Often it’s the people that are behind the scenes that make a movie amazing. There is a lot more that goes into making a movie than what meets the eye. Actors may seem flawless in each and every scene but there are people that you don’t see that make that magic happen. Kenny Ortega is one of those people. You may not recognize the name Kenny Ortega but I assure you, you know who he is. Kenny is the mastermind behind classic films such as Dirty Dancing, Hocus Pocus, Pretty In Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, High School Musical and most recently Disney’s Descendants.
You may not know much about Disney’s Descendants just yet, but within the next few days, especially if you have kids, you are going to be all too familiar with this name. Descendants is directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega and will premiere on the Disney Channel on July 31st. I got a chance to not only see the film in it’s entirety but also interview the genius behind it, Mr. Ortega.
World Famous Choreographer Kenny Ortega
Before our interview with Kenny, I have to be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about him. However after meeting him I was blown away at all of his accomplishments and humbleness at them. He is truly one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing. His excitement level for what he does is through the roof and you can’t help but be drawn into his charism and charm.
What inspires you?
Years and years ago I had the opportunity to work with Gene Kelly. Xanadu is what brought us together. Gene Kelly was someone who I grew up wanting to be like. Singing, dancing, acting, directing, choreographing. You know, I loved all of it and we became friends. He became my mentor and he used to say to me that there needs to be a reason at the center of your ideas that motivates all of your work and so that and things that I shared with Michael Jackson and other amazing people that came into my life as mentors and teachers and friends.
You said out of all the musicals, Descendants, had very special memories for you. Why?
I think perhaps it had a lot to do in the beginning Gary Marsh reached out to me and said I’ve been waiting ever since High School Musical and our success together as a team to find something that had your name on it that would give me purpose to call you and to say come on back and so I’m sending you something tonight. Will you take a moment to look at it. I hope that you feel about it as I do and when I read it I was blown away. I was a kid that grew up watching Disney and watching Disney animations, Cruella Deville, Maleficent, you know, all of these magnificent Walt Disney characters and suddenly they were on the page and I was like I’m being invited to be able to like play with these iconic heritage characters and their offspring and to develop brand new characters for Disney. So right there it was like so thrilling for me.
Did you find any challenges with the kids that didn’t have dance or did they catch on fairly easy?
It’s something that I’ve done all along all the way back to Newsies which was my first film as a director. Christian Bale had come to us. He was not a dancer, not a singer. David Moscow just all of the leading kids were actors. Gabriel Damon, Max Casella, Marty Balasko. All these amazing kids were these amazing actors but that had this sort of drive and ambition and they were ready for anything and they wanted to be challenged and they were brave and courageous kids and I felt that with these people.
On Descendants we had kind of a factory. We had three different rooms. I had an amazing group of assistants that worked with Paul Becker, my associate choreographer and I and these kids were given dance class, improv. They were stretched. They were given private tutoring and then also the dancers generously sort of took it upon themselves to sort of mentor the actors.
So you watched kids learn really ten times as fast as they might in an ordinary situation. Dove went from being a none dancer to being able to attack the movement as ferociously as anybody in the room. I mean and again that takes not only focus and determination but a lot of bravery. We had some brave kids working on this movie.
What was your favorite Scene?
My favorite? I think Rotten to the Core and I’ll tell you why. I started it as, as an actor at 13 years old and I was lucky enough to be in the original London touring production of Oliver and when I first read the script and started to imagine the world I thought of the Island of Loss, a bit of Dickens and a little kind of old London town under the bridge, that darker underworld and I loved the idea of being able to take Rotten to the Core, use it as character introduction and also to introduce us a bit to the island, what this place is.
I noticed that in this movie there’s a central love story but there’s no kissing which is awesome. is that a conscience decision?
Absolutely, leave something, you know. There’s too much pressure put on that aspect of relationships. Get to know somebody, really know somebody. Yeah, that was a conscience decision and also I just think that we all have hopes that perhaps this might grow. You don’t know. You can’t predict but, you know, it allows these children to mature into young adults and to blossom in ways that they’re not there yet.
Do you actively seek the cast out or did you have them in mind?
I tell you. I worked with Kristen Chenoweth. I directed her before and I’m in love with her and I saw her four times on Broadway in Wicked. I did get to see her opening night of on the 20th Century and I’m going back for her closing night and party. I’m going to be part of the introduction of her getting her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and so I’m a huge fan. I blush. She sends me videos and I drop the phone.
Gary Marsh called me and he said what do you think of Kristen Chenoweth to play Maleficent? It was not only a yes I wanna work with her in any capacity but what she’d do with this. She’s so brilliant. She’s so versatile, so capable. You know, she’s such fun, a real team player and so it was a delight and I was like yes, let’s go after her and it wasn’t easy. She was a busy lady. When we finally got her to commit it was a joyous day and no one was more excited than Dove who grew up idealizing her and when Dove found out that Kristen was playing her mother in the movie I mean fireworks went off and Kathy Nagimy is one of my favorite human beings on the planet.
She is an awesome lady. We stayed friends for over 23 years since we did Hocus Pocus and she always brings something to the table doesn’t she, in everything that she does and these kids. I can’t say more about them. I mean we took our time. We put them through heck. I mean some of them auditioned, eight, 12 times back again, back again, back again. That they kept coming back was a part of what helped me realized that they were in it to win it and that whatever it took for them to land these roles.
If you could work with anybody who you haven’t worked with who would it be?
Wow, Meryl Streep. Janet Jackson, Bruno Mars, George Clooney and I would love to work with Christian Bale again. There are a lot of people, a lot of people out there. There’s so much talent in the world, Broadway talent.
The fans want to know will there be a sequel?
It’s up to them. You ask for it, you get it. I would love there to be one. I think I can speak for everyone from Kristen, to Dove, all of us. We have the times of our lives. We hope that there’s an opportunity for us to continue this and, you know, forward but the fans will have to be the deciding factor.
The First 6 Minutes Of Disney’s Descendants
Disney Descendants will air on the Disney Channel on July 31st at 8pm. Don’t miss it!