The Step Up franchise has had a long history of intense rivalries being settled through dance battles. In Step Up 2: The Streets, art school outcasts pop and lock through a downpour in the underground dance competition, The Streets, against the 410 crew. In Step Up 3D, the House of Pirates street crew gets suited up in Lite-Brites to hip hop against rival the House of Samurai.
But in the the newest installment, Miami-based Step Up Revolution, opening in theaters tomorrow, our dance protagonists aren't fighting each other. They're fighting The Man.
The plot centers on Sean, leader of a Miami dance mob called, appropriately, The Mob; and Emily, a dancer and daughter of a wealthy developer. Emily falls for Sean, and joins The Mob. Then Emily's dad sets out to redevelop Sean's Cuban neighborhood, and only The Mob can stop him. (Look, it's a Step Up movie, so you're just going to have to go with it.)
The two leads, Mixed Martial Arts star Ryan Guzman (Sean) and So You Think You Can Dance season six finalist Kathryn McCormick (Emily), recently chatted with Cultist about busting a move, shutting down Ocean Drive, and the perils of going jet skiing with a guy named Hector.
Cultist: So this is both of your feature film debuts. What's it like starring in a major motion picture about to be released?
: (mock seriousness
) Horrible. (Both he and McCormick both start laughing
No, actually, it's been a ride for sure. We both didn't expect to be here, at all. And we feel very, very blessed in how we got here. Luckily, everybody that we met along the way has been amazing to us and very open and giving. And now, you know, we're trying to make the best of the situation.
McCormick: Yeah, it's so surreal. It just happened so fast for both of us, so I think we're completely different people than we were going into it. We learned so much, about ourselves and about our craft and what we're capable of.
Can you give any examples of how things have changed?
Guzman: Actually, it just happened to us here. We were walking back to our hotel, and a couple of fans were waiting for us, and taking pictures with us. So that's new for me, but it's cool, actually, to see that the reach kind of goes so far, and it expands to just different parts of the U.S. or the world.... As far as our craft, we're still learning as actors. I think that will be a continuing craft that we work on, and dancing is an evolving kind of thing. It's never set, so you're always learning something new. And I think we both enjoy each one of those.
McCormick: It's given me a sense of confidence that my voice is actually something that can stand alone and be heard and tell a story.... I'm not just a dancer, but I'm capable of so much more. And I think going into it I was kind of a little bit hesitant, and I was nervous and I doubted. But leaving it, I felt like it was just this whole new boost of confidence that I have more than I even thought I did to give and to share.
I know the movie consisted of firsts for you both. Ryan, I understand that you never danced professionally before, and Kathryn, I understand this is your first real acting gig. What was it like taking on these new skills?
Guzman: It's new and scary. But I think both me and Kathryn are alike in this way: when we're fearful of something we actually want to tackle it that much harder.
For me, it was both dancing and acting, how to portray this character, and how to make this character look good with the dancing aspect of it. But we kind of just dove into it with open arms and open minds, and learned as much as we possibly could -- whether it be through our acting coach getting our characters down or, just, there was so much talent from the dancing aspect of it to pull from. So everybody was getting their two cents in, and kind of creating super-human people as dancers learning different styles. With that being said, it turned into its own super-movie without us even trying to make it one.
A lot of the big dance scenes are filmed on the streets of Miami. How does the city influence this movie?
Guzman: You have to match the liveliness and the inspiration of Miami, 'cause as soon as you step onto the beach, or even just the streets of Miami, you get a sense of what kind of vibe Miami gives off. And it's really an open and giving and just lively vibe, so we wanted to portray Miami as best as we could -- in every single dance number. And I think we captured a lot of Miami in this movie.
McCormick: It brought a completely different energy to the film. None of the other Step Up films were ever filmed in Miami.... There's just a freedom that you have in Miami, and so it was really neat to be able to bring that culture into our film.
I've been in my fair share of Miami traffic jams, but none of them were caused by people dancing on cars. What was that experience like being on Ocean Drive?
Guzman: That was awesome! We shut down Ocean Drive. So that was amazing. Actually, I think that was one of my lines in the movie.
McCormick: I know! I was about to laugh at him because it's one of his lines.
Guzman: Oh man! The movie is wearing on me. Yeah, it was an amazing experience, because we had a whole week to shut down the whole street. It was hot though; it was really, really hot. So getting all those numbers down, we had to have people waiting with Gatorade bottles and water bottles just off set, two seconds away, so as soon as we got done, they'd come over with fans and shade.
But other than the heat, we had probably like 100 to 200 extras in the background. And they gave their own little flavor to that scene. But aside from that, we had people, you know tourists, that visited Ocean Drive, stopping and watching and they ended up, I think, blending in with the extras. So it was like every single day that we did it, we were performing for a new audience. So it was awesome.
McCormick: I wasn't in Ocean Drive, but I was on set, just kind of watching. And it was probably one of the hottest days that we had, but it was really cool to see it didn't hinder any of the dancers whatsoever. They gave 100 percent all the time, and they would walk off and be like, "I'm so tired, I don't know if I can do this," and they'd have to do another take, and it would be better than the first one.
Do you know how many takes were done of that particular scene?
