Craig Brewer on Remaking Footloose, How It's Like Purple Rain, and Tarzan

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How did you decide, and why, to play things so close to the original Footloose? Entire scenes play out so similarly. Paying homage to the original film, as you do in many scenes and in your choreography, may be great entertainment for fans, but it also invites a scrutiny in direct comparison to the first film.

Yeah. Well, there's no way to not compare it. It's Footloose. I would have to call it something else, or turn it into a prequel or a sequel. But I'm doing Footloose. If I were doing a new version of West Side Story on Broadway, it's going to induce some comparison. I'm doing a pre-existing bit of material. So for me, I just felt that there was no way to do Footloose unless there were those iconic moments in it, that so many people know and love. There are even people that know those iconic moments but haven't seen Footloose -- they just know it. I know people who know the line, 'Say hello to my little friend,' from Scarface who've never seen that movie, but they know that moment. I remember Kenny [Wormald] and I were about to do 'the angry dance' and we were like, 'We will be judged.' I know it's silly to think that it's OK for a guy to come into an empty warehouse and just dance his anger away, but the original Footloose did it and by golly, we're going to do it!

I've always referred to that as 'punch dancing,' myself.

Some people call it 'punch dancing,' some people call it 'angry dancing.'

It was also wonderfully parodied in recent years by the Lonely Island guys in Hot Rod.

Oh, and they did it on Flight of the Conchords. I think they also did it on American Dad.

So what was your approach to putting your own stamp on this very iconic dance sequence?

Well, I looked into my own heart. When I'm at home in Memphis and I'm having a bad day --

You angry dance?

I do! I angry dance. I blare The White Stripes -- usually it's off of Icky Thump, or there may be a couple of AC/DC tracks, maybe some off of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti -- and I move around my office and kind of get that bad juju out of me. [Laughs]

You've mentioned the layer of red state/blue state politics underneath the surface of your Footloose, which is interesting because when I spoke with Rod Lurie recently about his Southern-set remake, Straw Dogs, he shied away from encouraging viewers to see those undertones. But you'd encourage audiences to read into what they see in Footloose?

Sure, sure. Well, you've got to remember where I was back in 1984; I remember in junior high coming to school and being worried because we had just started bombing Libya and there was this guy named Qaddafi that we were all afraid of, and we were also afraid of the Soviets -- there were all these warheads pointing at us. There was this rise of the moral majority and everybody was talking about what was good for everybody. And then I saw Footloose. And it wasn't necessary a reactionary piece, but all those politics, I think, seeped into it. And here I am in 2011, and everything that I just told you I think teenagers are also dealing with. I think there is a considerable amount of fear out there in the world, and I think in America the first thing we do when we start getting scared of something is we start making some rules. Sometimes those rules are good, and sometimes those rules lead to restricting our individuality and our freedom. That's what Footloose is about. I didn't want to be political in the movie; I didn't want to say, OK, here's the Michele Bachmann character, or the Sarah Palin character. I didn't want to do that, I didn't think we needed to.

You did add in a scene between Ren and his uncle [played effortlessly by Ray McKinnon] where they explicitly discuss the church and state divide, or lack thereof, in Bomont.

Right, and those are all things that I've had conversations with my family about. And I'm glad that I got to have that character of Uncle Wesley be a little bit more of the kind of guy that I know. I know Southerners, and they can make jokes about the Bible and not feel that it's challenging their faith.

Do you feel like you have a lot riding on Footloose, it being your first big studio push after working in independent film?

Yeah, I do. But to some extent I feel kind of comfortable because of my indie work. I always hear people call Hustle & Flow a hit; it wasn't. I don't know what they're thinking. It was a box office disappointment. Black Snake Moan, a box office disappointment. Both movies got polarizing reviews, people loved them and hated them. I got people coming up to me years later after those movies and saying, 'You know, I really loved those -- I don't know why I didn't go see it on opening weekend.' So I feel that those movies have at least prepared me for whatever is the outcome of Footloose. Every movie has its day, and I know that eventually people are going to see it. I hope that it's on opening weekend, because to be honest, I would like a hit. I'd like a movie just to make money, you know? But the older I get, the more I realize that's out of my control. And that the only thing that is in my control is to make a movie that means a lot to me. Hustle & Flow meant a lot to me, and Black Snake Moan meant a lot to me. But really, Footloose means a lot to me. I really wanted this to be a gift to fans and for people who've never seen it.

Is Tarzan the next movie that you hope to make?

Tarzan's the movie that I would definitely like to make. I just turned in the script last Friday and we'll see what the studio thinks.

If there is a progression in your films, a throughline to point out, how would you say Tarzan fits in?

You mean, why am I doing Tarzan? [Laughs] I've been exploring, throughout almost all of my movies, my relationship to my family. And I've been with this really incredible woman for like 20 years, we've got these two incredible kids, and these last couple of years have been difficult because I've had to go away and make a film, I'm questioning whether or not we're living the right life, should we be living it differently? The more I started looking at John Clayton, the character of Tarzan, and Jane, I started to see a connection to that. I just need to see a personal connection in, and the rest comes rather easily. So as much as people may look at Footloose and think it's a departure for me, they may do the same thing with Tarzan. But I think I've been exploring the same emotional minefield that I have in the rest of my movies.

So the line, 'Me Tarzan, you Jane' resonates especially well for you personally?

It actually does. It's interesting you say that. As a matter of fact, there's a line in Hustle & Flow where Djay keeps saying to Nola, 'Say it -- you're in charge. You're in charge.' And she goes, 'I'm in charge.' That happened, it was right before I got married, and my wife got into a car accident. It was on the first night of a play that I had written that was opening, and my mother thought it would be better not to tell me that my fiancée just got in a car accident. I remember later that night, my fiancée crying and saying, 'I wanted to tell you...' and I said, 'Well then, you should have.' And she was like, 'But your parents were saying that I probably shouldn't have.' And I said, 'Let me be clear: We're getting married. So that means that when I'm not around, you're in charge. You're in charge of me. So if you think that I need to know about something, I don't care what my mother says. You're in charge.' I go, 'Do you understand that?' She's like, ' I understand.' And I go, 'You can say it.' She was like, 'I'm in charge.' And it's been a little thing. When I leave, I go, 'You're in charge.' And don't think it's some sort of chauvinistic thing -- she does the same thing for me!

Footloose is in theaters Friday.

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