Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, Mario, Drew Sidora and Anne Fletcher talk about their latest film
Oh, the wonderful streets of Baltimore - they've never looked so good since The Wire. But really, HBO kind of showed the real side of the city. And before that, it was NBC's Homicide: Life on the Streets. What makes these shows really 'true to the city' is they were shot right on those very streets where the real deals go on.
Baltimore is normally known for two people - or really one. When I say I'm from Baltimore, not too many people say, 'Oh, that's where Barry Levinson is from.' No, it's more like 'Ah, John Waters!' Yep, my main homeboy John Waters has shown B-more in a not so nice light; but he does give it some flavor - especially with characters like Wade Walker (Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby) and Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake in Hairspray).
Then a few years ago, Disney decided to take a shot on the city with Ladder 49 - shot and written about the firefighters of Baltimore City, starring John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix. They really captured the essence and showed the real heroes of our world.
Well, Disney was back again in B-more for Step Up - once again, about the city and culture of Baltimore, and shot there as well, from the Inner Harbor, to Fells Point, to East Baltimore, and West Baltimore. The film takes place at the Maryland School of Arts, which is actually the Baltimore School of Arts. It stars Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, Drew Sidora, and B-more's own Mario.
Step Up is a 'bad boy who meets a good girl and wants to change his life' kind of story, with one of the best soundtracks you've ever heard in your life; three of those tracks are currently in the Billboard Top 20 - Ciara, Chris Brown, and Sean Paul have all topped the charts with songs on the CD.
And one more person on the soundtrack - Mario, with Drew Sidora. It was a no-brainer to have Mario on the soundtrack, but it was Drew who really gave him the song to use, 'For the Love.' "When I first met Drew, I didn't know she could sing; I'm thinking she's a dancer and actress, she's cool, she's a pretty girl. A week and a half later I hear this big voice coming out of her; I'm like, 'Woah.' You never know who you're going to meet. After the film, she came to me and said we have an opportunity to do a song together on the soundtrack, and I'm like, 'Cool, we gotta find the right producers and you and me can write something.' She's like, 'Listen, I already have the song.' I'm like, 'Ok, let me hear it.' She played me the song and it was perfect for what Miles and Lucy experienced in the film; we ended up using it for the part where we start to have our chemistry."
The stars of Step Up, Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan, really came together for this film. Channing, having to play the 'bad boy' had to gain the attitude - and learn how to dance. Jenna has been a dancer and around music her entire life, but Channing had never even taken a lesson before. "I don't know how I would have done it without her, to be honest with you; I was nervous with the partnering, but I actually got the partnering better than some of the other stuff. You know, it's easy for a guy to be a partner, especially if he's working with someone that knows what they're doing like she does. I don't know how much partnering she had done, but I don't know how we would have done it without her. We were auditioning other actors that didn't know how to dance, and it just would have never worked; it would have never worked in a million years, because they'd have had to get a dance double, and it just would have been fake and unbelievable. She walked in and gave an amazing read, but then after she danced, it was over. They just closed the door and there were like, 'All right, cool; we got our Nora now.'"
For Jenna, not only has she danced for Janet Jackson and Diddy, but she just came off another dancing movie just before getting this part in Step Up. "My manager sent me the script when I was shooting Take the Lead (with Antonio Banderas); I was up in Toronto and the sent me the script and I fell in love with it. I literally got off the plane and the next day, auditioned for it, tested for it; and then three weeks later, I got the part. I went in first to audition for the acting, and then I went in and screen tested with Channing cause he had already gotten the part, and I also did a dance test the next day. And I got the part, and I screamed and jumped up and down!"
For director Anne Fletcher, Step Up marks her feature directorial debut; Anne has been a dancer/choreographer/actress for years, but finally got this opportunity - except pulling double duty on this film was nothing new. "I am the bossiest person in the world - 'I hate that, fix it.' Going from choreography to directing was kind of interesting and kind of the same as dance. I had been working in film in choreography for years, so working with the director and working for the camera, you're always wanted to get the right angles so people can see. As a choreographer, I would always approach my job thinking 'what are they looking for? But I've never liked when characters are dancing for no reason, just to dance; I don't care how technically advanced you are, if there's no reason to have it in, don't have it in. That's why I'm in film, because it's always about furthering the story, or the character."
