Director Steven Antin takes us behind-the-scenes of this epic battle between divas Cher and Christina Aguilera
Director Steven Antin's hit musical Burlesque arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today, March 1st. Starring the mega-powerhouse musical divas Cher and Christina Aguilera, this raucous tale follows one small-town girl with big dreams and an even bigger voice who takes Los Angeles' underground Burlesque scene by storm.
We recently met up with Steven Antin, who you may remember from his iconic turns in both The Last American Virgin and The Goonies, to chat about his transition from being an actor to becoming a sought after director, working with two of the biggest names in music, and why he is attracted to the musical as a genre.
Here is our conversation.
How did this transition from being an actor, to becoming a writer, to becoming a director happen?
Steven Antin: I haven't been an actor for a long, long time. It was a slow transition, but I haven't been an actor for ten years. Maybe longer. I started writing well over twenty years ago. That is when I got my first movie made. It has been a long time coming.
You were actually writing a couple of different musicals when Burlesque came about...
Steven Antin: I still am working on those. I am working on a Disney musical that I started before Burlesque happened. I am still developing that. And another musical, too, in addition to that. I have been in the world of trying to get a musical made for quite some time. I actually wrote a musical for Columbia Pictures ten years ago that didn't get made. I have written several, and Burlesque was the first one of these to get made.
As a writer, what was it about the musical that attracted you specifically to this time-tested genre?
Steven Antin: I have written so many different types of things. I have a thriller that I wrote recently. I have written dark comedies. I wrote and produced the television series Young Americans, which was a big romance type of show. I have always been interested in music and musicals because music is something that people have celebrated since the beginning of time. Song and dance. It's been in people's lives, their hearts and their souls, and it has always moved people. It moves me. So many things that I do are inspired by music. I love musicals. When I was a kid, my mom took me to see musicals all the time. I just fell in love with the musical, because so many of them resonated with me.
At what point in the script writing process do the music and the songs come into the story?
Steven Antin: It goes hand-in-hand. So many of the songs are articulating the story. There is a format. Obviously, because you want a song ever so often in the movie, it goes eight minutes, ten minutes, twelve minutes...Whatever it ends up being, it becomes a part of that process. If the songs are there to articulate the story, which they are in Burlesque, then it becomes a really integral part of the process.
How did the music and songs you had written into the script change once Cher and Christina came aboard?
Steven Antin: Most of the stuff that I had written into the script stayed. Some of the reimagined music. I actually reimagined some of the songs, like 'I'm a Good Girl', for instance. It was an old song that I rewrote for the movie. 'A Guy that Takes His Time' was always there. There was a bunch of stuff that was there all ready. There was a version of 'Welcome to Burlesque', Cher's song, in the movie. Of course we wanted it to be an original song. So we had a template for that song. I had a lot of examples of what I wanted it to be. So we sent it out to songwriters. We were looking for that opening number for quite some time. With Christina Aguilera, I'd already sat down with the writers and figured out where her songs should go. We had to figure out where her ballad 'Down to You' fit in. That had been out to writers. Christina asked if she could take a stab at writing some of these songs. I said, "Sure!" I gave her the same thing that I had given the other songwriters. A four or five page synopsis and a sample of what the song should sound like, and feel like. What the beat of the scene is going to be. How it is suppose to articulate the story. She showed up and actually wrote such great songs. That is why we selected her songs. They were so much better than everybody else's. With 'You Haven't Seen the Last of Me', Cher's song? There was a slot in the script for that song. The studio didn't want me to do it. So I took it out. Cher said, "I'd really like to do another song in the movie." I told her, "I have the prefect place for it." I knew what the song should be. I went out to writers immediately, and we started collaborating on ideas for this song.
In the first stages of getting this movie off the ground, both Cher and Christina said, "No!" They didn't want to do it. Why was it so important for you to have these two actresses commit to this project.
Steven Antin: It was obvious on the page. I wanted someone to play the role of Allie who was beautiful. Someone who could really sing, and really hit it out of the park. She needs to have that moment where she first opens her voice in the club. And she belts it out. It's a show stopping moment. It is completely singular. There is no one that can do it the way that Christina Aguilera does it. I also wanted someone who had some chops. The list gets smaller and smaller and smaller. To me, it was Christina Aguilera always. It made sense to me. She fit the bill in every way. And for Tess? Cher is Tess. She has said these words before. She was pretty obvious for the role, too. I wanted someone who could sing. I wanted someone who could perform. Someone you believed would own a nightclub like that. Someone who was a mama bear for all of these girls. And I wanted someone who was a great actress. Again, the list begins to get smaller and smaller.
Cher came onto the set a month after you guys had already begun shooting...
Steven Antin: She was signed onto it before that, but because of her schedule, she didn't start shooting until a month in. But she was already on board way before we started shooting.
Once you got into the rhythm of shooting when she wasn't on set, how did that atmosphere change, if it all, once she arrived to do her scenes?
Steven Antin: It didn't change at all. She just became a part of the team. She was just an actress in the movie. She is a very low-key kind of gal. She is very different from what you might imagine. She is very easy breezy. We looked at her as just another actor. The first day it was like, "Ooh, Cher is here!" But it was very fun. It was great having a person like Cher on set of course, but she really became one of the crew. She was on the team, and she blended in with everyone else. She did that beautifully.
Its great seeing Cam Gigandet in the film, as he usually plays the bad guy. Here, he seems to be having a lot of fun. What first drew you to him as a performer who you thought could do this particular material?
Steven Antin: Really, what I wanted out of his character? I wanted his relationship with Allie to feel like a romantic comedy. I knew that Cam could do that. He was really, really excited about doing it. We talked about it a lot. We played with those scenes a lot. He has this natural ability to not only live in a beautiful vessel, but he has that very rare thing where he is a beautiful guy and he is capable of being goofy and funny in a rom-com kind of way. It was fun for me, and it was fun for him. It was a fun exploration. Sometimes, I would want to push the envelope and go further. Cam's the kind of guy who has to think about it. He'll say, "I'm not sure I want to do that." Then he'll come back and do it times ten, and its better than you could have ever imagined. He is so full of great surprises. Which is great.
Some of the musical numbers got cut. I know there is an Alan Cumming number that is now on the DVD. How did you figure out which songs needed to get cut, and which ones to bring back for this DVD and Blu-ray release?
Steven Antin: I insisted on bringing them all back for the DVD because I was so sad to see them go. It was sad to see Alan Cumming's number go. Kristen Bell's number had to get cut down so much. Kristen's number is so good. 'Dr. Longjohn.' That was always a part of the script. She is so great in that, and it is so provocative and sexy. She is amazing. Then Alan's number...Its incredible, when you see him doing 'That's Life'. Every which way that I tried to get it into the movie, it just didn't live in the body of the movie. Every time I put it in, I'd tell the studio, "You have to see this version." I kept trying. It always wound up on the chopping block. Just because it didn't make sense in terms of the story. I said, "This has to be on the DVD." They said, "Of course, of course, of course." Because its spectacular as a number, and Alan Cumming is spectacular in the movie.