Almost Famous Music Writer Nancy Wilson Put Billy Crudup And Jason Lee Through Rock School

On his better days, Billy Crudup is Russell from Stillwater. Or at least, that's what he says in the Cameron Crowe film "Almost Famous" about a young — like really young — journalist for Rolling Stone who goes on tour with the fictional band in order to write about them for the magazine. The film, which revolves around said touring rock band, has always been about more than just the music, but at the center of Stillwater is Crudup's character Russell Hammond and Jason Lee's Jeff Bebe. Crudup plays the extremely talented lead guitarist for the band while Lee takes on the role of the lead singer.  

In the movie, Russell ends up befriending 15-year-old journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit), mentoring him, and allowing him access to the backstage life and inner workings of Stillwater and their group of roadies all while getting into constant tiffs with Jeff over which member of the group is most important. However, both men are the epitome of cool, sporting loose-fitting, half-buttoned dress shirts and lankily walking around as if they've been rock stars their whole lives. However, it turns out that the life of a famous musician isn't something that can be easily imitated. It needs to be learned, and Crudup and Lee had to undergo rigorous training in which Nancy Wilson — who wrote the music for "Almost Famous" — painstakingly taught them how to capture the infectious aura of true rock gods for the film.    

Nancy Wilson's own personal school of rock

Obviously, because Nancy Wilson is a rock goddess herself — she's the guitarist for the rock band Heart — she's an expert on the rock-and-roll lifestyle. This is probably why, alongside writing the music for "Almost Famous," Wilson was also tasked with making sure Billy Crudup and Jason Lee not only looked the part but knew how to behave like their characters, as well. In order to achieve this, she set up her very own personal Rock Star Bootcamp where she put Crudup and Lee through rigorous training in order to teach them the ways of true rock and rollers. 

In a 2021 interview for Uproxx, Wilson explained, "We took a couple of weeks in a rehearsal space, we called it Rock School and watched a million Who videos and Zeppelin videos." Rock School was especially crucial for Crudup who, according to Wilson, did not have any experience playing guitar. "The other guys were players already," she explains, "But he was the one who really needed to perfect." 

In the film, Russell is known for his guitar playing, so it was absolutely critical that Crudup be able to convincingly portray a talented guitarist on screen. The actor told Entertainment Weekly, "I had never played guitar before so it was really difficult for me to fake it well and this character, Russell, wasn't meant to be just okay, he was meant to be great, so one of the primary challenges for me was just finding some flexibility and relaxation in a very uncomfortable and new environment." In order to do this, Wilson and the "Almost Famous" crew pulled out all the stops. 

Blowing like seaweed in the wind

Wilson told Uproxx that part of Rock School involved taking lessons from none other than Peter Frampton. "[He] came and helped out and was another consultant on the Rock School project," she says, though she admitted that much of the training took place with just herself and Crudup. One thing that was of particular importance for Crudup to learn for his role as Russell was body language since all rock stars just seem to emit a sense of cool that largely comes from the way they move and hold their bodies. Think of the likes of Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury. Watching them on stage is so mesmerizing in large part because they just seem to know how to walk like they're the king of the world. 

In order to get Crudup to move like a rock star, Wilson explained, "You can't look healthy and upright. You cannot have good posture. You have to be slouchy and you have to lean on one leg and go backwards and look like you're standing in water all the time." She went on to elaborate, saying she wanted Crudup to look like he was "standing in some water because you're like some seaweed in the water. So you've got this fluidity going on in your body language." Her visually specific instructions worked because Crudup looks not only like human seaweed in the film, but also seems to be completely at ease doing so. "He was really good at picking it up and adding it to his performances," Wilson praised. 

Creating a distraction

Anyone who's ever seen footage of The Beatles at Shea Stadium no doubt knows people can really lose their heads over seeing their favorite musicians in the flesh, and in "Almost Famous," Stillwater was no stranger to the phenomena of the screaming and obsessed fan. Wilson wanted to make sure that Lee and Crudup appeared at ease amongst the chaos, so she taught them to keep their cool in a very realistic way.

She told Uproxx, "There's another world you're in when you're playing. And people might just run up to the front of the stage in front of you while you're trying to concentrate on your music, playing your songs." She explains that often, these fans are begging for autographs, a fan behavior that ends up being extremely distracting. In order to make sure Crudup and Lee reacted appropriately to this behavior, Wilson would actually imitate crazed fans by running up to them and yelling during practice performances. "I would run up to them when they were rehearsing the song stuff. I would go, 'Please, please, please, please...'." She even went so far as to throw things at them which is just another everyday occurrence when you're, say, as famous as Harry Styles. Thankfully though, with Wilson's expert advice and help, the men of Stillwater swaggered on screen with enough confidence to make anyone believe that each of them is truly and unequivocally a golden, rock star god.