Stepping into 'Footloose' director's shoes
Writer-director Craig Brewer says he can divide his life into two eras: “BF’’ and “AF,’’ before and after “Footloose.’’
“I was very aware of my experience seeing ‘Footloose’ when I was 13,’’ says Brewer on the phone from Los Angeles. “It was one of those big-bang moments in my life.’’
Considering the gritty and controversial indie dramas that Brewer has made thus far, his attachment to a remake of the fun but fluffy 1984 dancefest has been a head-scratcher to some. His first feature, the 2005 pimp-rapper saga, “Hustle & Flow,’’ garnered lead actor Terrence Howard an Oscar nomination and won the trophy for best song for Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.’’ His follow-up, 2006’s “Black Snake Moan,’’ included scenes of star Christina Ricci chained to a radiator.
For Brewer, the line from those films to the “Footloose’’ remake is more direct, particularly with regard to the damaged and defiant lead female characters in “Moan’’ and “Footloose,’’ Rae and Ariel, respectively.
“It’s so funny because I’ll see these things on Twitter like, ‘I saw “Footloose’’ and the girl in it is kind of like the girl from “Black Snake Moan.’’ ’ And she is! It is crazy and it’s kind of cool. I look at Ariel when I saw her back when I was 13 and I would have to say yeah, she was my first crazy girlfriend. It was a phony relationship, meaning it was in my head,’’ he says with a chuckle.
But up to that point the teenage Brewer- a theater-loving kid who split his childhood between California and Tennessee - had been fauxmancing such characters as Princess Leia from the “Star Wars’’ films and Marion from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.’’
With Ariel, he says, “that wasn’t a likable character, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t fascinated by her. She was mean and cold and cruel at certain times, but then suddenly you realized, wait a minute, she’s really hurt, something really bad happened in her life. I think that that seed probably was in my head when I went through life, and I was much more drawn to people that were hellraisers in their own right, but I knew that if you got to know them you’d see that there was heart there and some pain. And so,’’ he says adding with another laugh, “to some extent ‘Black Snake Moan’ is because of ‘Footloose’ not the other way around.’’
Brewer says he also related to the misfit journey of main character Ren McCormack. “Seeing Kevin Bacon with the big hair and the skinny tie and that attitude that he had of being unique but being defiant and masculine with it was something I think that I needed to see at that moment in my life.’’
His dual West Coast-Southern upbringing also made Brewer sympathetic to Ren’s cross-country, cross-cultural issues. “Whenever I would go [to Tennessee] that context of ‘Hey, you’re from the big city, things are different here,’ that just rang true to me. I felt like somebody had made a movie just for me.’’
Plus, like everybody else, says Brewer, “I really wanted that soundtrack.’’
Given how important the film was to him, Brewer took great care with the remake, treating the source material with reverence, approaching it more like the revival of a play in the theater world. But for his leading man, Stoughton native Kenny Wormald, Brewer counseled forging his own path.
“Every day I’d come up to him and put my arm around him and say, ‘You know if anybody’s going to have any problems with this movie, they’re going to blame two people: you and me,’ ’’ he says. “It’s going to be, ‘What is he doing remaking the movie?’ and ‘That guy ain’t no Kevin Bacon.’ And every day we would put that behind us and say, this is our ‘Footloose.’
“I, as a director, was very much inspired by the original ‘Footloose’ while I was making this one. That’s why I kept the story very similar, I kept the dialogue similar. But for him, I was like, ‘Dude, please be yourself. Chart out a new direction for yourself. Because the burden of Kevin Bacon’s career on your shoulders is something that no actor should have, so just throw it off and be yourself.’
“And that’s got to take a special type of confident personality. So not only is he a great dancer and he’s a really great actor, I think that he was a mature man. I wouldn’t wish that situation on most people because it’s pretty daunting.’’
Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.