Interview: Jenna Dewan on Her Starring Role in 'Step Up'

"A lot of actors that are dancers, I think you can tell"

Jenna Dewan stars in Step Up
Jenna Dewan stars in Step Up. © Touchstone Pictures

In 2006, Jenna Dewan starred as a prima ballerina who loses her dance partner and pairs up with a street dancer with no formal training (played by Channing Tatum) in Step Up, directed by renowned choreographer Anne Fletcher who makes her feature film directorial debut with the dance drama. Not only was the film a box office hit and spawned several sequels, but in 2009 Dewan and Tatum married.

Before taking the role, Dewan had been dancing since the age of five and has been featured in several music videos including ones with P Diddy and Janet Jackson.

Tackling the lead role in Step Up allowed her to combine two of her passions -- dancing and acting.

In 2006, spoke to Dewan about her role in the film.

Preparing for Her Role in Step Up:

Basically we had four weeks of rehearsals ahead of time so we did dance rehearsals eight hours a day. On top of that, we had scene rehearsals with the director and the cast. For me, it was just creating a character, creating the layers of a character and somebody that you can relate to. Although she was very similar to myself in a lot of ways - it was very similar to me at Nora’s age - there were a lot of differences I wanted to create. I did a lot of work, scene work, backstory and character development. Stuff I had been coaching and training for when I got into acting.

On top of that, we had tons of scene rehearsals with the director. The script changed so many times. At one time, my dad was dead, then my mom was dead, then my dad wanted me to dance and my mom didn’t want me to dance and it was all these things.

I had a backstory and character developed for every situation so I was prepared. I know what Nora does if this or that happens.

Working with Channing Tatum:

He’s such a good dancer on his own. He really has so much natural talent. He had done it in clubs and street dancing and stuff so when it came to the partnering and the more technical side of dance… Anne [Fletcher] was basically teaching the choreography but if we would do in session, something that just didn’t feel right or I would be like, "You know, if you move your body this way or put your hand here, it will help." So I’d help every now and then, but he actually picked it up really quickly.

It wasn’t something that was hard for him. It was pretty fun and we got along great.

Music Video Work Versus Making Step Up:

Music videos are notoriously long, not fun, grueling. You are known there as a dancer and it’s kind of sad because dancers, in a lot of ways, are under-appreciated and kind of under-respected when it come to that. So they don’t necessarily treat you in a nice way when you do a music video. Me, I was fortunate enough to work with Janet [Jackson] who treats her dancers amazing so I didn’t have that bad experience.

But on a movie, it’s just so much more in depth and you’re there for three months versus two days. You’re in front of a camera, but it’s more about the character and the scene, and not so much about nailing a dance step. Even in our dance performances…I would want to do the steps right but it was more about making the partnership and the connection and the story of Tyler and Nora together, which is different than a video as well. But coming from a dance background definitely helped me move into acting. You are more comfortable in front of the camera; you understand movement. A lot of actors that are dancers, I think you can tell. They have a certain way that they hold themselves.

There are a lot of things that helped, but it is very different.

Working with First Time Director Anne Fletcher:

I was actually, if anything, put at ease about it because I thought, "Oh, gosh, finally they’re doing a dance movie with a director who knows dance."

For me, I would watch all these dance movies and A) I’d know the actress wasn’t dancing or B) I could tell that the director skipped over parts that would have been amazing if they had captured that moment. So I was really happy as far as the dance goes and as the acting goes, as soon as I met her and understood where she came from. She was an actress so she knows a lot about acting. She was just a dream and she had a really clear vision for every scene that she wanted. She would literally pretend to be Nora and walk through it. She had it in her head and would just show it to me so I just trusted her.

She has the, she calls it, "the no bulls**t factor." We’d do a scene and she’d say, "Didn’t believe it. Do it again." She called us on it. A first time director is sometimes kind of like, "Oh, do you think that works? Okay." But no, she knew. I trusted her implicitly.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick