Footloose is known just as much for its dancing as it is for the guy who did most of it: Kevin Bacon, who played Ren McCormack in the cult classic. But there’s a new heartthrob cutting loose on the dance floor in director Craig Brewer’s remake of the 1984 film.
Meet Kenny Wormald, a professional dancer out of Los Angeles who knows what he’s in for with his first film: lots of gay fans. The 27-year-old, who stars alongside Burlesque actress/Dancing with the Stars winner Julianne Hough, takes on the star-making lead role, about a big-city boy moving to a small town where the local community rules that the root of so many problems is dancing. So, they ban it.
How could something so harmless be illegal? There’s more to it than you think, Brewer tells us, discussing how the point of Footloose may have more to do with gay rights.
Sitting down in a Detroit hotel suite, the Hustle & Flow director – along with Wormald, who said he’s ready for all the gay adoration (if you saw him face-to-face, you’d know he has no choice) – also chatted about the missing shower scene, what was so gay about the ’80s and how you don’t have to be gay to get footloose.
Chris Azzopardi: Craig, what were important updates to make to a film that’s over 25 years old?
Craig Brewer: The biggest update was the thing that initially bumped with me about doing a remake, because I’m sure there are plenty of people who are angry and asking why we’re doing this – I was one of those people.
The head of the studio called me to say, “I just refuse that you’re not going to do Footloose. You have the story, you have the music, you have complete creative control over this. What’s your Footloose?” That made me stop and think. Footloose was the most important movie to me in my young adult life; it really made me who I was. I was a kid in community theater, a singin’-and-dancin’ kid, and seeing that movie was an important seminal moment for me when I was 13.
I thought to myself, “If I did Footloose, I needed to make it less about God damning kids to hell for dancing.” It wasn’t so much about the ban on dancing as much as – what’s kind of our new American pastime – overreacting. So if something happens, we make a bunch of laws. But sometimes those laws cause more harm than they do good, and it usually takes somebody outside of the tragedy, outside of the whole town trauma, to say, “This is actually not right. This should be my right – I should be able to dance anyway I want.”
CA: It’s another way of looking at the gay rights struggle.
CB: That may have been part of the intention all along. Dean Pitchford wrote the original movie and the lyrics of the song, and I think there was something there – that you could be a guy who wore a skinny tie and spiky hair and go to a school that does not dress this way, that you know is going to make fun of you for being really into gymnastics. There is a defiance that Ren McCormack represented. As a kid who grew up in the ’80s with gay friends, Ren McCormack was a hero.
People refer to it as a gay movie at times because of the dancing and the cheese factor, to some extent, and I understand that and I get it – but there’s a bigger theme there, which is, are you respectful and mature and confident in your own self that you can stand up in front of people and say, “Hello, my name is Ren McCormack”?
CA: After giving us so much Justin Timberlake skin in Black Snake Moan, I was very sad to see the notorious shower scene cut out of this Footloose.
CB: I am so glad you brought that up! So glad! (To Kenny) I don’t know if you know what he’s talking about, but let’s just say if the camera went down just an inch you’d see some junk.
CA: It wouldn’t be a family movie.
CB: (Laughs) It wouldn’t be! And they’re all talking about how to go up against the city council and they’re all dripping wet, fresh out of the shower – Chris Penn, Kevin Bacon, that big beefy dude. You can totally see pubes!
My assistant always gave me shit, like, “What, you’re not going to do the shower scene?!” But yeah, it’s pretty erotic…for the right people.
CA: Kenny, do you think most people still consider dance a “gay” thing?
Kenny Wormald: When I was getting made fun of, I saw Footloose and the dance scene, and Ren was masculine and cool and it validated what I did. I was like, “Screw you!” Look at this guy – he’s awesome, he’s cool, he’s masculine. It definitely made me feel better about myself as a dancer.
Nowadays with all the television shows, So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, it shows that dance isn’t just for girls. Boys are doing hip-hop in the schoolyard and it’s cool; they’re not getting made fun of. It’s amazing how it’s changed in a matter of a decade or two.
CA: When did you see the original Footloose?
