Ryan Guzman is an actor who dances, not a dancer who acts. And so the toughest part of making his second Step Up movie was getting you to believe he has been dancing since he took his first steps.
“The hardest thing is matching my skill level to the professional dancers who’ve been dancing for 25 years,” says the 26-year-old star of Step Up All In, which opens Friday. “Acting like I can dance is one thing, but making it believable to the audience is another. I’m training nonstop with these dancers, learning the ins and outs and everything I can to make it look like I’m as good as they are.”
The fifth film in the high-energy series, Step Up All In picks up about six months after Step Up Revolution, which was shot in Miami (Guzman found that shoot memorable after he went Jet Skiing on a day off with some of his co-stars and returned with jellyfish stings all over his body). In the new film, Sean (Guzman) and his dance crew have moved to Los Angeles but can’t find work. His friends go back home, but Sean stays and decides to put a new crew together when he learns about a dance competition in Las Vegas with a three-year contract at Caesar’s Palace as the prize.
The plots of the Step Up movies are similar — young dancers strive for success — but the storylines aren’t the point, Guzman says.
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“We realize we’re a dance film,” he says. “We embrace that instead of shying away from it. There’s more dancing in Step Up All In — and better dancing, because that’s what the fans want.”
Step Up All In’s thrilling dance sequences and tight shooting schedule kept the cast working nonstop. Guzman and his co-stars (who include Briana Evigan and Adam G. Sevani from earlier films) had three weeks to get the numbers down before shooting started, but there was so much to learn they were rehearsing almost every moment they weren’t in front of the camera.
“Whenever we had spare time, we’d rehearse,” Guzman says. “We rehearsed the day each number was shot. It’s nonstop with the Step Up films. ... The choreographers are the key to pulling off these huge, amazing stunts and putting that vision into play. They don’t want you to say, ‘Oh, this film is just like the other one.’ They’re amazing.”
The jaw-dropping finale took the longest to shoot, about a day and a half. Other dance scenes were shot in a couple of hours. Guzman’s favorite? His romp with Evigan around an old amusement park ride to Bobby Brown’s Every Little Step: “I had so much fun doing those ’90s dance moves, grooving out to an old-school song.”
Guzman credits his mixed martial arts training for helping him stay focused.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without the MMA,” he says. “The discipline and determination I had to have for martial arts, I carry on as an actor.” And there’s an added benefit: “I know even the worst day of acting isn’t going to be anything compared to getting hit in the face by five different guys!”
That determination keeps Guzman on target to use the Step Up films as a springboard to bigger and better parts, just like the first film’s star, Channing Tatum. Next up for him is the Jennifer Lopez film The Boy Next Door, which opens early next year, and a live-action version of Jem and the Holograms.
“I’m very stubborn,” Guzman says. “After Step Up Revolution I was known as ‘the dancer guy.’ … I’m not taking the ‘dancer guy’ label and leaving it as it is. I’m continuing to grow. I would like to get more into drama and action and then direct and produce. I want to step outside the boundaries and learn what I can from the industry. I started from a blank slate three years ago. I’ve learned so much and evolved so much.”