Shankman Spills on ‘Step Up,’ Celebrity Pals and Tom Cruise’s Dance Moves

Adam Shankman (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Adam Shankman‘s resume is stunning.

Among his claims to fame, the 48-year-old has danced behind music’s biggest acts, choreographed classic films such as “Boogie Nights” and “Hairspray,” and judged aspiring pop-and-lockers on  “So You Think You Can Dance.” As if that weren’t enough, Shankman has also directed superstars such as Tom Cruise in “Rock of Ages.”

But what’s his true passion? Dance.

The Los Angeles-native has worked on all four of the wildly successful “Step Up” films, which have combined for a worldwide gross of nearly $600 million. He produced, choreographed and appeared in the Channing Tatum-driven original, and remained a behind-the-scenes staple in each subsequent movie, including the latest installment, “Step Up Revolution.”

“Step Up Revolution,” which is now available with XFINITY On Demand, follows the story of “The Mob,” a Miami-based dance group that hopes to win a YouTube contest with their creative flash mob dance routines. Hollywood newcomer Ryan Guzman plays Sean, a struggling dancer who falls in love with a wealthy girl named Emily, played by Kathryn McCormick.

I recently chatted with Adam about the movie,  working with Elizabeth Taylor, and which mega-star’s dance moves really surprised him.

Laura Hibbs: You’ve worked on every “Step Up” installment. What sets “Step Up Revolution” apart from the others?

Adam Shankman: Miami ended up being a lot sexier than Baltimore and New York. It gave us a nice palate to play with. We also lucked out by going away from battles and going to flash mobs. I loved that we returned to a variety of dance styles. The dance numbers really come from the passions of the directors. When we hired directors on this movie we really looked for people who are completely immersed in the notion of doing something completely different and wonderful.

Click here to start ordering ‘Step Up Revolution’ with XFINITY On Demand

Hibbs: One of the stars of the movie, Kathryn McCormick, competed on “So You Think You Can Dance.” Did you help her get this role?

Shankman: I didn’t know she had auditioned until very late. It was down to her and one other person. When I saw it was Kathryn my jaw dropped. I was so excited. I was in great support of her getting the part, but no one told me that it was happening until it was done.

Shankman and Channing Tatum (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Hibbs: What has it been like watching Channing Tatum bloom into a huge celebrity?

Shankman: We’ve had a couple of these guys, between Channing and Zac Efron, that we helped launched. I could not be more proud. It could not have happened to a nicer guy. We knew after the movie, when Channing and Jenna Dewan got together, that they were never going to split up. They are too nice. His number one priority will always be her. It is that kind of stuff that makes you really happy. You’re really rooting for the good guy, and that is Channing. It is a great source of pride.

Hibbs: Have you spoken to Channing since he was voted People’s “Sexiest Man Alive”?

 Shankman: I have not spoken to him since the People came out, but there have been some amusing emails. The second that he came on our radar I was like “Oh boy, he’s got it.”

Hibbs: Do you think Ryan Guzman and Kathryn McCormick have the same star power potential?

Shankman: I think that Ryan Guzman is another stunner. I think he is going to really hit, but it has to do with how much they want and what they want. They can have anything. I look forward to amazing things for them in their future. I really think with the right ambition and the right choices they can do whatever they want.

Hibbs: You’ve been in their shoes. How difficult is it for a dancer to make it in the industry?

Shankman: It is easier now than it used to be. Between the “Step Up” movies, “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Glee” and the pros on “Dancing with the Stars,” there is a very vast forum for the dance community to be seen. For the first time in a long time there are dance choreographers who are household names. It is a really good time for dance.

Watch Guzman & McCormick join the amazing ‘Office Mob’ below:

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Hibbs: What was your first big break as a dancer in Hollywood?

Shankman: The American Music Awards, I danced for Janet Jackson. The year after that, in 1990, was the Oscars and I danced for Paula Abdul. I got exposed to all the dancers in the community, it was a very big show.

Hibbs: How about as a choreographer?

Shankman: Growing up I was friends with Penelope Ann Miller. At the time she was starring in a movie called “The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag.” There was this crazy line-dancing scene and she got them to hire me. From there, my actor friends started requesting me for their films. That same year, and this is an awful and monstrous horror story, the two biggest movie choreographers working at the time died. I just was there to catch all the work. It started raining down on me. It makes me feel guilty.

Hibbs: You made the transition from choreographer to director on 2001’s “The Wedding Planner.” Tell me about that.

Shankman: It was the easiest transition possible. I was so used to being on set. By that time I had done 60 movies and hundreds of television commercials. All my time was spent on set. I knew what everybody did, I knew what everything was. As a choreographer, what I do is tell people where to go and what to do. It just expanded.

Hibbs: I noticed on your Twitter that you watched Lindsay Lohan’s new movie “Liz and Dick.” What did you think?

Elizabeth Taylor in 'The Flintstones' (Photo: MCA Universal)

Shankman: Oh that’s not a nice thing to ask! More than anything, it is very hard to say because Larry Thompson, who produced it, is my father’s old law partner and I’ve known him since I was born. I just really thought they did no great service to her memory. I wish it had been a little bit more fun. It was very distraught and unhappy and made Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton out to be the world’s most ardent narcissists. It sort of shunned their great, vast and extraordinary careers.

Hibbs: Have you ever worked with Lindsay Lohan?

Shankman: I’ve never worked with Lindsay, but I did work with Elizabeth Taylor for the craziest, briefest moment! One of the first movies I choreographed was “The Flintstones” and she played Wilma’s mother. She had to do this crazy conga line thing with Dino. I was in heaven. It was certainly a moment, especially because it was at the beginning of my career. It was a moment for sure.

Hibbs: Of all the celebrities you have worked with, has anyone really surprised you with their dance moves?

Shankman: No one has really surprised me… I really loved putting together the number in “Hairspray” with Christopher Walken. But it didn’t surprise me because I knew Chris and John Travolta could do it.

Hibbs: How about Tom Cruise in “Rock of Ages”?

Shankman: Oh yes! Tom did surprise me. I never knew he had that in him. I had no idea. Tom is insatiably hungry for additional knowledge. That is why he did “Rock of Ages.” He knew he might never have that opportunity again.

Hibbs: Who is a better dancer… Tom Cruise or John Travolta?

Shankman: Oh! John Travolta. John is an actual dancer. Tom had to learn to do all those moves.

“Step Up Revolution” is available now on DVD, Blu-Ray and XFINITY On Demand.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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