Kenny Wormald, the new Ren McCormack in the 2011 version of Footloose, was at the tail end of a full day of interviews when we connected by phone to talk about the October 14th release of the film. Wormald, whose background is in dance, fully realized the importance of getting a Footloose remake right when he took on the role made famous by Kevin Bacon, but he believes this new version will introduce the story to a new generation while not alienating fans of the original.
"If you’re a fan of the original, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to check this one out because we all as huge fans of the movie, top to bottom, cast, crew, catering, everyone on set was in love with the original," explained Wormald when asked about winning over Footloose fans leery of a remake. "We all made sure to not mess it up and I think we revisit a lot of the same emotions but also bring it in a new light without straying too far from the original. If you’re wary, the only way to judge it is to see it and then judge it. I recommend everyone check it out. "
As with the 1984 movie, this Footloose finds Ren McCormack moving to a small town in which dancing has been outlawed following the deaths of some of the town's teenagers. Plopped into this strange world, Ren has to fight to make those in authority open their eyes to the injustice of prohibiting teenagers from having fun and cutting loose on the dance floor.
Exclusive Kenny Wormald Footloose Interview
Could you have challenged yourself more? You took on a role in a remake of a movie that people really like as your first major starring role. That's pretty daring.
Kenny Wormald: "Not only 'like' but are obsessed with and hold very close to their hearts. Yeah, I know, it’s a little crazy of me but I felt like if anyone could do it, it was me. I was a little jealous when I heard the other guys who were attached to the film prior to me were doing it. I wished for that opportunity. So once Craig Brewer took over and they opened up casting for an unknown guy, I had my eyes on the prize."
Did it worry you, taking on a role you knew would lead to people scrutinizing every move you make in the film?
Kenny Wormald: "I didn’t think about that while we were shooting the film. It’s coming up more now. You know, I was just happy for the opportunity. I knew the film very well so I knew Kevin’s choices and decisions. Once I booked the film, I didn’t watch it for the three months prior to shooting. I made it a point to not to want to dissect it and hear Kevin’s dialogue in my head as I’m saying some of the same dialogue. For those three months, I kind of erased it from my head and just focused on the script that we had and tried to make it feel like it was our own movie. While we were shooting the film, it definitely felt like it was our own movie. It didn’t feel like we were copying anyone or stealing anyone’s thing. It definitely felt true to the original feel of it."
Your Ren is a little different than Kevin’s Ren. Your backstory's a little different than Kevin Bacon's character. How did you set him apart from what Kevin had already done?
Kenny Wormald: "I owe Craig Brewer pretty much my whole life to that guy at this point. But, with making it different, a few of the plot elements helped. Ren not having his mom move down with him kind of creates more of a sense of loss and he’s totally by himself. In the original, he moves down with his mom and in this one Ren doesn’t have a mom anymore. So I think that was a huge part of it."
"Obviously, Craig letting me use the Boston accent helps make me even sound different than Kevin did. And, also, the relationship with the uncle. In the original, he doesn’t support Ren and in our version he completely embraces Ren and as challenged as that might make him, they are blood. Ren is his blood. Craig is from the South and he says, 'You know, down South if you're family, they will fight for you.' I think those are key elements to help me make Ren different, aside from just dialogue and delivery."
Kenny Wormald: "It isn’t, but it is. He comes from theatre and he is a huge fan of music itself and performing, dancing and music videos. He’s very keen to what’s hip. He also wanted it to feel real and not like a music video. He wanted to capture the stuff kind of up close and not just a perfect wide shot of everything. I think he found a nice balance in doing both."
"His musicality as a director is impeccable. When I slam the car door, the song goes 'boom!'. Certain things like that as a dancer you look forward to in films. When things don’t align like that with editing and music, you get a little annoyed as a dancer. So I appreciate that so much in his style of filmmaking."
How much input did you have on the choreography?
