Kenny Wormald worked as a professional dancer in Los Angeles for eight years before Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer plucked him from relative obscurity to play the angry-dancing, authority-defying protagonist in his Footloose remake, inheriting the role made famous by Kevin Bacon. Soon, drunken trivia hounds around the country will be engaged in feverish games of Six Degrees of Kenny Wormald. Admittedly, these games will be very, very short.
In an exclusive interview with Hollywood.com, Boston-bred Wormald spoke about his breakout role, his comely co-star, his obsessive director, and the Quaid factor.
Having worked primarily as a dancer, this has to be an eye-opening experience for you.
Yeah, it’s definitely different. Not only am I speaking now [laughs], but getting the weight of a project, good and bad, thrown at [me]. Cause it’s Footloose and a lot of people hold it very close to their hearts, so it’s like if this movie messes up, it’s kind of on my shoulders. But fortunately I had a great cast and an amazing director. I feel grateful for the people I was surrounded by, who allowed me to kind of do the best I possibly can.
Were you a fan of the original film?
I grew up dancing, so I’d seen that film a ton of times. I always reference that angry dance scene. It’s just one of those movies you always see as a kid, and still to this day. I think it was on VH1 yesterday. So it’s definitely been around in my life, and I absolutely loved it. So to get to remake it was surreal and also gratifying. When I heard there were other actors involved for the role of Ren, I was a bit jealous. I was like, “Damn, I could do that, man. Give me a chance.” So when the chance came, I just bee-lined it and worked really hard to get the role.
I was surprised to hear your director, Craig Brewer, cite the original Footloose as one of the formative films of his youth. What was it like working with him?
Working with Crag was incredible; I wouldn’t want to make anyone else’s Footloose other than his. He wasn’t just a guy going for a paycheck. It was a passion project for him, because he was obsessed with the original. When I say obsessed, I mean obsessed. He refers to himself as a “Footloose-ologist,” because he knows it shot-for-shot, every word. He saw it first when he was 17 and fell in love with it. He was the best quarterback for this film. I tell the guy, “I’ll babysit your kids; I’ll wash your car. I’ll do whatever the hell you want for the rest of my life, because this experience has been unbelievable.”
You have a few different dance sequences in the film. Which was your favorite?
I think what’s cool about the dance sequences in this movie is that they’re all different. There’s about four different scenes with dancing in it, and they’re all very different. They’re all cool in their own way, but the angry dance is pretty iconic, so to get to do that was surreal. I think we tackled it in the right way. Craig found a great song for it, which helped. That’s how he pitched the film to Paramount: He went in there with a boombox and played the angry dance song, and it was kind of the core of his creativity. He was so passionate about it. I remember him pitching it to me after I was already booked, and I was getting chills just listening to him talk about it.
What was it like facing off with the great Dennis Quaid? That had to be a little intimidating.
I made it a point to not watch any Dennis Quaid movies once I booked it. Like all summer, if I saw one of his films [on TV], I was like, change [the channel], because I didn’t want to let that affect me. I already had enough intimidation where I felt like I could use it a bit, for my character to use it. When I first meet him, I need to feel a little bit smaller and less than him. And throughout the film I thought I could use that. But once you get to know the guy, the intimidation level goes down. He’s funny and cool and charming. It’s funny; one day after working, he taps me on the shoulder and goes, “It was great working with me, kid.” And I was like [mimes confusion], you just totally got me. He’s that cool guy that you hoped he would be.
Talk about working with Julianne Hough. She’s really blowing up.
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s great I got to work with her now, because she’s gonna be unstoppable for a while. I think both of us coming from a dance background was helpful. This movie’s pretty much on her and I, as far as our scenes and the story. We had each other’s backs. Craig was really supportive of us. He made a point to call me after I was booked to tell me, “You didn’t get this for your dancing; you got it for your acting.” And I think the same went for Julianne.
Do you plan on pursuing non-dancing roles? Has Footloose opened up new avenues for you?
Yeah. I’ve gotten into some rooms now that I couldn’t have begged or bought my way into. I read for Ron Howard not too long ago for The Dark Tower. Just getting into that room, to me, was a success. I know not a lot of guys got to read for him, so that was an honor. Things like that have changed for sure. So yeah, I plan on sticking around for a while and doing films that aren’t just dance movies. I’m attached to a movie now called Someone in the Dark, which is this really cool, badass sexy thriller. They’re finding the lead girl right now. I’m just so excited to be attached. There’s no dancing in the movie, and I’m proud of that. I think it says something about Craig Brewer and about our Footloose, because it’s not a typical dance movie. I’ve danced in some of those dance movies in the past decade; some of ‘em are weak in the plot. Fortunately we weren’t that way.
Footloose opens everywhere this Friday, October 14, 2011.
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