Guzman: We had different angles, different views of each scene. So it was multiple, multiple takes. We'd go shooting from sun up to sun down.... The director Scott Speer did an amazing job in catching each take and what he needed in each take.
Kathryn, because you didn't dance in that scene, do you have any desire to go out and find some random cars to dance on?
McCormick: (laughing) I mean, sure! Why not? It was cool because I didn't get to do that scene, but we actually performed at The Trevor Project, which is a benefit that [producer] Adam Shankman put on this year, and I got to learn the choreography from Ocean Drive, so I feel like I'm kind of a part of it.... I didn't get to perform on cars, but I got to perform on a table and a piano... in the restaurant scene with Emily's initiation mob. So, you know, we all had our props.
What was the best part in filming down in Miami?
Guzman: Being with such a cool group.... I really connected with the people that played the cast of my mob. We'd hang out all of the time, even when we were not filming. I'd invite them to do some freestyle sessions in the gym, just so I could pick up dancing a little bit better and get it in tune with my body. And they became family for me.... We just have this new level of respect and love for each other.
McCormick: I think it was the same. It was the people... Everyone who was a part of the film, whether they worked on 3-D, whether they were the ones who kinda kept track of all the dancers, whoever, we all became close.
Miami is a crazy city, and we're often in the news for things like, uh, zombies. Do you have any crazy stories or any crazy things that happened while you were down here filming?
Guzman: Oh. We do.
Actually on one of our off days, Kathryn decided she wanted everyone to go do jet skiing. And so me, Misha [Gabriel, who plays Eddy], [Stephen] tWitch [Boss, who plays Jason], and Kathryn went to this jet skiing experience.
McCormick: And just to set it up, I was so excited, and I planned this whole day and I think it's going to be beautiful. It's going to be so, like, peaceful and nice and fun and then...
Guzman: And we get there, and we meet this guy Hector. He doesn't have a last name; we didn't know his last name.
So, uh, we meet this guy and he takes us out and he goes, right in the beginning he goes, "I'm going to take you to a spot that's very, very warm, very cool. You can jump in the ocean and, you know, swim, and it will be OK." So we're all looking at each other like, "Should we do it? OK, we'll do it! It's fine."
So we go jet skiing for a good hour. He finally takes us to this spot. And I end up looking at him and he goes, "Yeah, this is the spot. Feel free! Jump in! This is it!"
So I look at Misha and without even hesitation, I just jump in and I'm loving it because it is really, really warm and I'm having the time of my life. Misha looks at me, and he's like, "If Ryan's doing it, I'm going to do it too." And so he jumps in. And then tWitch...
McCormick: tWitch and I, we're about to jump in and we kind of look at each other, and we're like, "Do you feel weird about this?" And he was like, "Yeah." And I was like, "Don't do it. Don't do it!" And we didn't. And the next thing we know...
Guzman: ...there's a bunch of jellyfish. Like, I'm talking like a swarm of jellyfish all around me and Misha. So Misha quickly gets out, and I'm so far away from my jet ski that I have to swim back to my jet ski, and it takes me like three or four minutes and I get stung.
I'm just feeling like this jelly substance going over my body, like as I'm going to the jet ski. And I get back on the jet ski and you get all this tingly feeling. And it's a horrible, horrible feeling. So just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, we get back, and the guy starts blaming us for getting hurt and starts yelling at us. And actually Misha loses it, and I'd say he plays his character to a T because he ended up being Eddy and I ended up being Sean right then and there because I was very, very quiet, and I let him do his thing until he ended up threatening Misha, and then I stood in and kind of almost got into a fight, but not really. And we walked away from the thing but it was crazy. We got stung by jellyfish!
Ow. That's definitely an authentic Miami experience. Kathryn, how does dancing on the streets of Miami compare to dancing on So You Think You Can Dance?
McCormick: I think the biggest thing is time that you have. On the show, you have a limited amount of time to get numbers down and to perfect them to show the world. That's a lot of pressure in itself. When you're doing a live show you only get one shot. But as a film, one thing that I had to be OK with was that we were learning all these numbers and I was getting really overwhelmed because I was trying to remember everything right then and it be perfect. But I actually had a whole month to get it and enter it into my body, and I'm not used to that.
So that was almost a little bit refreshing to have time and let something marinate and sit. And also on film, you'll film a scene for hours upon hours. So you might do the scene of the performance once all the way through a couple times, but other than that they do segments, so it's just a different way. You get so many different takes, so many different angles, so you get to make a lot of different choices with that. And so it's just a different energy that you have.
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What is your favorite dance in the movie?
McCormick: I loved doing the duet that we filmed in the finale. It's kind of a theme that goes on throughout the film, but that's just the kind of dance that I connect to the most. And it was awesome being able to work with [choreographer] Travis [Wall], and kind of bring Ryan into that world, and be able to tell Sean and Emily's story through that form of dance, which you don't ever really see in a film. You usually only see that kind of contemporary number on a reality show like So You Think You Can Dance. So to bring something like that to film, I think was really special.
Guzman: Yeah, I think that was one of my favorites too. It was just very in tune with the music. So it was very emotional too, I didn't realize how emotional dance was, and to feel and be one with your partner as you're dancing, you just get into the dance and you look up and see how it affected the other people. I mean, we had people crying after doing that number. So it was an amazing experience.