by Jay S. Jacobs
When former dancer and model Jenna Dewan took the female lead in a low-budget dance movie called Step Up, she knew it was going to change her life. She just had no idea how much.
At the time, Dewan was better known as a dancer than an actress. She had toured with Janet Jackson and P. Diddy and starred in videos with Ricky Martin and Justin Timberlake. She also had her first brush with the gossip columns, when she was accused of being the woman who came between Timberlake and his then girlfriend Britney Spears, though Dewan has always insisted that she and Timberlake were just friends. Then, with her first movie, a tiny little horror film called Tamara, the gorgeous Dewan became an internet sensation.
However, Step Up took it to the next level. Not only did the movie become a huge hit, spawning three sequels (and counting), but Dewan fell in love with her leading man, a little-known actor and dancer named Channing Tatum.
Six years later, Dewan and Tatum are happily married (and she has changed her professional name to reflect that fact) and also acting together for the first time since that breakthrough. The movie 10 Years is an ensemble piece about a group of friends in their late 20s going home for their high school reunion. Not surprisingly, Dewan plays the patient long-time girlfriend of Tatum’s character, an outsider to the group who meets all her boyfriend’s childhood buddies, and the teenaged flame for whom he still has complicated feelings (played by Rosario Dawson).
Dewan-Tatum has also just won a coveted role on the second season of the hit FX series American Horror Story opposite Jessica Lange and Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine.
The day before 10 Years was to open, Dewan-Tatum gave us a call to chat about her movie and her life.
What were you like in high school?
I was a very ambitious high schooler. I was a die-hard dancer. All I wanted to do was move to LA and become a professional dancer. Every weekend I was at dance competitions, dance conventions, trying to win as many scholarships and awards as I could. I was just a very passionate child and passionate teenager. At the same time, I was involved in cheerleading and had a lot of good friends. I grew up in a small town in Texas, so I had a real Varsity Blues high school experience. I kind of had the best of both worlds, to be honest. I had a wonderful high school I went to with really good friends and football games and very interested in clean fun. Then I also had my passion that I was working towards 24/7.
Did you go back to your high school reunion?
I didn’t get to go. I was working. I was filming a movie, so I completely missed it.
The last time I spoke with you, you were just making Step Up. I believe this is the first time you’ve worked with your husband since then, and obviously your relationship has changed substantially since that performance. What was it like acting with him again?
Really fun. It was really fun and really easy. There is a natural ease between Channing and I. Also as these characters, they had been together for a long time. They really love each other. We just sort of injected a little drama in there, just to give something different and something not as expected and different from Step Up. So when Rosario [Dawson] plays his high school sweetheart, we made a conscious choice to make it not all roses. To have some drama and see that unfold on the screen. As for working with Chan, it was pretty easy and wonderful. We’d laugh in between takes. We had a lot of fun. A lot of it was improv. It was a really good time.
Was it different working together now that you have so much life experience than it was the first time around?
Yeah, I think there is a little bit more maturity due to our relationship. I think there is a lot more trust. The rest of the day we’re married, we see each other all the time, so we didn’t have to work at building any chemistry. It’s already there. In Step Up, it was getting to know each other and that excitement of who is this person? In this one it was the ease and joy of being able to be around the person you love every single day. It’s a different energy.
10 Years has an amazing ensemble cast of some of terrific actors – obviously you and Channing, but also Justin Long, Rosario Dawson, Kate Mara, Chris Pratt, Lynn Collins, Ari Graynor, Audrey Plaza and many others. Was it comfortable right away to work with such a star-studded cast?
Definitely it was a fun group of actors. Everybody was excited to be there and play. It was not a serious job. Everybody was excited to be there and have a reason to play. That was the whole thing of this movie. One where the actors made the characters their own and really had a lot of fun. We really enjoyed what we were doing. They gave us a lot of input on what we wanted to say, what we wanted to do. For an actor, that’s like a dream. So everybody signed on to do it right away, because they could have a really great, free time.
One thing I really liked about 10 Years is the fact that while they all are trying to be crazy and live out the past, most of the characters are very grounded and actually pretty mature about life – undoubtedly more than I was at 28. What was it about Jamie Linden’s script that attracted you?
I love these movies. I’m a personal fan of The Big Chill and throwbacks to early Eighties movies and the Nineties. Movies that had big ensemble casts. Lots of stories that intertwined. I love those movies, personally, so to me it was a no-brainer. I wanted to do it immediately. I think that Jamie is a really smart writer. I was excited to work with him, because I thought that he would give us the confidence and the freedom to improvise a lot. He really did.
Channing had worked with Jamie before, and beyond acting in 10 Years, he was also very involved in the development of the film. Did that make it even more special as an actress to be a part of?