Kenny Wormald: "I had enough. There was a great choreographer, Jamal Sims, he’s choreographed Hairspray, all the Step Ups, you name it he’s done it, so you trust a guy like that. Between Craig, his vision, Jamal’s steps and what I can do, we definitely made it a collaborative effort."
Is there one particular dance we see in the movie that is really close to your own personal style?
Kenny Wormald: "Yes, the little segment in the finale where I dance by myself in the Footloose piece at the end. That’s all me."
And speaking of the different dance sequences, this film also has an 'angry' dance scene but it's different than the original film's. This one looks like Parkour mixed with dance. How did you guys come up with that and how difficult was it for you, because it looks grueling?
Kenny Wormald: "It was super grueling. That was the last three days of our shoot so I think they did that strategically just in case I died or broke my leg, so the film would be in the can and then they could just dedicate it to me if I didn't make it. It was definitely something new for me to tackle; it wasn’t just a perfect dance routine. He struggles, he falls down and has to get back up. He has to overcome that, and I think that was a cool element because in the original it’s a perfect dance routine. You don’t see him struggle at all, so I really appreciated that factor."
"The song is incredible. It really creates the emotion by itself so to get to dance to that, in a factory, wearing damn near the same thing Kevin did and representing the film - particularly that scene as a whole is so meaningful to all of us. Me and Craig were really adamant about making sure we got that part right. I feel like we did."
How much more difficult is it to take acting and dancing and combine them together in a big film like this?
Kenny Wormald: "I think it was a perfect segue for me to enter into this crazy world of film. I’ve danced in a bunch of films, so I was prepared for set life. It was important for me to get the acting right. Craig called me after I booked it and he said, 'Look, you are a great dancer but you booked this because of your acting, not because of your dancing. We could have got a double. We don’t care about that. We wanted the story to be true and real.' That instilled a lot of confidence in me, so I was ready for the challenge of acting. And having a guy like that support you, Craig Brewer as the director, was incredible. I felt like we were doing the original justice but, like I said, making our own film. Nothing we were doing felt corny. I believed in everything I was saying; I believed in everything we were doing. As a whole, top to bottom, the whole cast and crew were fans of the original. We were very aware of our decisions. I think Craig Brewer is pretty much a genius because it could have been a whole lot different."
Definitely. You didn’t go back and watch the original but do you have really fond memories of the first film?
Kenny Wormald: "Yes, I do. I saw it as a kid, probably 10 years old the first time I saw it on VHS and I absolutely loved it. Growing up a dancer, those films are a huge memory for me as a kid...Dirty Dancing, obviously Footloose. They're films that are constantly on television. They are iconic. They represent so much more than just a dance movie. It's great to be able to bring a film like that to this generation because a lot of the dance movies in the past 10 years are just dancing. They are great and they are there for a reason and they are successful for a reason. But, I am proud that we get to have a drama with dancing, as opposed to dancing with a little bit of a plot."
There have been a lot of dance movies in the past decade or so, and there has really been a resurgence of dancing in films and on television. How has that affected your career?
Kenny Wormald: "It’s all helpful. It’s all one thing kind of leads to another. I was a part of a show on MTV that was about dance and that was really cool at the time. That helped me kind of get the next thing, which helped me get the next thing, which all leads to Footloose. But as far as it being an outlet for dance, I think dance is at an all-time high. It disappeared for a little bit, I think, during the grunge Nirvana days and it slowly made its way back. It comes in waves. But right now, it’s the biggest it's ever been in my life. I love it and appreciate it, and I’m proud to be a part of that."
Are you a fan of any of the televised dance shows?
Kenny Wormald: "Yes, I get something out of all of them. So You Think You Can Dance is great. America's Best Dance Crew is cool at moments, and Dancing With the Stars is a whole other thing. But it's still exposing dance to people that didn’t care about it or never saw it. What’s most important to me is the exposure for the young generation of dancers or people who are going to start dancing because of those shows. I wish I had them when I was a kid. We only had some music videos and then like concerts and some movies. We didn’t have this constant feed of dance knowledge. I joke around and say my dad’s a construction worker but he’ll watch So You Think You Can Dance and be like, 'Oh, she messed up on her pirouettes.' That just goes to show you how dance is in everyone’s face right now. I think it’s a good thing."
You and Miles Teller have such good chemistry as buddies in the film. Did you guys do anything special to bond?
Kenny Wormald: "Once I booked the film there was like two or three months prior to shooting and we found out that we were neighbors. We basically lived like two or three streets away from each other. So, yeah, we hung out all the time. We went golfing, played cards, and went out to bars around Hollywood. We totally got to know each other in a really natural way, not just forced on the set. So by the time we got to set, we were already kind of best buds. I’ve been with him all day today; I haven’t seen him in two months and it was great to see him. All that was real, you know? It was great to have a friend on set. It didn’t feel like we were working or acting. It felt pretty natural."
And how was dancing with Julianne Hough?
Kenny Wormald: "Oh my god, great! She’s a true pro. She’s beautiful and she's kind, and there isn’t even one bad thing I could try to say about her. She is amazing. To get to share this opportunity with her as someone who valued Footloose the original, and also to put it on our shoulders, basically, it was great to have someone like her to partner with me."
Did you also have a fair amount of time to get together with her to work on the film prior to shooting?
Kenny Wormald: "Yes. We also worked with the same acting coach together . All three of us would get together and we would go over the script and hang out. We watched old movies and certain things with our coach. And then we were in Atlanta for almost a month prior to shooting, so we would hang out there. Obviously all the dance rehearsals, hours and hours of those, you really got to know each other very well which was great because by the time we were on screen, I already knew enough about her and vice-versa that when I looked at her, it wasn’t just a blank look. You could use that relationship within the scene, even if it wasn’t relevant with the dialogue."
Was there any particular moment when you were on the set when it really struck you that you were doing a Footloose movie?
Kenny Wormald: "Yeah. Me and Julianne went to the dancers rehearsal, because they would rehearse and then we would get inserted into the choreography. So on Saturdays was the day we would meet up with the dancers, and me and her were just watching what they had choreographed and it was the 'Footloose' song. It was so surreal watching all the dancers come together and do this big huge piece that we were about to do. Just to watch it, she got a little choked up. I think I got a little choked up. It was a surreal moment, like a month and a half into shooting like, 'Oh yeah, we’re making Footloose!'"
"Then, obviously, the moments when we are wearing the prom outfits, jumping in the bug, and the red boots - all those bits. But that’s the one time we were like, 'Oh my god.'"
What did you think of your costume choices?
Kenny Wormald: "I loved them! From top to bottom, obviously wearing the iconic 'moments' of the original were great. But even the regular style of the film, LJ was our stylist and she absolutely killed it. I was very comfortable and very stylish, and I kind of stole some of Ren’s style myself in real life now."
So we will see you walking down the street looking like Ren?
Kenny Wormald: [Laughing] "Absolutely, a little bit."
Will you be dancing in your next film?
Kenny Wormald: "The next one I’m doing has no dancing in it. I’m excited to tackle that new challenge because dancing was a great crutch and a perfect segue for me to do the film and enter the film business as an actor. But yeah, I look forward to doing another dance role as long as it makes sense the way Footloose does. That is important to me, and having to get to work with a great director like Craig Brewer - a true filmmaker. I want to kind of be picky, if I can be. I don’t want to just do any old dance movie just to do it."
And you've picked out your next role?
Kenny Wormald: "Yes, it’s called Someone in the Dark. It’s a really cool thriller, completely different from Ren McCormack. I’m totally excited about it."
Are you a bad guy or a good guy?
Kenny Wormald: "I am essentially a good guy with a little twisted badness within the story."
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Footloose dances its way into theaters on October 14, 2011.