultimately I had nine weeks to do the post production on the film and in that time I had 450 special effects shots to get done as well. You can imagine how frenzied the post production was. It was seven days a week, 24 hours a day literally.

 

Another classic of yours, No Way Out, has such an amazing twist. Do you imagine you could keep a secret like that in the internet age?

God, it’d be hard, wouldn’t it? I love movies with real twists that you don’t see coming. I loved The Sixth Sense, I didn’t see that end coming. Now there’s so much information out there on the web that it’d be hard to keep a secret like that. And of course once you know it, the movie isn’t the same.

 

Well, it was so much fun getting to watch Cocktail again for work.

Oh, thank you. I’m looking forward to seeing this new Blu-ray. I’m sure they’ve done a great scan on it and a pristine copy of it, I’ll enjoy seeing it again.