CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Interview: Kathryn McCormick, Ryan Guzman of ‘Step Up Revolution’
CHICAGO – The “Step Up” series of films not only have popularized and reflected the modern dance fever, but have also launched careers – Channing Tatum among them. Kathryn McCormick and Ryan Guzman are the latest Romeo-and-Juliet types in the new “Step Up Revolution,” the fourth installment of the movie sensation.
McCormick and Guzman are newly plated movie stars. McCormick first came to prominence in the TV competition show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” where she placed third in Season 6. She had never acted before making this film. Ryan Guzman is an aspiring actor, but had never danced before. Both McCormick and Guzman are making their major film debuts, portraying Emily and Sean in “Step Up Revolution.”
Photo credit: Sam Emerson for Summit Entertainment
HollywoodChicago.com spoke to Kathryn McCormick and Ryan Guzman during a promotional swing through Chicago. Their vibrant youth and energy came through in the freestyle interview, as that elusive star quality shined in both of them.
HollywoodChicago.com: We are seeing a shift in the Step-Up Franchise in this fourth installment, away from competitive dance and more toward the flash mob phenomenon and using dance as a statement of sorts. What intrigued both of you the most about this direction, and what do you think is most successful about it in this film?
Ryan Guzman: Since I’m new to the dance in general, this film shows dancing in a better light. In competition, you get more involved in which dance crew is going to beat which crew. In this film, it showcases the art of dance. You will see many styles of dance like contemporary, salsa and hip-hop. There are many forms of hip-hip featured, from flexing to krumping to tedding, things that you might not have seen before. It opens eyes and opens arms to the new art of dance.
Kathryn McCormick: I liked having dance stand for something, just not be a hobby but having it stand for something. It is relatable, because everybody has something they care about, big or small, but not everyone has the courage to actually step up and do something about it. So to have a film that shows a journey of different lives that join together through one love of dance is really motivating and inspiring.
HollywoodChicago.com: Ryan, you famously had not danced before you took this role in ‘Step Up Revolution.’ What personally and specifically in your former athletic and martial arts training made the dance transition easier, and on the other side what piece of choreography or type of dance was most challenging to you and why?
Guzman: Martial arts helped the most, because in that discipline you’re always striving to become better. No matter how much pain or agony that you’re in, you’re always going to go after the results you want. I found that also to be true in dance, you’re never really satisfied. You’re always learning something new and continuing to learn. With martial arts, you also know your body and footwork, and what the body can and cannot do. That translated a lot to dancing.
All choreography was challenging. [laughs] They were throwing everything at me, in all forms. Each one is different in some way. The contemporary style is emotional, and as guys the emotion isn’t really present when we’re dancing, we just want to have fun. Hip-hop says something with each move, and there are many power moves. To learn it in a short time was tough.
HollywoodChicago.com: Kathryn, on your side of the coin, you had never acted before. What was the best piece of advice you received when training to act, and how did you best apply it in the film?
McCormick: We had a couple people that helped us with that. Cameron Thor was our acting coach, and one of the best things he told us was ‘the greatest actors are not the ones who act, they just tell the truth.’ At the end of the day, you just have to tell the truth. Learning how to overcome the nerves of not having done it before – and being put on the spot – was intimidating. But I just had to remember to be authentic in whatever I was doing.
Peter Gallagher – who plays Emily’s father – who I thought as a veteran actor would just give me tips, he really gave me words of wisdom. There was a scene where he noticed I was playing with my bracelet during some dialogue. He told me to count the beads on the bracelet the next time I said my lines. He told me to make that the greater task. It took my mind off of everything else and got me more involved in the scene.
HollywoodChicago.com: The use of flash mobs is more political to a degree in this film, more than the flash mob for fun mentality. What do you think this use of dance as political activism parallels movements currently in this country like the Occupy groups, for example?
Guzman: It’s about bringing a group together and forming a voice, collectively. I think a ton of voices saying the same thing will get heads to turn, rather than a single voice.
McCormick: And doing it through something that you’re so passionate about. It’s not like in this film that people are just holding up a sign, they are doing something with so much love and artistry, and the soul connects to art, it can’t help but do that. That’s in addition to bringing everybody together.
Photo credit: Sam Emerson for Summit Entertainment
HollywoodChicago.com: Kathryn, you began your national exposure on the competition show ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ What was the most surreal during the process of getting to the top three, a kind of behind-the-scenes element that people don’t necessarily see when they watch the show?
McCormick: In that show, it felt like I was running a race and was always trying to keep up. I never imagined I’d be doing it, and I was always put in a position to quickly learn new dance styles, like Bollywood, cha-cha and the Passodoble, styles that I wasn’t used to. The turning point was just rehearsal. I went over everything to be as good as I possibly could. I didn’t want to let the opportunity down. And then there was a point where I became more confident and had to show a different part of my personality. I grew so much, and understood myself as a person more.
HollywoodChicago.com: Ryan, we’ve seen Channing Tatum and Josh Henderson of the new ‘Dallas’ TV show break out from the Step Up series. What show business goals do you have regarding those kinds of paths, what type of film or TV series would you hope to do going forward?
Guzman: I want to focus on film, preferably more action drama than romantic comedy like Channing. I’ve heard in every Step Up movie, that every lead is ‘like Channing.’ It’s an honor to be compared to an acclaimed actor, but I also want to make my own way.
HollywoodChicago.com: The film does touch upon some socio-economic class issues in a Romeo-is-poor-and-Juliet-is-rich kind of way. In real life, do you think it’s possible for such a relationship to exist, given the lifestyle and educational differences in the classes?
Guzman: Yes, I don’t think being in poverty limits your learning possibilities. The opportunity is more narrow, but like my family there is an opportunity to make it. My father was an immigrant from Mexico, so he knew poverty. He lived in one bedroom for eight brothers and sisters, and 12 cousins. He told me those stories growing up, and now I’m in a movie. So yeah, I think anything is possible.
McCormick: There is also a great hunger when you’re not given everything. There is a hunger to want to do it even more. You may have to work harder to get even that smaller bit of exposure, but I’d rather be around somebody like that. They work their butt off because they love and admire what they’re doing. So I do think it’s possible.
Guzman: Those who achieve get more out of life, that those who just receive.
HollywoodChicago.com: Kathryn, in your bio, it states that you work with church organizations as a motivational speaker for teen groups. What do you think the role of religion in our national discourse and society, and how does faith inform your own life?
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com
McCormick: I worked on the ‘Revolve Tour.’ It’s a faith-based tour for teenagers, the producers involve were fans of ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ And in my journey, my faith and prayers have helped me through the harder times in my life. There are things that I felt I wasn’t prepared for, but my faith was behind it, and it all worked out.
But at the end of the day it’s a personal thing. It’s a love. There shouldn’t be a debate on whether it belongs or not, it’s just something you have to experience for yourself. I want to share it, because of the love I received, but it shouldn’t be pushed on anyone, it’s a choice to be made. And people who do believe, should be proud of it.
HollywoodChicago.com: Ryan, you were a pro prospect as a baseball pitcher, but was injured. There is a new wave of pitcher biomechanics, that is confounding the purists of the game. From what you know about it, could that have helped your pitching technique, and perhaps avoided injury?
Guzman: I think anybody with good mechanics can go far. What kills pitchers now is the overuse of their arms at a young age. When you are 12 years old, you shouldn’t be throwing a curve. I was. I think my generation was the last one to be allowed to do that. I constantly fought through pain. I did have offers from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Texas Rangers out of high school, and had scholarship offers from three schools. It was blown all away because I thought one game was worth more. It’s not.
HollywoodChicago.com: Kathryn, which classic choreographer is a go-to person for you, as far as the feeling their style gives you?
McCormick: I am more into the choreographers of today, the ones I can be in the same room with, especially in my experiences with ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ The choreographer on the show, Stacey Tucci, is someone I admire so much. The only reason she ended up on the show was that her husband submitted her work, she wouldn’t do it herself. She is so talented, sweet and kind-hearted, and most of all I respect the art she brings to dancing.