By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When Paramount Pictures decided the time was right to remake the iconic 1984 hit film "Footloose," the big question was "Who's going be able to fill Kevin Bacon's old dancing shoes?"
The answer is Kenny Wormald, a 27 year-old Boston native who makes his movie debut in the new film that opens in theaters on Friday.
Directed by Craig Brewer ("Hustle and Flow") and co-starring Dennis Quaid, Andie MacDowell and Julianne Hough, the story pits a small town's teenagers against adults who pass a harsh ban on dancing following a tragic car crash.
Wormald spoke to Reuters about how Justin Timberlake helped him land the lead role, becoming an actor and performing at the White House.
Q: Is it true Justin Timberlake recommended you for the part of Ren McCormick?
A: "I went to audition for the first time and they saw his name on my resume, so they contacted him and he gave me a couple of thumbs up and said 'He's a good kid and a great dancer.'"
Q: But didn't you still have to fight for the role?
A: "Absolutely ... It was a fight, but a good one. There were a lot of auditions, and I was working very hard on my acting."
Q: The dancing part was obviously no problem for you, but the acting part must have been a lot more pressure?
A: "Yes, I loved the original and Kevin Bacon, especially being a dancer. But Craig didn't want to just hire some dancers, and he called me up to instill some confidence right after I got the role to tell me I got it because of my acting, not my dancing. And if you've seen his other films you know he's a true filmmaker. He didn't want to make some Hollywood fluff dance movie. So I felt a real sense of responsibility to do a great job. Going in, maybe I felt like a dancer who could act, but coming out, I felt more like an actor who can dance."
Q: How much of you is in character Ren?
A: "Quite a bit. I could definitely relate. I got teased a lot for missing baseball practice and doing ballet instead.. Kids are terrible at that age, at junior high. They make fun of you if you wear the wrong color shoes. So ballet? But I kept my nose to the grindstone and I loved dancing -- not to mention I was in a room with 40 girls! I knew deep down it was a great situation."
Q: You're from Boston and so is your character in the film. So what happened to that distinctive accent?
A: "I've learned to tone it down. I saw the looks on people's faces when I opened my mouth at auditions. It wasn't helping me."
Q: Is it true you danced for former President Bill Clinton at the White House?
A: "Yes, I went a couple of years for a big Easter celebration they have. I was just 10 the first time, and it was my first paid job. I got to shake his hand and I remember thinking, 'This is the coolest thing ever!'"
Q: You also appeared in "Jackass 2." How was that?
A: "Nuts! But they're fun. I was in the Broadway dance at the end, and the Jackass crew took it pretty seriously. They hired a top choreographer, but then they were doing all this stupid (stuff) around us while we danced. They were wild."
Q: What's the wildest thing you've done recently?
A: "Walk down the red carpet of my own premiere. It's the most insane thing I've ever seen -- and I've been to a few premieres and red carpets. Usually people don't give a damn about me, but all these fans were screaming and I had my family with me and all my friends and they got to see it firsthand. People love 'Footloose!'"
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney)