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Remaking ‘Dirty Dancing’: How the TV Movie Turned into Summer Camp for the Cast

by A. Raymond Johnson 7:05 AM PDT, May 23, 2017
Photo: ABC

It’s the perfect summer day in western North Carolina -- sunny, breezy and warm with blues skies reflecting against the lake and stretching for miles over rolling green meadows -- and entering the grounds of the country club, a giant “Kellerman’s Lodge” sign greets you from the golf course. Couples in starched, pastel outfits sit in rocking chairs on the porch waiting on cues from the director, while a dance coach run moves on the practice log that hovers twelve inches above the ground. The set of ABC’s highly anticipated Dirty Dancing musical reimagining -- starring Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin as Baby and Colt Prattes as Johnny Castle -- is the fancy summer camp experience of your dreams and the cast has bonded tightly just like kids at the end of the season.

It’s understandable how close they’ve come -- besides being stuck in a remote mountain paradise for weeks on end, together they also face the daunting task of stepping into classic roles, remaking a beloved film that has both mainstream popularity and a cult fan following.

MORE: Watch the First Trailer for ABC's 'Dirty Dancing' Remake

Prattes, who became famous as a dancer with Pink before being cast in Patrick Swayze’s iconic role, recalls to ET getting the call from his agent. “I was driving my wife to work. I jumped out of the car and ran around in circles.” His excitement about the project overshadowed any reservations about the remake. “Patrick Swayze is Dirty Dancing,” says Prattes. “Nobody can do what he did, but I bring myself to it as best I can and hope I can do it justice.”

What has proven to be difficult, then? “Tango and talking was not so easy,” says Bruce Greenwood, who plays Baby’s father, Dr. Jake Houseman. Trevor Einhorn agrees it’s surprisingly hard to deliver lines while dancing. His character Neil Kellerman gets more backstory in “Dirty Dancing 2.0,” but reassures that the remake has all the songs -- “She’s Like the Wind,” “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” “Hungry Eyes” -- people fell in love with. “I think it will be another version that people will celebrate, it goes hand in hand with the original.”

And the other version, to be exact, is a reimagining of the popular 1987 romantic drama about an innocent young woman who (Grey), disappointed by her summer in a sleepy family resort, becomes enraptured by a dance instructor (Swayze) who enlists her to be his new dance partner. It’s the same classic story, updated with themes like race, women’s rights and socioeconomic division for a new generation of audiences -- and new musical numbers. “I definitely do a little bit of singing,” Prattes teases.

Photo: ABC

Furthering the summer camp vibe is comradery among the cast. While some of the actors are done filming for the day that ET is on set, they come back to support each other between takes and make dinner plans. Greenwood jokes about who will carry his clubs during an afternoon round of golf. Shane Harper (Robbie Gould) and Beau Casper Smart (Billy Kostecki) -- whose then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez spent time with the cast Instgramming dance videos in animal onesies -- tease Sarah Hyland about the local waiter who mistook her for Mila Kunis.  

“This has been one of the funnest sets I’ve worked on, I’m sorely going to miss this cast,” says Hyland, who is taking on another older sibling role with the part of Lisa Houseman. “I’ve know Abby for 19 years, I do feel like a big sister to her.”

MORE: 'Dirty Dancing' Turns 30! 9 Things You Didn't Know About the Iconic Film

Everyone speaks lovingly of Breslin and the hard work she put into playing Baby, the role originated by Jennifer Grey. “I was so uncoordinated,” she confesses, so she started rehearsing two weeks ahead of everyone else to learn the dancing. “When I first met Colt, it was very similar to Baby and Johnny -- he’s a dancer and got right down to business.” He supported her emotionally through the shoot as well as physically for the infamous lifts. “I don’t like heights and the biggest thing about a lift is you have to trust the person,” Breslin says of the terrifying moment.

Their connection paid off. When they finally did do the lift, “and we held it, I was just like, ‘Ahhh! I did it. I'm here,’” the actress says.

After nailing the move on the first take of the final dance scene, Nicole Scherzinger, who plays Penny Rivera, was so absorbed in the moment she missed her line. The director yelled cut and immediately cast and crew all around her burst into tears. “She worked and worked and worked and she nailed it…everyone’s souls were on fire,” says Prattes. “I’ll remember that lift more than anything.”

“It was an explosive, joyous moment -- the entire room was holding their breath, willing it to happen,” says Debra Messing, who plays Marjorie Houseman, Baby’s mother. “She was not a dancer before, but with determination and hard work, look what she’s become: She really is our Baby.”

Dirty Dancing premieres Wednesday, May 24 on ABC.

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