After making Black Snake Moan and Hustle and Flow, Craig Brewer decided to go back to his youth for inspiration. He was approached several times to write and direct a Footloose remake and for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why or how to resurrect a classic. Then, driving late one night: It hit him. The film should start with Kenny Loggins’ classic Footloose theme song, then all semblance of it should be marked in tragedy. Immediately Brewer got to work and the fruits of his labor are astoundingly awesome (check out our Footloose review).
Movie Fanatic: How was the effort getting a stellar acting performance from your two leads, who previously were so well known for their dancing?
Craig Brewer: I’ve been doing it for a while because I’ve had to work with rappers that I’ve needed to act and actors that I’ve needed to rap. Ultimately what I’ve discovered is it’s all a little easier than I think people would think that it is. When you make a decision in your life that you’re going to be an artist or performer in any way, you find that it leads in almost all categories. Let’s get in a time machine and go back 27 years and tell everybody that Robin Williams and Jamie Foxx, they’re going to be Academy Award winning actors one day and you’d go “What?” That doesn’t make any sense but it now makes sense because they obviously had this well of experience. I remember sitting down with Terence Howard and saying, “Look, I know you’re an actor and you’re a great actor, but what do you have in common with this guy?” He was like, “Well, you know, I’m in all these movies and I’m usually a supporting character, like a bright, quick cameo, and people have been always saying you should be a lead and you should be in charge.” And that was his connection to it, of playing that character. I look at Kenny Wormald, pretty good-looking, masculine kid from Boston, all his life being called Ballet Boy and Priss because he’s going off to dance class. Kenny knew Ren McCormick. It was something that when we started doing the readings and the auditions, it just seemed so natural to him. Everybody else was doing this Kevin Bacon impersonation. Even when I told them not to do it, they couldn’t help but do it. I realized it was because they were just acting. They’re doing the best they can. They’re good actors but it’s not real to them. It’s real to Kenny and I think that because he relaxed into it, it came off very natural.
Movie Fanatic: I know you were a big fan of the original Footloose. What was your first reaction when they offered you the Footloose remake?
Craig Brewer: I resisted it twice. I turned down the studio twice to remake it.
Movie Fanatic: What stroke of inspiration altered your opinion?
Craig Brewer: I had this interesting experience. I couldn’t figure out how to get into Footloose. I was like, “What town would ban dancing?” Even in 1984, it was kind of dumb [laughs]. And I say that with complete respect because I loved the original. I was on my way to a bachelor party in New Orleans by way of Memphis so I’m on this really long bridge. Adam Goodman, the president of Paramount, calls me and I put him on speaker phone and he’s like “I refuse to accept your pass. Why do you keep passing on Footloose?” I was like, “Adam, look, I love that movie. It’s a classic. We’re going to get crucified if we redo Footloose.” He said, “It’s not for all these people that loved the original. When was the last teenager movie you saw that had the ideals that you loved in Footloose?” He was right. You can’t necessarily just immediately think of the dance movies like Step Up or any of those movies and say okay, but did it have the kind of camaraderie like a Willard and a Ren? Did it have the harshness that was in the original Footloose where kids are smoking weed and girls are having pre-marital sex and feeling awful about it? Then there’s that whole fight where her boyfriend beats her up.
Movie Fanatic: So how did it then come together for you?
Craig Brewer: So, I’m in the car and all the bugs off of the swamp started coming up and killing themselves on the windshield. I got a rental car and I hit the little windshield wiper fluid thing, but it was empty -- so it just smeared bug guts. These cars are going by me and I can barely see. I’m talking to the president of the studio. So I go out drinking with all my friends for that bachelor party and they’re like, “What are you doing?” I said, “They asked me to do Footloose, but I’m not going to do it.” All night they were giving me (expletive). We would go to different clubs and they were singing Let’s Hear It for the Boy. Then, I got a little bit too tipsy and I told them all “Guys, I am a father now. I cannot party like I used to. I’m going down and going to bed.” I lay in this bed and I started flashing back to the bridge. I could feel the car shaking and I could see the lights coming up against the windshield and suddenly it hit me. I gotta really entertain the audience for three minutes where they hear that Kenny Loggins music and they start bobbing their head and they think “Oh yeah!” Then I need to kill them and I need to show a horrible wreck. I need to have those headlights come right at me. And then, I had my human connection. The difference between me now and me when I was 13 is I’m a dad. I got two kids. They change you. I’m protective in ways I never thought I would be. I can see myself if some kid got killed crossing the street in front of the school, and then this big list of rules came home, I wouldn’t be even reading them. I’d be like, “Of course!” Once I got past that, once I got past the whole it’s not just banning dancing because they’re worried that you’re going to go to hell. It’s a dozen laws -- curfew, dress code. It’s not so much dancing as much as dancing outside of parental control. Suddenly it became a much more relevant American movie to me.
Movie Fanatic: What elements of the original Footloose were important for you to update? And did you feel that certain aspects of the original had to be in your remake?
Craig Brewer: The great news about the situation going into Footloose was I had a tremendous amount of power. I’m not really used to that [laughs]. I had creative control over it. I knew everything about Footloose. I would look at the Angry Dance and say, “Well we’re doing the Angry Dance because it’s Footloose. If you didn’t do the Angry Dance, it’s not Footloose." I come from the theater and remake is never a word you use. You use the word revival. I tried to view Footloose more in a revival way. I didn’t want it to be too different from the original, but there were a couple things that I did want to change in some of the scenes, one of which is I didn’t want to demonize faith. I wanted to bring the accident up front to get that kind of impact. And then, I wanted to change the way that -- and it’s just my personal mission of the South where I’m from -- when Ren came to stay with his uncle and his aunt, they were not really supportive of him in the original movie. They were more on the side of the town. I have redneck uncles and they’re nothing like me, but I’m their nephew. I’m their cousin. You better not talk bad about me because they’ll defend me. That’s that family theme that I think everybody in Hollywood is trying to connect with, but it’s really real in a lot of people’s lives and I wanted to see that. I wanted to see the family that he came to live with really helping him.