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It was definitely. That was a big difference to be working with him now vs. Step Up, because he was a producer on this one, so he had a lot of say in the way things were looking. There’s also a lot more pressure. There’s a lot more going on. You’re not just there saying your lines and doing your job, you have to think about so many other things as a producer. Even though I wasn’t technically a producer on this one, I was supporting him through his producing process. (laughs) So that brings in… you learn a lot. You learn how to work with people. You learn how to work with actors. You learn how to work with directors in a different way. It was a really big learning experience.
Jess was sort of an outsider to the group, having not gone to the school or known these people before that day. Did that make the character an interesting tightrope to walk? Have you ever been in that kind of situation where you were catching up on everyone else’s in jokes and backgrounds?
Yes. It was an interesting dynamic, especially because I have done that before. I have definitely gone and accompanied somebody I’ve been with or a friend of mine somewhere I didn’t know anyone. I moved around a lot as a kid. I moved every two or three years to a new city. So I’m very familiar with the feeling of not knowing anyone and having to go in and make friends.
The film is obviously strongly about nostalgia for the past. What kind of things make you feel nostalgic?
Ooh. I feel nostalgic when I hear certain songs that remind me of my dance competitions when I was a kid. Cheesy Nineties songs. You know, like Black Box and C&C Music Factory. Stuff like that makes me immediately go back to dance competitions. When I walk through the MGM Grand in Vegas, it reminds me of our national dance competitions. We were always there when I was a kid. Every year. Little things like that. Little memories. Smells sometimes can bring me back. There was a perfume called “Beautiful” by Estee Lauder that I used to wear, that my first boyfriend gave me. That will bring me back immediately.
Obviously Channing’s character was truly in love with yours, but he had some unresolved issues to work out with Rosario Dawson’s character. In real life, do you think you’d be so confident to step back and let him figure it out like your character did?
Yeah. Yeah. You know what, that was a big input I had, as far as my character Jess, because I wanted… You know, we filmed it chronologically so we knew that that moment was coming up. We weren’t sure, we debated back and forth whether we wanted her to stay or leave or what would be the right course of action. When we got there, I just felt that it was a stronger choice. Trust in their relationship. Trust in the love that they have for each other. Sometimes, love isn’t perfect. Sometimes, you do need to revisit something to learn about yourself. That’s what I tell him. He needed to resolve, not so much feelings with Rosario as it was some aspect of himself that he was unsure about, that he needed to come to a conclusion about so that he could move forward with Jess. That was the most mature, and I think the most watchable version of what we could do at that moment.
Obviously, Step Up was an important movie for you because you met your husband, but it was also your biggest hit to date. What was the movie like to make?
It’s so special. I grew up with movies like Dirty Dancing, that was my favorite movie ever. I can watch it over and over and over. People come up to me and say, “Oh my God, I’ve seen Step Up 700 times” and “I watch it every other day” and “it’s my favorite movie.” That’s what we all dream of. That’s what actors dream of. We want to be a part of something that can affect people on a mass level and can be guilty pleasure for them. That is like a huge, huge accomplishment to me. And of course, you know, I met my husband. (laughs) That is the prime reason that I think that movie happened. It will always be a special memory to me.
They recently released a fourth Step Up movie. Have you been surprised by the series’ staying power?
Oh, yes. It is shocking to me. We had no idea when we were filming the first Step Up that it would ever one day become a huge series or even a franchise. It’s wild. It’s exciting and super flattering.
You obviously started out as a dancer, would you like to do more movies like Step Up and Take the Lead that take advantage of that, like a musical?
I would love to do a musical. That’s one of my biggest dreams in life, to do either a film musical or do something on Broadway. I would love to do it. I would love to dance again. I miss dancing. It will always be my first passion. I would love to bring it back in my life again.
You took your first TV series last year with The Playboy Club. Unfortunately it didn’t last very long – I actually liked the pilot a lot.
How was it different working on a series than a film? Would you like to do more TV?
Yeah. I like both. I love acting. I want to be doing this forever. Whether it’s film or TV, I just look for good role. Honestly, I look for things that I feel that I can connect in with and then I just have fun doing it. And that doesn’t mean it has to be a funny role, it means it has to be something that lights you up from within. A lot of times it doesn’t look like what everyone else thinks it might look like. I read scripts and everyone in the world is like, “this is the best script I’ve ever read,” and it’s good, but it doesn’t really light me up. Then I’ll read things that other people are like, “I don’t know if this story is for you,” and I’m like, “Oh, I love this. I think I could have a lot of fun doing this.” So, a part of me just sort of goes off my gut. The Playboy Club was such a fun experience. I would absolutely be open to doing more TV.
What else do you have coming up?
I have American Horror Story, the second season, starting October 17th. I play opposite Adam Levine [of Maroon 5]. We play newlyweds. And there you go. (laughs) That’s about all I can say because I’m sworn to secrecy.