If Dirty Dancing, Pitch Perfect, and Step Up had a baby, its name would be Work It. Netflix’s latest teen romance takes the love story between novice dancer and master from Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, the hilarious politics of school ensemble competitions (this time from a cappella groups to hip-hop dance crews), and the feverish style, kick butt soundtrack, and post-high school dreams of Baltimore. Our star-crossed lovers are Jake and Quinn, played by Jordan Fisher and Sabrina Carpenter (both of whom had Broadway runs cut short due to the pandemic in Dear Evan Hansen and Mean Girls, respectively).
Quinn is a high school senior desperate to get into her father’s alma mater, but when the admissions counselor sees her as a cookie cutter candidate (all straight A’s, SAT prep, debate club, and volunteering at a nursing home), Quinn says she’s involved with the Work It dance competition. (Not totally untrue, she had been their lighting designer.) But she decides to form her own crew and needs a fierce choreographer. Enter Jake Taylor, the all-time greatest of Work It champs who fell of the face of the earth.
But if Pitch Perfect gave us next level covers and mash-ups, Work It gives us ferocious choreography. And Fisher, who started his drama days after being cast as the “Conjunction Junction” soloist in his fifth grade production of School House Rock, continues to push his musical theatre talents to the mainstream. Here, he tells reveals the hybrid process required to make a dance film, his favorite number in the movie, what it was like to work with choreographer Aakomon “AJ” Jones, and more.
This movie seems made for you. What was your reaction when this story landed in your lap?
Jordan Fisher: It originally came to me close to two years ago. This one’s been in the works for quite some time, and it was a very different film when I first read it. There was a big rewrite that happened that what really captured me, and my knowing Sabrina, it was obviously enticing to me because we love each other. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and we’ve never actually worked together on anything. So I was amped to jump into that. But the thing that really grabs me about this project is it’s a dance film. That’s obviously the centerpiece of the table here, right? And the fact that it’s the vehicle that kind of takes us from point A to Z in the story, but it’s really about growth. It’s about people having plans for their lives and goals in their lives, and those plans and those goals changing and how great that can actually be. This is messaging that I think is very important, especially for younger generations to learn early on. You might be passionate about this thing and that’s awesome. And if you stay passionate about that thing, then great, that’s fantastic. You might be 23 years old and find something new in your life. Exactly, you are meant to do. And that, that gives you a different kind of joy and a different kind of vigor, and you should celebrate that and really push for it
I was in ballet when I was two years old and we, collectively, have that narrative that you start when you’re a toddler because you’re shaping your body. But this movie offers the idea that dance is something you could do at any age.
It’s about misfits and how beautiful misfits are. It’s about supporting one another. It’s about building relationships and building friendships, and working as a group towards something and accomplishing that goal and how stimulating and gratifying and satisfying that is. It’s the people lifting up people narrative that we all really need, especially right now.
As a dance film, was the process similar to musical theater but done for the camera? Were the writers writing a little more around you and AJ making choreography for your body?
It’s a totally different kind of thing. There’s usually like two, three, four weeks of just rehearsal and you’re in the studio every day and you’re dancing your butt off and learning all the skeletons, the pieces, the musical numbers, the dances, whatever, and then you don’t visit those until the day [of shooting]. [Principal] photography, you have an idea, you have like the skeleton and there’s even some flesh and maybe even some features on the face of whatever that piece is. And then the day happens. Timing is a big thing.
Which musical number was the most fun choreography process?
[AJ] is incredible. His sense of energy and his ability to cultivate great energy in any environment, I think is a very necessary attribute for a choreographer. He just knows how to take care of the moment and take care of the situation. He’s so collaborative and a great delegator and also just an unbelievable creative, and you trust him. There’s also a really great piece that Dietrich’s actually choreographed, which was awesome. The piece when Jas and Quinn are sitting down and they’re looking up Jake Taylor and trying to get some information on them, they see a piece that’s me with a whole bunch of other dudes—it’s like America’s Best Dance Crew status. That was when Jake was healthiest, when Jake was dancing all the time. A slightly younger Jake that’s throwing crazy flips and tricks and stunting and being thrown all over the air and sliding on the floor and doing the whole thing, like, unbelievable choreography.
What’s the dance number that most embodies Jake—who Jake is through dance?
Probably the finale does, to be honest with you. Somebody that’s there for people, ultimately. I mean, you find him at the beginning of the film in a very different head space. He’s frustrated with the world and frustrated with themselves and frustrated with his injury. But I think at the end of the day, he’s there, he’s there for the TBDs. He’s really there for Quinn and down to get his hands dirty and hop up on the stage. Him yanking Quinn out there and encouraging her be her best self, I feel like all of that best embodies Jake as a character, for sure.
Was there something about Jake that resonated with you, but surprised you that you had in common?
I think just frustration with things that are actually very navigable. He had a freak injury and that to him forced his love and his passion for dance to kind of evaporate, when ultimately it was still there and he could still work through it. It was just a matter of finding purpose. Every human needs a reason to get up out of bed in the morning, and to go and do what they love to do. And he was just kind of unwilling to find that due to his ego, his frustration with the world and of circumstance. I think that, especially right now, a lot of us are dealing with that. I’m constantly reminding myself and people around me like, “Hey, listen, we have our health. And we have means to live and survive.” My fiancee and I were supposed to get married last Friday and had to move it. If it’s the worst part of COVID for us, that’s the worst part of quarantine for us, then like, good God.
Stylistically, there’s a lot of variety here and the movie legitimizes all forms of dance. What are you hoping people see in the faces and moves of this beautiful, inclusive dance crew?
I mean, art is art right? It’s inclusivity, it’s diversity, it’s everything, it’s all shapes and forms and fashions and styles and sounds and visuals and colors. That’s the beauty of art, right? Ultimately you’re going to feel the same way regardless. When I saw the poster, it brought tears to my eyes actually.