BY CINDY PEARLMAN | [url=http://www.suntimes.com]http://www.suntimes.com[/url]
Talk about a bump and grind. Director Guy Ferland has spent the last 12 hours in an editing room sweating it out over a popular movie remake. Today’s mission is to decide just how much pelvic mambo is too much.
No one ever said that he would have the time of his life making the sequel of sorts to the guilty movie pleasure of the ‘80s, “Dirty Dancing.”
Faster than you can say sway to the beat, Ferland is quick to provide a disclaimer. “Oh, there’s no real pressure on me, except to satisfy fans who have waited the better part of a decade for a movie sequel. No pressure there.”
His nervous laugh betrays him.
In the age of Janet Jackson’s “Hootergate,” however, how racy is a little gyrating on the dance floor? Not very.
That’s why the powers behind “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” upped the ante by setting it before the first film. In the new hip-swayer, which opens Friday, it’s 1950s Cuba, where a young, blond babe (newcomer Romola Garai) is an American girl living in Cuba with her rich parents.
No one puts this Babe in a corner. She dares to infiltrate the local Cuban street clubs where she meets up with a rebel, not-good-enough-for-her, dancing fool (Diego Luna).
Ferland knew that they couldn’t cover old material with the sequel. “I really don’t think you could have gone back to the Catskills. That would be boring,” he insists. “What really attracted me to this script was that it transcended the dancing. Like the first movie, it’s another timeless love story, but it also had some timely themes of young people in a turbulent world.”
Oh, yes, Cuba is about to crumble politically and the question is if the young woman should go home with her family or stay and sway with her Latin looker.
“Like the original film, you needed to have something on the line. In the first film, you had Baby (Jennifer Grey) returning to her upper-crust world instead of the blue-collar life she would have with Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). Again, we have some serious themes of political turmoil and major life decisions for our young people.”
That’s nice, but the idea is also to have fans stand up in theaters and dance in the aisles (which actually happened with the first film).
“Let me just say that there is a lot of music and a lot of dancing,” Ferland says. “The dance scenes are big and fun. They do make you as an audience member want to move.”
He cautions that it’s not the same hip-melding like before. “This is Cuba in the 1950s, so we’re talking about a different kind of dancing. It’s a different genre of dance.”
Ferland knows his theme.
Someone had to figure it out because for 10 years there had been rumors of a “Dirty Dancing” sequel. Part of the hold-up came from different studios vying for the rights. Then there was the idea that no one could quite come up with the right story.
Swayze, who returns in a cameo as dance teacher Johnny Castle, says, “For years, there was talk of Jennifer and I just continuing our story. Did we get married? Could we meld the two worlds. We could have taken it into the turbulent politics of the 1960s.”
Hey, where was that movie? For starters, Grey was—to borrow Swayze’s old song—“like the wind.” She always blew hot and cold when it came to a role that defined her.
Meanwhile, Swayze embarked on a career as an action star and by the time a “Dancing” sequel came up, both of the leads were getting a bit old to command the teenage audience.
A few years ago, rumors floated that newcomer Britney Spears and Mr. Vida Loca himself, Ricky Martin, would grind it up onscreen in a big-budget update.
“I wasn’t on that project,” Ferland says. He doesn’t even quite believe that those names were ever attached. “It is a very entertaining rumor,” he adds.
“We worked on this new story for a long time,” says Ferland, who finally took the helm of the movie after countless names had been mentioned in the past to direct a “Dancing” sequel.
“What appealed to me is that this is a real story. In the 1950s, there were many American girls in Cuba whose fathers had been transferred there on business. In our story, the girl’s father manages a car plant. It fit into historical fact because the Americans at that time in Cuba lived very well. They lived the tourist side of Cuba.”
That wasn’t enough because part of the appeal of “Dirty Dancing” is a boy from the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks.”
“Our heroine is bored with 1950s country club life in a foreign country and emerges from her narrow world to check out how the local Cubans are living. That’s where she learns salsa dancing and afro Cuban dancing. She also learns ballroom dancing, the mambo, and all those loose and casual dances that look and feel so good.”
“Feel it,” Johnny Castle told Baby.
That wasn’t so easy for new star, Garai, who wasn’t exactly a trained dancer. Still, she got the job.
“We looked at many girls and Romola was the one who could pull off that combo of the right period look and having the right spirit. That’s a hard combo,” Ferland says. “Most of the actresses who tried out sound like they’re from the Valley. It’s also hard for them to act.”
His one saving grace was the fact that the studio didn’t intervene. “There was no pressure from the studio to hire someone famous,” he says. “The star of our movie is the dancing.”
“I didn’t really know how to dance any of the Latin dances, but I guess I had a pretty good sense of movement,” Garai says.
Luna, who plays her main squeeze, wasn’t exactly a move master, either, and both went into intensive dance training before cameras rolled in Puerto Rico last year.
“You just don’t know this type of dancing kills your ankles and legs,” Luna moans.
Ferland says the pain was necessary. “We had to be able to use the actors for the dancing. This is not a situation where you can use doubles,” he says.
Of course, no one could double Swayze, who is back for a brief turn. Looking fit and fabulous on the dance floor, he’s playing an even younger Johnny than in the first film.
What about Baby?
“Well, Jennifer isn’t in there,” Ferland says. “My thought is always with the story, and there really wasn’t a place for her in this movie because this is set before Johnny and Baby meet at Kellerman’s.”
Ah, Kellermans. The original “Dirty Dancing” was shot on a shoestring budget late in the fall at a defunct East Coast resort.
“We were so broke and desperate that I had the crew guys painting the leaves green before each scene so we could pretend it was summer,” recalls producer Linda Obst.
One day on the set, Swayze killed his knee and had to have it drained. Recalls Obst, “I could have cried when he was back on the set doing dance moves through his pain a few hours later.”
And having the time of his life.