Drew Sidora couldn't get to LA to audition for the part, so she and her sister put together a video tape to send out to the producers and Anne for them to see. "We put everything on that tape, and two days later they called and said I got the part. The director wanted someone who could really sing, really dance, and really act - lucky enough, and blessed enough."
And working closely with Mario on this film helped tremendously. "It was really easy working with him; what impressed me was that he put everything else down and sat down and focused on the movie. But we did write together; I'm a huge fan of his. He's so natural and I really enjoyed working with him."
Not only was Mario on set, but so was a music icon - Heavy D! Everyone looked up to him and took advice from the man who helped make 1990's hip hop and rap what it is today. Channing, being the veteran younger actor on set, took the most from him. "The guy is one of the better guys I've ever met in my whole entire life; he's so deep, and he loves inspiring people. You know, he came from nothing and made it into something, and I think he is so thankful for it. And the guy taught me a lot, as far as like even just how to handle people and how to be around people. He's so grateful and still from the streets, how he likes to say; he's like, 'I'm still in the street.' And I'm like, 'All right, cool; me too!'"
Even for an R&B star like Mario, being in Step Up with Heavy D - he was star-struck. "He was cool, he's been in the business for a long time; his whole thing is just educating. Educating me on how important family is, how important true friends are, how important it is to stay focused and have the right people around you at all times. Not letting anybody keeping you down or taking you out of your focus or making you do anything you don't want to do; being young, and an artist and actor and having to wear a lot of different hats can be stressful sometimes. A lot of people may try to take advantage of that knowing that you may not know certain things and you may just be starting out, just being in control of your business; I enjoyed that."
Like I was saying before, movies and TV don't make Baltimore really that appealing to travel to; but, truly it is one of the most interesting cities in the country. Since Mario is from 'Charm City,' he was nice enough to take everyone around. Drew reaped the benefits the most. "Yeah, the couple times we did go out, we would get to dance; and go over our dance moves, and get a quick rehearsal."
Even though the cast was dancing during the movie - and the chance 'rehearsals' at the club, because of their schedule, they didn't get to go out much. However, Jenna found some great places to go to. "On the weekends, there was this one place called the Power Plant (Live), and we found this one club that was empty most of the time. And then there was this nice restaurant, The Charleston; it's kind of expensive, nice restaurant, and they have just the small main courses that you pick from and they bring them out. But it was amazing, and we went there once a week; so we had our spots."
One of the cutest scenes in Step Up is between Channing and a little girl in a ballet class. When Channing and Jenna begin to get a closer bond in the film, she takes him to her ballet class. Anne Fletcher used a bit of nepotism, not on her end, but from someone on her crew to pick that girl. "Friends would come in and say 'I have a daughter' and I would say, 'Bring them in, bring them in. Do they know ballet? Do they know any ballet, they don't even have to be great.' My second AD, Jack (Steinberg) had two girls; the girl next to her and the girl next to her that 'shushes' are sisters. They all came in at the same height, and then she comes in, this little body, and I'm like 'Oh, no, please; she's it!' I didn't even look at any other girls, cause she's just this pint-size little 'umph.' And so we had Jack on one side, I'm on the other side trying to give her direction; she's this 5-year-old little girl. How long is she going to give us; that was the whole thing, and somehow Jack kept her in there, Natalie. She found out she was in the trailer; I sent this picture to them that our still photographer took of her with a note telling her Natalie was in the trailer. And so he tells Natalie that, and she says, 'Oh, does that mean I'm going to get more money?' How does she know this things? She's a dream! There were little things like that that I loved, and Natalie was one of them."
If you're a fan of dance, if you're a fan of good music, and if you're a fan of Baltimore, then you'll like Step Up. I have to mention that most of the extras in the film are from the Baltimore School of the Arts and from Carver Center in Baltimore County, one of the top magnet schools in the country.
Step Up grooves into theaters August 11th; it's rated PG-13.