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Joan Jett and Cherie Currie: The real 'Runaways'

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Girl group from '70s on big screen
  • "The Runaways" movie is based on "Neon Angel," the memoir of singer Cherie Currie
  • Dakota Fanning plays Currie in movie; actress Kristen Stewart portrays band mate Joan Jett
  • Jett still tours with her post-Runaways group, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

(CNN) -- Joan Jett enters her hotel room with all the swagger of -- well, Joan Jett. The black shag haircut, the tomboyish gait, the New York accent (strange, since Jett is originally from Pennsylvania) -- they're all traits nailed by "Twilight" actress Kristen Stewart in the new movie "The Runaways," about the life and times of the real-life '70s girl group.

The film is based on "Neon Angel," the memoir of singer Cherie Currie, who left the band after two tumultuous years of sex, drugs and of course, rock 'n' roll. Former child star Dakota Fanning plays her on the big screen.

As the first female outfit to play aggressive music, the Runaways were in-your-face, provocative and sexual -- which was titillating to some and disturbing to others, especially since the girls were 15 and 16 at the time.

Currie, now 50, is a chainsaw artist, carving mermaids and teddy bears out of tree stumps. She recently sculpted a life-size guitar as a gift for Fanning on her 16th birthday. At 51, Jett still tours with her post-Runaways group, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Last month, she performed the Runaways' first hit, "Cherry Bomb," on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

CNN's Denise Quan recently sat down with Currie and Jett to talk about their band days and their take on the new movie:

CNN: What did you think of "The Runaways" movie when you saw it for the first time?

Joan Jett: I had a lot of repeating emotions. Sometimes it's hard for people who live it to kind of see it, but I think overall, I wasn't upset. I didn't run out of the theater and say, "Oh my God, it's so wrong!" You know what I mean? (They laugh.) Only kidding. Obviously, it is a movie, so there were a few embellishments, but I think once I was able to pass all of that and realize that the main thing is the story, it was fine.

CNN: Because we've known Dakota Fanning as a child actress, it was hard watching her taking pills in the movie and engage in overtly sexual behavior. She was only 15 when she made the film -- but that's exactly how old you were, Cherie, when you started in the band.

Cherie Currie: We were older and wiser than our years; I believe we really were.

Jett: We really were. Also, I think the girls that are playing us are too, in a degree, because of what they do, the nature of their job.

CNN: Do you think the Runaways could have happened in 2010? Times are different. There are child labor laws.

Currie: In another country, that could happen.

Jett: Yeah, maybe -- but you'd have to have a chaperone. More than the chaperone aspect of it, to me, is the 24/7 media that would be up your butt all the time. Obviously, we were reviewed as we toured, but we didn't have the constant judgment, or the constant "What you did last night?" or wind up in the paper the next morning.

CNN: In this day and age of TMZ, fans want to know every last detail about what goes on. Perhaps stories about what drugs you were doing and whether you were in a sexual relationship with each other would have fueled interest.

Jett: It may fuel interest, but it would destroy the band. It would destroy the band because you can't deal with that much scrutiny, especially when you're a teenager. It's sort of not really relevant. The focus should be on the music. That's why I tend to keep my private life private. I think it's important to have mystique. It's important to keep people thinking and guessing, and you want everyone to think you're singing to them.

CNN: These days, there are artists who like pushing the envelope to create an edgy persona, like Lady Gaga.

Currie: We never had to push the envelope.

Jett: We just showed up. It was everybody else who was freaked out by stuff. We were just being us, you know?

CNN: Cherie, do you regret leaving the band?

Currie: The only regret I do have is that we didn't take a break for a couple of months. We hadn't taken a break for two years. You know, I couldn't listen to the Runaways for 20 years after I left the band.

Jett: We never talked about it. We never sat down as a group and said, "What is the problem? Let's talk this out." There were a lot of unspoken things.

CNN: This is a story about overcoming a lot of things, including addiction -- which is a timely message, given the recent death of Corey Haim and others in young Hollywood.

Currie: I took it right to death's door with my drug addiction. And then right at the last minute, I had this moment of clarity, and I realized I don't want this, and I am not going to let this happen. You have to turn that corner, or what happened to Corey is just inevitable.

CNN: Joan, did you also have that kind of a problem?

Jett: I definitely was pretty extreme.

CNN: How did you pull yourself out of it?

Jett: I had support. After the Runaways, I was sort of feeling everything was for nothing, feeling laughed at, feeling distraught -- really distraught -- and not having anyone to turn to. I didn't feel like I could explain it to my family, that they were going to get it.

Eventually, I met my best friend [and current manager], Kenny Laguna ... and through the support of him and his wife, Meryl, I was able to slowly pull myself out of there, because I just didn't want to go there anymore.

Currie: It was totally different times. You've got the management, you've got the booking agents, you got all these people who are supposed to be watching you, and they are the ones who are giving you the drugs. Why would you even question whether it's wrong?

CNN: Did you ever think you'd make it to 50?

Currie: I didn't think I was going to make it to 21, you know? Personally, I never thought I'd make it to 50. I'm really glad I did, though.

CNN: Cherie, would you ever want to rock the mic again?

Currie: Why not? Geez! (Laughter)

CNN: Taking that trip down memory lane with the movie, it must be bittersweet.

Currie: We never had a break, we were tired, and we took a lot of abuse from -- I'm going to say "boy bands," but it was "man bands" acting like boys, you know. It was hard, and we stuck with it. We didn't have our families with us; we had no supervision whatsoever, but we did it, and I'm just so proud of this band. Really, I am.

CNN: Do you regret that there weren't more years together with the Runaways?

Jett: Maybe this was exactly as it was supposed to happen -- the way it sort of broke down and devolved, it's perfect. It was painful -- very painful at the time -- but looking back, we couldn't really have gone on that much longer. You can't be 18 and a Runaway, because you're of age. What are you running away from? (Laughter)