The trio talk about working on their dance skills for the film.
After laughing it up on screen in last summer's hilarious comedy, Accepted, Columbus Short went back to his roots - dancing. He's starring in the new film, Stomp the Yard.
He plays DJ, a troubled teen in Los Angeles; one night while battling at a club, his brother, played by R&B sensation Chris Brown, is killed. His parents send to live with relatives in Atlanta, Georgia; he attends Truth University, a predominant black college. There, he quickly learns the students take pride in not only their heritage, but fraternity step dancing. DJ joins one of the two major stepping fraternities on campus, to try and help them win the national step competition - an honor held by the rival frat at Truth for the past eight years.
Co-starring with Columbus and Chris is another R&B superstar, Ne-Yo; he plays DJ's roommate, and joins the same fraternity as DJ. All three of them say working together was an awesome experience because they were all very good friends. "We've kind of been coming up together; I begged him to be in the movie," Columbus said of Ne-Yo. "And then Chris - he's just a talent, he's such a raw talent; we want to be the new Rat Pack. We're trying to bring that back to Hollywood - people with a pretty face aren't people with just a pretty face; they can act, they can dance, they can sing, and they can do it all."
Stomp the Yard marks Chris' big screen debut, but being in the music business really helped in getting the feel for acting. "I just went out there, I remembered the lines and I just took the character into my own hands and was like, 'Ok, this is how we do it. I've got a brother, so I have to interact with [Columbus] like he's my brother.' Now, I always see that you can better yourself by always doing something, like practicing."
Ne-Yo has had a couple roles prior to this film, but this was his break-out performance; it was the dancing that really got him going. "It was a challenge all the way across the board, just because this is not anything that I'd ever done before; all the way across the board it was something new for me. I thank G-d for Columbus and Meagan (Good) especially as far as the acting is concerned, because when I got in there I swear you could hear my heart beating from over there I was so nervous. I had no idea what I was doing, and they really like literally held my hand through the whole situation, helped me with my lines, helped me with this scene, with that scene. I was expecting ego, attitude, like, 'Ah, here comes this R&B dude trying to do the acting thing; let's sit back and laugh at him.' That's what I was expecting to happen, but it was the complete opposite; everybody was overly helpful, and before I had the question out of my mouth they hit me with the answer, and I really, really thank G-d for that."
Even with a dancing background, Columbus points out learning those dance moves had him a little concerned as well. Working on the stage show of Stomp, and choreographing Britney Spears' last tour is a little different than stepping. "My main concern was making sure the artistic credibility of the character was there, and the authenticity of the project was there; I did a lot of character development and a lot of thought in who DJ was. I know he's some guy, Anywhere USA, but I wanted to really delve into that - that was the most important thing to me, the dancing is kind of in my DNA. It didn't hit me until I got there, when I first had a bit of ignorance to the whole history behind the fraternal order and the stepping. But, once I got there, I started understanding, I'm going to rep you guys - I met a lot of the Divine Nine, from Alpha's, Sigma's, Delta's, Kappa's, AKA's, Q's. So I met these guys and really got to chop it up with them and get the history."
Chris says dancing was the least of his worries. "When I got the role, they called me when I was on tour, so I only had two days of rehearsal for all the dancing stuff, and then I had maybe a day of rehearsal for the lines. I was already focused on acting; I was like, 'I'm ready to do whatever movies y'all got for me.' Everybody played an important role in this movie, everybody has a meaning. I didn't want to be like, 'Nah, I don't want that part of Duron, I actually just want to be a stepper.' My fans already know I can dance, and I showed them that, in the beginning, so I didn't want to just be like, 'Ok, I'm going to step,' because they're just going to be waiting for me to dance."
And stepping for Ne-Yo, it was a complete learning process. "I'd never ever done it before; it looks easier than it is, I would definitely say that. I went in really thinking I was going to just knock it out, 'Ok, I've seen this before, I've been to a couple of step shows before, and I have family that's in college, so I had seen it, but I had never done it. So learning it, man, in the beginning I was like, 'Oh my G-d, can I do it over here in the corner so that these professional dancers don't laugh at me?' But then I'd look and the professional dancers are having problems with it, so I'm like, 'alright I'm not completely dumb in here.' Physically, some of the most difficult stuff I've ever done, just because it's like - ok, the top half of your body is doing one thing, where the bottom half of your body is doing something completely different. You've got a line of guys over here doing something completely different from what you're doing, and a line of guys over here doing something different from what they're doing - and what you're doing, it all has to make sense; that all has to make sense as one beat. And it's not like regular dancing where you're actually dancing to music, in stepping you kind of are the music, you made the music as you're dancing. Me and Meagan, we keep saying, 'It's tapping your head, rubbing your stomach, doing the alphabet backwards, and tap dancing all while upside down.' That's what stepping is."
Being down in Atlanta shooting Stomp the Yard, Columbus really took control of his role; he stepped up and made himself aware of what the real traditions were. "The significance, for those who don't know, we don't really hit on it in the movie, and I'm kind of irritated that we didn't; it's a pertinent part of what fraternities and sororities do. They do so much community service, they do a lot in the community, they do a lot of stuff for the youth, and outreaching and community betterment; I wish we touched on that a little in the movie, but those are huge important things about the tradition. And then for example, the things that long live after you graduate - let's say I graduate and I move to LA, I'm a Kappa and I go to get a job at Pacific BMW and the manager of Pacific BMW is a Kappa - out of five applicants and I'm the only Kappa, I'm probably going to get that job. That's the type of loyalty and brotherhood. My mom's in AKA, and I moved to San Francisco when I was 17, I had no place to live yet; I moved there to do Stomp, and they didn't pay for our room and board, it was a sit down company. She called her friend who was a sorority sister - I had never met her and didn't know who the woman was - she took me in like her son. That's the long term brotherhood and sisterhood that these fraternities hold, so it's huge."
Being on tour and in the studio, Chris realizes he won't get to experience college life; however, he's still taking classes and is about to graduate high school. He wants to showcase to kids that an education is the most important part of their lives. "Me, personally, since I already know my schedule, I know that I'm obviously not going to be able to go to a college campus and join a fraternity. But, at the same time, I can do college courses, and stuff like that. I think watching it inspires the youth; I'm a 12th grader, so everybody from middle school, all the way up to 12th grade, that have ambitions to go to college, they can see that. Nowadays, kids are starting to get bored in class; I think they can focus on something other than just their school. They can go to college and do their schoolwork, and do great in what they do, but at the same time, focus on something else that's going to interest them, and that's also positive."
You can check out all the dance moves when Stomp the Yard hits theaters January 12th; it's rated PG-13.