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February 2004
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights: An Interview with Romola Garai

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights: An Interview with Romola Garai

The thing thatís fascinating about sequels, prequels, remakes, or a new look to a popular film is that it comes with an awareness, which sometimes translates into a built-in audience. Back in 1987, Dirty Dancing took the industry by storm as Patrick Swayze reinvented himself with his dance moves and Jennifer Grey became very popular as the girl who rebelled from her straight and narrow folks. Besides the actors, it was the music and dance moves in the film that swept the nation off its feet. Hoping to accomplish the same feat in todayís world is a new version of that film, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Romola Garai, who was last seen in I Capture the Capture, takes over as the female lead looking to find herself in Cuba, with the help of Y Tu Mama Tambien star Diego Luna. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Romola talks about working with Diego and learning to dance salsa.

WM: How did connect with this role and why did you accept it?

RG: I took it because I thought it would be a laughs. (She laughs.) And I thought it was a fun script and I wanted to work with Diego. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" was a big film for me the last few years and my friends loved that movie. As far as connecting with the character, I suppose she's a young girl who's trying to discover what she wants out of life and is torn between making career moves and dedicating time to her family, and meeting everyone's expectation and yet, at the same time, trying to find out who she is, so I supposed I identified with that.

WM: Was it difficult working with JoAnn Jansen and the choreography?

RG: Oh yeah, we turned up on the first day and we were completely appalled and were like, "This is the worst idea we've had in our lives." At least I was anyway, and yeah it was very daunting.

WM: Did it get easier as the shooting went along?

RG: It got harder. Just when you have mastered a basic, suddenly you have to master a turn, and then 3 turns. So when you have the hang of something, you have to move on to the next level. When you get half way through something, someone's saying, "You can do all the steps now, now make it look pretty." So, that's hard.

WM: Did you fall in love with dance? Do you still go out to dance classes?

RG: Yes, I fell in love with it, and with going out, not really. I haven't done any classes or anything, but when I get the chance to go to a salsa club, then I do take it.

WM: How long did it you to learn the dance steps?

RG: It took eight weeks to teach two people to dance if they were shot from the right ankle. We weren't professional dancers by the end of the shoot, but we could salsa dance. We could do it. We could do some fairly complicated steps, and it depends on what standard you want to judge us by.

WM: I'm sure you had some dance skills before the film. Did they ask you for any prior dancing experience?

RG: No. They were quite happy to audition actresses, and not dancers. That's what they got.

WM: Are you shock by how beautiful you look on-screen?

RG: No, I go, "Oh my God, I look so great." (She laughs). Anyone would look great if you had 10 hours of makeup and it's being shot by Tony Richmond, who was the director of photography. It's the way the film industry works; they're good at making people look good. It has very little to do with me.

WM: Do you have any memories from watching the first Dirty Dancing movie?

RG: Oh yes. We had a video at home when we were kids and we watched it all the time growing up. I have two sisters, and it's a family full of girls, so it's a big deal.

WM: So what was like to meet and dance with Patrick Swayze, who has a cameo in this film?

RG: It's pretty weird. It was like a strange dream, where you wake up and say, "Guess what, I was in Dirty Dancing. I was Baby." And people look at you oddly, but that's exactly what it was like. He looks exactly the same as he did in the original film, which is more bizarre, but he is an amazing dancer. It was really nice.

WM: Are parents shocked by how hard you have worked for this film?

RG: It's an odd thing. If you don't work in the film industry or don't have anything to do with it, you don't believe it's happening until you have seen the film. The filming process and the script bare absolutely no relation to the final product, so I don't think they really thought about it at all. When I showed them the trailer from the movie when I got back home in London and put it on, they were just silent for about a minute, and that's never happened. They just couldn't believe it.

WM: I hear that you are at a university majoring in English.

RG: I've actually left. I left to make a film called "I capture the castle" about two years ago and I haven't gone back. So I only did a year of my degree.

WM: What was the toughest spot to shoot with this film?

RG: There was a dance sequence in the club, which took three days to shoot. Puerto Rico is very humid, but we had three days of heavy rain and that somehow makes it hotter and we were in an incredibly small club. It was shot on location with about 200 people in the room and lights and everything. I had all this hair and makeup on me and it was just sweating off me. You would wipe your hand off something and it would foundation coming off on the table. That was very hot and hard work. It was fun.

WM: How was working with Diego?

RG: It was great. He's a very talented actor who takes his job very seriously. It's nice to work with someone who's focused. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" was a big deal for me when I saw it the first time around.

WM: So does your reel life imitate your real life? Do you want to date Latin or Jewish people?

RG: Absolutely. Every time I make a film, I think about living this character. The last film I did was with two guys in a wheel chair and I desperately wanted to go out with a disabled person. Of course not. (She laughs.) Your life is your life and your job is your job. Sometimes, they collide but you try to avoid that.

WM: Have you ever felt you like a fish out of water or an outsider?

RG: Yes, for five months. I was a big gangly British girl stuck in the middle of this party with incredible beautiful people. I woke up everyday saying, "What am I doing here? There's been some mistake"

WM: Did you get any advice from Sela Ward?

RG: Sela is an amazing person to work with. She knows the industry really well. She's a bright woman and apart from some knitting tips, which I got from her, she was interesting to be around with. She knows her stuff. She's great.

WM: What sort of dance do you prefer?

RG: I think salsa music. There are a couple of places in San Juan, Puerto Rico that ended up seeing a lot of me. Wed would go and salsa dance and watch other people doing it and I would dance with different partners as well because that improves your style a great deal if you get use to different kinds of dances. I did some Afro-Cuban dances as well.

WM: Did you brush on what was going on in Cuba at that particular time?

RG: I felt that I wouldn't have a take on the film unless I had some knowledge of the political history. There's a biography of Cuba by Hugh Thomas which I read that gives you an exhausted history of the country, but it was really interesting. I did what I could to research the photographic aspects of Cuba and its time period. There were some great shots of people from the 50's; so I looked at some stills.

WM: Can you talk about your upcoming film, Vanity Fair?

RG: It's coming out in October and Reese Witherspoon plays Becky Sharp, and it also stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers. I play a character named Amelia, who's a friend to Reese's character.

WM: What's next for you?

RG: I'm doing a play in London at the moment about James Joyce. It will open in 2 weeks. James Joyce had a daughter who had an affair with Samuel Beckett in Paris when the family left her and that's where the play begins. The play is about their relationship. I suppose the daughter is focal point of the family that I think the play takes a neutral attempt to characterize her.

WM: With so upcoming films and the play, what keeps you grounded?

RG: My family who take a piss out of me all the time, which is nice. I live in London so I have a lot of things that keeps me connected to my past and friends, who are just graduating. I pretty much do the same thing, which is going out to the pub.

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