Jordan Fisher on why Netflix's Work It gave him the 'kick in the butt' he needed
"That is one of the beautiful things about it, is that it feels so good," the actor tells EW. "It is a dance film, right? But it's really about people. And it's about life throwing you curveballs and how to navigate and work with all of that. And plans that you have in your life changing due to unforeseen circumstances. And finding new passions throughout those things. This is such an anthem during this time."
Now streaming on Netflix, the dance comedy film follows Quinn (Sabrina Carpenter), a bookish high school senior who must start her own dance team to clinch an acceptance to her dream college (thanks to a little white lie she tells during an admissions interview). The problem? She can't dance. At all. She enlists her BFF Jasmine (Liza Koshy) and former champion dancer Jake (Fisher) to help her find her own rhythm and create a new team to take down the reigning champs at a major dance competition.
But why did Work It give Fisher the "kick in the butt" he didn't know he needed? Below, he talks about connecting with his character, filming the movie, his dreamy dance sequences, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are so many iconic dance movies out there, so how does Work It bring something new to the genre?
When I got the key art for Work It, it almost brought tears to my eyes. Especially during everything that's been going on, it's so nice to see a film, to look at the poster, and see all different shapes and sizes and colors and orientations and all of that. There's so much representation and it's all celebrated, every bit of it. It's awesome. There are few things that are as exciting as a kid sitting down watching a movie and being able to point at somebody at the screen and going, "That's me."
What was your favorite part of filming?
We all felt like we were in a summer camp. When you put a bunch of dancers in a cast, any downtime there is, you're going to hear music and you're going to see people freestyling and coming up with combos and all that stuff. It's just fun. We were all in Toronto together, and it's such a such an awesome city with great places to eat, which if you know me at all, you know that food is a definite love language of mine. [Laughs] So we were all thrown together, and at the end of the summer camp we kind of accidentally made a movie.
Even though Jake is a talented performer, he seems like a different kind of role for you. He's a former dancer, in a low place after an injury ended his career. What was it like bringing him to life?
It's a new kind of experience for anybody that's been a fan of anything that I've worked on. Jake is coming from a different place. At the beginning of the story you find him pretty down. Everything that he worked so hard for and loved so much was taken away from him due to an injury, and so to go from being a super-renowned and respected dancer and choreographer in the industry to all of a sudden be teaching dance at a children's dance studio? Granted, that is a great thing, but this was just a means to get by for him. Jake needed a way to pay rent, and all he knew and loved was dance, but that passion needed to be reinvigorated. It took this ragtag team of dancers and Quinn to remind him why he does what he does and why he loves doing it. Sometimes we all need that kick in the butt. It was a great reminder for me, and I really resonated with that.
What was it like getting into Jake's style of dancing? What did you want to bring to his performances?
It's not too dissimilar from mine. Even though Jake definitely specializes in hip-hop and acrobatics and aerial tricks and things like that, there's a real kind of suave, floaty nature to his movement that I personally like to incorporate. I was super-inspired by Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Michael Jackson as a kid, the guys that really figured out how to float on stage and defy gravity in a way. Everything looks so easy for them. That was really inspiring, and it's hard to do that. Jake especially is somebody that's very comfortable in his body and as somebody that's very comfortable in dance in general and multiple styles, so finding a weightlessness to him and finding a kind of a seamless nature, a style and way of movement that seemed like it was just easy for Jake, that was something that I've personally worked really hard to build and develop for myself, and I wanted to lend that to him.
Jake and Quinn's chemistry is off the charts, and you and Sabrina really sold it in all your scenes and dance numbers. How did you two go about finding your onscreen dynamic?
Needing to be needed and wanting to be wanted is something that's very important. All of the curveballs that are thrown at Quinn and all of the curveballs that are thrown at Jake, it kind of puts them both in a very parallel situation with one another. Jake needs purpose and doesn't really know about how to go about all of it, Quinn's not even looking for a guy. What's so great about their relationship is the fact that their relationship romantically isn't a super-necessary device where the story is concerned. We all date and we do our thing and we meet different people, blah blah blah, but eventually you're going to be running your race, and you're going to look to the left or to the right, you're going to see somebody that's going to be running a very similar race and you lock hands and go down that path together. Jake and Quinn do that very organically in the story, and that was really fun to explore.
It all culminates so beautifully on Jake and Quinn's first date — that dance sequence is just gorgeous.
Yeah, that was a fun one for us to put together. Aakomon Jones was our choreographer, and he was awesome. He really, knowing that I'm also a dancer and choreographer, wanted me to just guide her and lead her. So the whole rehearsal process and him building out choreography for it and us collaborating together on that moment, it was about Sabrina going with the flow and figuring things out in the way that Jake is trying to get Quinn to do. It was very similar to what you see in that scene; that's how we built that. What feels good? What's the next movement that feels good to us? Is it this lift? Is it this cross? Do we let go of each other and freestyle together? What does that look like, what does that feel like? And then building that out we came up with something that was very organic, and hopefully people love that moment for that reason.
What do you hope people take away from watching Work It?
I hope people feel good. I really do, especially right now. It's important to me to build things that take people out of their reality for a moment and in doing so also reminding them of their reality, that they're not alone in how they feel about things and they know they're not the only people in the world that's ever gone through something like any of the characters in the film. This is a film that's supposed to make you laugh and make you shed a tear, and ultimately at the end of it just feel amazing and want to dance. It's that simple. And I hope people get the messaging in that it is okay if plans and goals in your life change. I was supposed to get married a couple weeks ago, and we had to move it because COVID happened and COVID had different plans. We talked about it, our perspective is great, our outlook on everything is really great, and we moved the date. As plans change, that can ultimately lead you to really good things and great relationships and things that are good for you and your life. I hope that people grab on to that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.