How the Actors in Netflix's 'The Dirt' Learned to Perform Like Mötley Crüe
Whether you wore your hair high and hairsprayed or preferred to pop the collar on your pink Izod polo shirt, no one who grew up watching MTV in the 1980s could escape the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll-fueled antics of Mötley Crüe. Not even if you wanted to. This includes Jackass co-creator Jeff Tremaine, who has felt a certain kinship with the band ever since he read their 2001 memoir, The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band.
Tremaine readily admits he wasn't a Crüe "superfan," but he nonetheless spent the past nine years attempting to adapt The Dirt into a film for reasons that go beyond "Girls, Girls, Girls." "When I read the book, it was right when we were kind of on a rocket ride ourselves with Jackass," Tremaine says. "We were right in the middle of making the first Jackass movie... and by the time I finally got this gig in 2010, the rocket had sort of crashed. I just felt so connected to their story because it seemed so similar to ours in a lot of ways."
After nearly 10 years of starts and stops, The Dirt has finally dropped on Netflix. "It has had a few near-misses and heartbreaks, but it all worked out," Tremaine says. Yet while the director's focus has been largely on getting the story right, for fans of the Crüe, the music is, of course, just as important. From Vince Neil's high-pitched squeals to Tommy Lee's iconic drum stick twirls, The Dirt nails the band's sound and swagger. But how much of what we're seeing and hearing is actually performed by Colson Baker, a.k.a. Machine Gun Kelly (drummer Lee), Douglas Booth (bassist/chief songwriter Nikki Sixx), Iwan Rheon (guitarist Mick Mars), and Daniel Webber (singer Neil)?
When casting The Dirt, Tremaine says that musical ability (or lack thereof) "wasn't a dealbreaker," but it didn't hurt that he ended up with one bona fide rock star (MGK, a rapper and multi-instrumentalist) and one part-time musician (Rheon, who released an album, Dinard, in 2015, during his memorably sadistic time playing Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones). Even still, before any cameras started rolling, the actors' prep began with personal training. "Daniel had a vocal coach, Douglas had a bass coach, and Iwan had a guitar guy who would come over and sit with him," Tremaine says. The four leads were then shipped off to a rock boot camp so that each could learn the specific quirks of their characters. "It was a month and a half of really intense training everyday," says Tremaine. "Not just learning the instruments, but working with a choreographer on moving like the guys. Then I would get a hold of them after that and we would have to go and do some heavy-duty gang building."
Though Baker may have come to the role with the most musical experience, Tremaine thinks his job was maybe the toughest, due to Tommy Lee's drummerly prowess and theatrics. "He's the one that really couldn't fake it. He's got to actually be able to play, so he truly dove in and learned those songs... Colson went through some rigorous drumming training before we even started, so he didn't come starting at zero. The day I gave him the gig, I told him, 'You need to have a drumstick in your hand and just learn how to twirl that through your fingers every second.' He took it very seriously. By the time he came out to the boot camp, he already knew how to play a lot of the Mötley songs that we were going to do."
"I had that damn drumstick in my hand for four months straight, dude," Baker, who hired his younger brother, who plays in MGK's touring band, to help him prepare, told USA Today. "I have giant calluses in between my middle finger and my index finger just [from] spinning that damn stick. So I hope you enjoy the stick twirls."
Even more challenging than getting the characteristic movements just right was getting used to the band's penchant for high-heeled boots. "The costumes were pretty outrageous," Tremaine says. "For Daniel to be able to move right and Douglas, in particular, to wheel the bass around. Not only does he have to learn how to play bass, but he has to learn how to play bass in high heels. Some of the boot camp footage is so funny because they're in their T-shirts and daily clothes, but they have these high-heeled boots on -- giant ladies' boots."
One key resource the actors had in fine-tuning their performances was access to the actual members of Mötley Crüe, who serve as producers on the film. Although they had veto power over the script, Sixx told Rolling Stone that "we OK'd everything because we thought it was telling our story. We felt it needed to be truthful."
"Nikki and Tommy came out to set before we started and watched the guys perform and gave them some notes, but overall, they were really happy with the progress with where the guys were when they were there," Tremaine says. "They weren't as up my ass as you would think they would have been... They trusted me and truly gave me the space to do this and were available to me when I needed them."
"We just sat there with our jaws on the floor going, 'What is happening?'" Lee told Rolling Stone of watching the actors perform their music. "I was like, 'Fuck. I feel like I'm watching Mötley Crüe in 1981. What is happening?' We were freaked out."
Ultimately, and regardless of how well the actors were able to imitate their real-life counterparts, only a portion of what you're hearing while watching The Dirt is coming from the mouths or the instruments of the actors.
"They could play it," Tremaine says. "I'm not going to say that what you're hearing is them exactly playing it. We recorded them. We also got all the actual Mötley recordings. Some of it is re-records with other bands and some of it is actually Mötley Crüe that they're just performing over it. So it's a blend."