EXCLUSIVE: Sixteen Years Later, Peter Gallagher Is Still in Awe Over 'Center Stage's' Staying Power

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After nearly two decades, Center Stage is still going strong -- and Peter Gallagher is right at the center of it.

Since 2000, Gallagher has played the hard-nosed American Ballet Company director and choreographer Jonathan Reeves, and serves as the beloved dance franchise’s constant thread, alongside Sascha Radetsky (Charlie Sims) and Ethan Stiefel (Cooper Nielsen). Now, as Center Stage prepares to debut its third movie, Center Stage: On Pointe, Gallagher is still in awe over the continued adoration by dancers and non-dancers alike.

“I find it remarkable,” Gallagher, 60, tells ET of the strong response for Center Stage, calling it “a time capsule.” “When we first started, Sascha and Ethan were dancing onstage, and now, Sascha and Ethan are retired.”

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Gallagher isn’t the only familiar face making a welcome return in Center Stage: On Pointe. Along with Radetsky and Stiefel, Center Stage: Turn It Up leads Kenny Wormald (Tommy Anderson) and Rachele Brooke Smith (Kate Parker) usher in a new generation of characters, led by Nicole Munoz as Kate’s younger sister, Bella, desperate to step into her own limelight, and model-dancer Barton Cowperthwaite as the charming Damon.

Ahead of the Center Stage: On Pointe premiere, Gallagher jumped on the phone with ET to talk about the lasting effect of the franchise, whether he’d be up for a fourth movie and how the franchise has evolved since 2000.

ET: Did you ever think that this franchise would be going strong, more than 15 years after the first film hit theaters?

Peter Gallagher:
There’s something very committed and passionate about a dance audience, at least as far as I’ve been able to discover. My mother-in-law teaches ballet and dance up in Boston. My wife was a ballet dancer, so I keep hearing through these dancers, how much they love Center Stage, which is why it’s been so much fun to be able to keep bringing it back because as an audience, they’re apparently dying to see another one!

I own the first movie on DVD and I find myself re-watching it every couple of months.

It’s the real thing. The dancing was just thrilling and the choreography was thrilling. I remember going to the first ABT rehearsal, just for research, and I was crying. It was all I could do not to sob -- it was so impressive and so beautiful. I’m excited about seeing this one because of Director X. I could just feel that there was going to be a different energy and a freshness in how he was using the camera, how he was directing the scenes.

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You’ve played the same character, Jonathan, three times now. Has that sunk in?

I know, you’d think I’d have gotten it right! (Laughs.) Gotta do it again!

It’s very unique for an actor to have the opportunity to go back and check in with the character over the course of several years.

Yes, it’s very unusual. I’m shocked every time it happens -- and happily so. I think the journey Jonathan has taken is reflective of the struggle arts have had in the past 16 years when there appeared to be more funding. And then you see Jonathan struggling to keep his company open and having to adapt to change. It’s a journey that seems to make sense.

That’s where Center Stage: On Pointe picks up, with the American Ballet Company struggling to stay afloat and adapt to the changing times in dance. How is this third movie different compared to the first two?

It reflects the struggles dance companies and arts organizations have had, particularly since the financial meltdown and the more austere approach to the arts. In that way, it does reflect the real-life struggle for any arts organizations and finding funding where you can find it, so you’ve got to applaud all the arts organizations and dance companies that do manage to survive because it’s clearly not an easy climate.

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You’re reuniting with Kenny, Sascha, Ethan and Rachele. What was it like coming together again as the core group who are now veterans of the franchise?

That was one of the big draws for me. I could see Ethan, Sascha, Kenny and Rachele again and we just picked up like no time had passed. We were laughing our heads off. They’re great guys to hang out with. The only drag about the shoot was it wasn’t very long -- it was just a couple of days for us. But it was great fun. It honors the relationships we started in that first movie and I think we’re all really happy to see that everyone’s doing really well and moving on with their lives.

When did you first realize Center Stage had staying power?

I really realized it on the street more. I just didn’t understand [its effect]. In the Broadway shows I’ve done since, because you have direct contact with the fans -- my mother-in-law’s dance students were just so passionate people about that movie. And I was happy about it because that first Center Stage was particularly thrilling. Things like dance will never cease to enthrall and inspire many, many, many people. That was the lesson to me: If you somehow show dance in an honorable light, it will work its magic.

If they’re going to make another movie -- Center Stage 4 -- would you be open to revisiting Jonathan every couple of years?

I have to just do it one script at a time and cross that bridge when we come to it. If they don’t make another one for 10 years, that could be a little scary. (Laughs.) We’ll see.

Center Stage: On Pointe
premieres Saturday, June 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.