Tom Cruise in 'Risky Business' (Photo: Everett)
Before moviegoers caught Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear on screen in "Risky Business," Paul Brickman had it all in his head.
"It was pretty much what you saw — it was in my head," the film's writer-director tells Yahoo! Movies. And there was one change Cruise had to make because he couldn't get one aspect of the scene right (more on that below).
The famous scene — and the movie — turns 30 years old on Monday. Released on August 5, 1983, the coming-of-age tale of privileged college-bound teen Joel (Cruise) who earns a degree in the real world from a prostitute (Rebecca De Mornay), became one of the biggest box-office hits of the year, transformed 21-year-old Cruise from a newcomer into a People magazine profile subject, and gave a jolt to Ray-Ban Wayfarers.
But back to the underwear dance.
In a film filled with smart observations, hypnotic visuals, and oft-quoted lines, some safer for work than others (e.g., "Who's the U-boat commander?"), it is the underwear dance, coming 10 minutes into the film, just as Joel's parents have left him home alone in the family's suburban two-story, that defines "Risky Business."
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Brickman saw the scene as key, but no more key really than the film's other scenes.
"Obviously I didn't know it would have the shelf life it seemed to have have," he says. "You never think that."
What Brickman was thinking was that the underwear dance would be his main character's declaration of independence.
"'As rock-'n'-roll blasts through the house, Joel is quite ripped, standing in his Jockey shorts in the middle of the room feeling very free and sexy,'" Brickman says, reading from his script. "'He bops and struts around the room in a manic dance to freedom and privacy and general lewdness.'"
In a long-ago interview for Interview magazine, Cruise remembered Brickman giving him the option of finding another tune. "[But] in the end," Cruise said, "nothing beat Bob Seger."
Brickman and Cruise walked and talked through the scene on an off-day, a Sunday, the filmmaker recalls. Cruise's marching orders, as the actor said in Interview: "Let's really play it and use the whole house."
On the day of the shoot, Cruise told Oprah Winfrey he stripped — he stripped his feet, that is.
"I kept falling," Cruise said of the barefoot approach. "So, I thought, Well, I'm going to put on my socks.'"
Rebecca De Mornay and Tom Cruise circa 1983 (Photo: Warner Bros.)
"It made us laugh," Brickman says, but it wasn't right.
All told, the shoot, costarring a candlestick-cum-microphone, a pink oxford shirt and, of course, a pair of white briefs, took about a day. (Jockey reference or no in the script, Brickman doesn't recall which brand of underwear Cruise modeled.)
Paul Brickman, today (Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
From the set to theaters to the sweet spot of pop culture, the underwear dance was, in a short time, referenced everywhere: from a cat-food commercial to "Saturday Night Live," where presidential son Ron Reagan danced in his tighty-whities in a famous 1986 bit.
As the years have passed, the appeal of the scene has not diminished. It's a rare glimpse into the birth of a persona. In the sequence, Cruise, but a baby-faced innocent through much of "Risky Business," for the first time reveals the laser intensity that would define his movie-star brand. It's also something else, something basic and elemental.
Says Brickman: "I remember as a kid sliding around in socks all the time."
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