Not everyone knows this, but film critics love the Step Up franchise. At least all the ones that I know do. They’re not complex films, perhaps, but they are sincere and increasingly well produced, and celebrate the simple joys of rousing filmmaking with spectacular choreography.
The latest film in the Step Up tradition, Step Up Revolution, opens this Friday and we had the chance to talk to the lovely Kathryn McCormick, the former “So You Think You Can Dance” contestant who makes her debut as a leading lady, playing the daughter of a rich real estate mogul who wants to raze the underclass neighborhoods of Miami to make room for swank hotels. She gave us the lowdown on her transition from professional actor to lead actress, the dance styles involved in the picture and her thoughts on the film’s arguably ironic ending, which we will discuss at the end with some SPOILERS, so fair warning.
CraveOnline: How does it feel to be a part of one of the most beloved film franchises in the world?
Kathryn McCormick: It feels like it doesn’t even feel real yet. [Laughs] It’s crazy because I’ve been on TV before but I’ve never actually seen anything [I’ve done] on TV, because I always watch it after on YouTube. I’ve seen the film on a big screen, but when it actually hit was last night. I was over at a friend’s house, watching a playback of a performance Step Up Revolution did on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and when I saw the preview on a real TV it hit me. Like, this is for real! I’ve only been in L.A. for four years. I moved out when I was 18, and I didn’t think that… I didn’t even know I could pursue a dance career, and that’s what my dream was. Then four years later I’ve done way more than I could have ever dreamed or imagined, and I’m just really grateful.
Did you ever think you would pursue an acting career, or did that just find you?
It found me. And the crazy part is that after doing different Broadway routines on “So You Think You Can Dance,” people would tell me, “You need to act. You need to act.” […] And I said, “Okay, I will eventually.” But I don’t think I was ready for it, and I never took enough time away from dance to actually do that, put the work in. Then I got this audition for Step Up Revolution, it was one of my first [auditions], and I went in and had four auditions. I was just trying to overcome the challenge of it all. And I ended up getting the role. So it was something that I never really expected. It really found me, I guess, because I didn’t go searching for it first.
Did these auditions just focus on your acting, since they knew you could dance already?
Well, Adam Shankman is one of the producers with Jennifer Gibgot, who is his sister, and Adam has been with me through this whole process, since “So You Think You Can Dance.” He was a judge every time I was on the show, and I also worked with him a little bit on some of his side projects, and organization benefits that he does. I’ve known him for a while and he’s seen my growth as a dancer, and I think over the years he’s become more of a fan. His sister was actually more of a fan too. […] They were fans of my dancing from the show, and so I only had one dance audition, and it was because they wanted me to partner up with Ryan [Guzman] and see what our chemistry. Other than that it was three auditions of strictly acting.
What did you learn most about acting from making this film, since it’s your first big role?
Acting is real life. It’s just speaking the truth. We had an incredible coach, Cameron Thor, who really dove into that with us. It’s just life replayed, I feel like. As a dancer it’s hard because there’s such a perfectionist quality that you really have to let go of while you’re acting, because nobody wants to a watch a perfect person on screen. So it’s really hard to separate yourself from that. It’s really exposing in the same sense. I feel like I’ve just learned that some of the most beautiful moments of a person are when they don’t have it all together, and being okay with that. I think it was really difficult too, to find the emotion when you don’t have the physicality to match it. As a dancer, moving my body either makes me laugh, it makes me cry, whatever it is. So really searching through that without the physicality was a big challenge, but I’m a new person. This year has changed my life. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, so I had my moments when I was like, wow, I feel really exposed. I don’t know how I feel about this. But at the same time I’m walking away and I’m so proud.
One of the things that always amazes me about these Step Up movies is the really intricate and fantastical choreography. How much prep time do you have for something like the “Wall Street” sequence, where you’re all in business suits?
You know, that would be the style that I’m most unfamiliar with, because it’s a lot more intricate lines. It was almost cunning in a way, it was really clean choreography. I’d worked with [the choreographer] before on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and it was similar to the style he did on Step Up. I was familiar with a lot of the styles of dance that we did, and I think “So You Think You Can Dance” helped me with that because it has so many styles of dancing in it. You dip your fingers in all of them, so I was really prepared through that for a job like this. But it’s really rare that you get a job that has all different styles, so actually I felt really prepared for most of them. I think it was the environment that made things difficult, whether it was sand or water or money falling or the heels that I had to wear. All of those things made the dancing really difficult.
Were you a fan of the Step Up movies before this?
I was. The first Step Up was a movie that I used to watch when I was a kid in Georgia. I was like, “I want to be her. I want to be her one day.” And then I ended up moving out here, and I went to the Step Up 3D premiere with “So You Think You Can Dance.” I remember watching, and I was just like, wow, I know I’ll never do that, but that will be incredible. I remember thinking that. Be careful what you say, because things really happen and so here I am. It’s surreal, I’m telling you. I never imagined this.
There’s a long tradition of dance movies, and this one, with fighting the corrupt or soulless mindset, reminded me a lot of the Breakin’ movies. Do you have other favorite dance movies that inspire you?
Honestly, it’s the more well known movies that everybody loves. Dirty Dancing, Grease, those were the movies that I used to watch over and over and over at my Grandma’s house when I was a little girl. I just remember watching them, and I always wanted to be Sandy, and I wanted to be Baby. I wanted to be the girl who’s lifted in the dance, and she’s beautiful and all those things. It’s just crazy to see movies like that, that you grew up watching and you’re so inspired by, fallen in love with. Every girl’s dream is to become that girl in those films. And I never imagined that [I’d be] that girl in those films. So hopefully little girls can look up to me and be inspired by what I do. It’s an honor to be in a tradition, to be a leader like that.
One thing that kind of weirded me out a bit in the movie – SPOILER ALERT – they defeat the corporate mindset and then they celebrate getting a deal with Nike. Was that in the script originally or was that added as you went on?
I think that was added as we went on, but if you think about it they were only trying to go against the corporation because it was destroying something that was so beautiful. I think the thing with Nike was [about] building something up. I think that in the film, although I understand that [Peter Gallagher’s] plan is to make something greater, it’s all about perspective, and it took Emily dipping her hands in Sean’s world to understand what it’s like on the other side. So I get what you’re saying, but I think it would be different if Nike was trying to rearrange something in their culture.