KW: I was probably 10, sometime in the ’90s. I was born in 1984. Me and Footloose came out together. (Laughs)
CA: Footloose made Kevin Bacon a heartthrob – but not just for the girls. Gay guys fell for him, too. Are you prepared for the same kind of attention, Kenny?
KW: Absolutely. It’s funny, I did a show called Dancelife on MTV and the majority of people who came up to me to say hey would be gay guys. I was flattered by that. But I embrace it. I love it. If it keeps happening and continues and they follow me in my career, it’s beautiful.
CB: I’ve read some comments on Twitter. I think my favorite was, “I’m going to have to see Footloose because that guy’s kind of hunky hella hot.” I’m like, Kenny’s going to be huge in this community!
It’s also, though, a testament to the role. I know a lot of people say it’s Kevin’s role and I understand that. Kevin did a lot for that role but, really, that role did a lot for Kevin. Back in ’84, I didn’t know who Kevin was, no one knew who Sarah Jessica Parker was, and that’s the great thing that actually doing a remake affords a filmmaker like myself – that the title of the movie is actually the biggest star.
So how do I make people, especially young people, feel that same feeling that I felt when I saw it? Part of that is a fresh cast. When you have stars who’ve been in a bunch of movies now being the character that Kevin Bacon used to play, it just didn’t feel right to me. It felt like what people were assuming would be the worst of our intentions, which was we’re just doing this for a money grab. The biggest risk was that we took Footloose seriously.
CA: When you look up Footloose and “gay” in Google, one of the links that comes up is, “Why does watching Footloose make me feel gay?” Did you ever feel that way watching it?
CB: You know, per that comment, what’s funny about growing up in the ’80s is there are a lot of things that were kind of gay in the ’80s, but we didn’t completely know it. So yes, I was wearing fat-laced Pumas with neon shoelaces. Mousse was in my hair every day. And then, you’re even in a more difficult position because you’re a big Michael Jackson fan and you transition into being a Prince fan.
But with Footloose, you can’t help it – you’re watching the angry dance scene and here’s a guy dancing with Jerome Robbins’ choreography. It’s like West Side Story. When I go to the angry dance scene and I’m seeing these guys in tight jeans and tight wife beaters and they’re flipping their head around and dancing, yeah, it may look gay, but boy, I loved it. And my dad loved it. And all the beefy Marines that were working down in Mare Island in Vallejo, Cali., they loved it too. (Laughs)
CA: The language in the scene where Ren confronts his bully, Chuck Cranston, with a powerful comeback is changed from pansy to fag. Why that switch?
CB: We actually said pansy and I was worried. I didn’t know if preteens were going to understand. We shot both pansy and fag. I was a little nervous about using the word fag – needless to say, a lot of collaborators on this movie, even from the original, are gay, and I remember going to them, “I really want to make sure this comes off right. I need Chuck to say this but Ren’s reaction needs to show that he thinks it’s unacceptable, but it needs to be in a cool way.” So I played Footloose in Memphis, Tenn., and the line gets applause and I remember turning to my wife with a grin on my face going, “Could we be changing things with Footloose?” Like, I can’t believe I’m sitting here in a red state and the whole audience just reacted that way.
CA: As a dancer yourself, how did you relate to Ren McCormack? And what did that line mean to you?
KW: I used to get it pretty bad in school. They knew I danced and they were kind of cool with it because I was on the baseball team, but all the new kids found out and it was hell, man. I’m at the water fountain and it’s like, “fag,” “ballet boy” or “pussy.” It was pretty rough, specifically in junior high.
I’m a dancer in L.A. and I’ve been there for eight, nine years now, so I’ve become friends with literally some of the most flamboyant humans on the planet, and I love them and we’re like brothers. They would – pardon my French – f#$@ someone up for me and have my back. My dance teacher growing up is a gay guy, and he’s like my second dad. He’s probably going to get a little choked up at that part. To have their back and to get to say that line in the film is very powerful.
CA: You’ve also danced in videos for some major gay icons like Mariah and Madonna.
KW: I love what they’ve done for the community, so if I can get a little credit in that community, too – how great.
CB: You got a good start with Footloose. (Laughs)
KW: Even without the shower scene! That’ll be in the next one.
CB: The European version.
Footloose opens in theaters this Friday.