Joan Jett kicked open doors for women to rock out in a man's music world. So when the time came for a film drama on how she got her start, Jett wanted to be on hand to help make sure the story was told right.
Jett was an executive producer for "The Runaways," a Sundance Film Festival premiere that spins the raucous tale of her first band in the 1970s. The all-girl group of teenagers — branded as a gimmick at the time — left behind some hard-rocking music in their short time together.
"Twilight" star Kristen Stewart plays Jett and her "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" colleague Dakota Fanning plays Cherie Currie, the Runaways' lead singer. The film captures the hurdles they faced at a time when the notion of female guitar gods was practically unheard of.
"Everybody knows Joan Jett, but nobody really knows how hard it was to become her," Stewart said. "We've grown up being told that we, us girls, can do whatever we want, and that just wasn't the case for them."
In an interview at Sundance ahead of the film's premiere Sunday, Jett recalled the reactions that greeted the Runaways as they rocked with the passion of the Ramones or the Sex Pistols.
"It was initially kind of laughing, like that kind of smiling, going, 'What are you doing? You can't do this. Girls don't play rock 'n' roll.' And when they saw were really serious about it, the attitude kind of changed," Jett, 51, said. "Anything from really just insulting and dirty, nasty things. Calling us names, every name that you can call a woman. Just stupid things. Bands feeling threatened by us.
Directed by Floria Sigismondi, who adapted the screenplay from Currie's memoir, the film follows the Runaways' quick rise to a record deal and superstardom in Japan through their hasty fall amid drugs and ego clashes.
"The Runaways" tracks Jett to the start of her career fronting the Blackhearts, with whom she scored hits with "I Love Rock 'n' Roll," "Crimson and Clover" and other singles in the early 1980s.
"I knew from the minute I met her that she was going to be the godmother of rock 'n' roll," Currie, on stage alongside Jett, told the Sundance audience after "The Runaways" premiere. "And I was right."
Jett said she was on "The Runaways" set every day, helping Stewart capture her posture, her guitar style, her East Coast Maryland accent. As a teen, Jett used to send oral letters on cassette tape to an aunt, and she gave one of those to Stewart to help the actress match her voice.
"I told her, 'Listen, man. I trust you. You gotta go with your instincts. If there's something that's way off, trust me, I'm going to let you know,' and I don't mean bite her head off," Jett said. "I'd guide her. That time never really came, you know. She was right there."
Jett, who has a greatest hits compilation coming out this year, said she is writing songs and aims to be in the studio recording new material by summer. Meanwhile, she hopes "The Runaways" might inspire some fans to check out her early music.
"I hope they come to know that the Runaways existed and the Runaways were a great rock 'n' roll band," Jett said. "That would be a great thing, because we made a lot of great music, and it would be very special if people could rediscover it."