The remake of Footloose has drawn all sorts of buzz from many corners, expressions ranging from anticipation to whether or not certain classics should be re-done. Herbert Ross’ 1984 Footloose provided a voice for a misunderstood generation. That goal is as honorable today as it was 26 years ago. Working Author spoke with the cast and crew of this year’s Footloose and can confirm that this goal is shared by the filmmakers, including re-imagining team including writer/director Craig Brewer, as well as stars Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Ziah Colόn, Miles Teller, and Andie MacDowell.
Directed and re-envisioned by Craig Brewer, Footloose for contemporary audiences still uses the vehicle of dancing to convey a message. Its lead actors, Kenny Wormald (Ren) and Julianne Hough (Ariel), are professional dancers on and off the screen, and like the kids in the fictional town of Bomont, Tennessee, there was an emphasis on the impact of dancing in their personal lives. “It’s pretty much everything for me,” Wormald said. “It’s why I’m here, it’s something I’ve been doing my whole life. I can’t really put into a sentence what it does for me, but it’s just some incredible thing; it’s unexplainable.”
Hough concurred, saying, “It’s just an expression of who you are and I feel like I’d be a little bit dead inside [without dance] because I can’t remember my life without dance. I just don’t know how it would feel.”
“I used to be made fun of dancing, within my own town where I grew up I felt like an outsider,” Wormald continued, having grown up in Boston, Massachusetts. “I would lie to kids, I was like ‘Oh, I’m only doing tap dance; it’s really cool.’ But I was doing ballet and jazz and everything. I definitely went through a time where I felt wrong for doing what I loved.”
For Brewer, Footloose was just one of those movies that resonated within him. “I was 13; 1984; Vallejo, California; Cine 3 Theater,” he says. As a self-professed theater geek who performed in school musicals, “it was probably the most important movie of my life…. There was something about going to see Kevin Bacon in that skinny tie and spiked hair, and he was so defiant and so comfortable being himself. He was a different kind of hero. Up until then my heroes had light sabers and ray guns and bullwhips. This was different. This felt like somebody made a movie just for me.”
Wormald and Hough definitely wanted to respect the film and its stars as they had set the bar in 1984. “We knew the movie so well so we didn’t want to do anything that Lori [Singer] or Kevin [Bacon] did,” Hough stated. In her interpretation of the character she plays, “I think she’s more likable in this version. There’s a lot more depth to her; you understand why she acts they way she does. So I think Ren finds her more attractive that way.”
As with any film, however, there are challenges, and naturally some had an easier time than others. Andie McDowell, plays the wife of Reverend Shaw (played by Dennis Quaid) in the film, and found it an easy role to fall into. “It was like seeing my husband again, because I worked with him on Dinner with Friends. We’ve been married for a long time. [laughter] We were like an old married couple.”
Miles Teller, who plays Ren’s best friend in the film, Willard, found a particular challenge in learning how not to know how to dance, during the iconic “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” sequence. “You want to hide the fact that you can dance. It was something that I had to work on. I just imagined what bad dancers must feel like when they’re dancing, and that’s like awkward and self-conscious. So that’s what I was playing to.”
Ziah Colόn (Rusty) could testify that having a dance choreographer who catered to their needs as individuals in their corner beneficial to their experience on the set. “Jamal Sims was great! First of all, he was an amazing teacher, because neither of us are professional dancers. He was patient and adapted it to us. He choreographed all the dances, and they are hot! He did a really great job.”
“He’s very flexible in his training,” Tenner concurred. “Like, he would show me some choreography and I would say, ‘okay, I can do all of that but I can’t do that move’. So we’d work together to figure out something else.” He’s tremendous; he’s got a lot of patience.”
There were some differences in the film noticed by the cast, with hopefully one of them being a reflection of the audience growth from 1984 to the present day, as well as the shift in what being a parent represents to children. “The parents are more relatable in this one,” Wormald said. “It’s more of an understanding; you relate to both sides. [Brewer], when he saw the original, he felt like a Ren McCormack type. Now he has two kids of his own and he feels more like the Reverend. So I think he found a way to blend both without going too far from the original but kind of giving you that relationship, making it more clear.”
“We’re in the day and age where, even though people are certain ways, it’s not as crazy as it was from the eighties when the parents were like ‘you’re going to go to Hell if you’re dancing!’” Hough expressed. “It’s like, all right, it’s not that much right now it’s more about protecting your kids from harm.”
Further differences in the film centered on the issue of culture and music, as Colόn pointed out. “Craig definitely gives a great depiction of what the South is today, because there are so many cultures in the South now, and I think that people forget that, so we get to see that. He adds that grit and the hip hop and the different genres of music that are in the south.”
“Everybody’s white in the first one, so there is a difference. [laughter] And the music has been updated a little bit,” Teller added.
In the end, however, the collective effort of pushing the story’s heart to the fore was a source of satisfaction to Brewer. “I think it turned out great for what I wanted it to be, which is by no means a Footloose replacer. I come from the theater and I believe in revival, where you may do a modern version of West Side Story – you run the risk of losing what was special with West Side Story if you do a modern version. So as long as I kept to the core story of the original Footloose, I felt that if we just served that, then we would have a chance.”
Footloose is in theaters on October 7th, with wide release on October 14th.