Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Puerto Rican actress Ziah Colón has always embraced both her Latina and southern roots.
“We spoke Spanish at home, listened to salsa and ate rice and beans,” Colón told me during an exclusive interview last week. “Then, my parents would also take me to Civil War reenactments. I had these two really amazing cultures that are now so much a part of me.”
While she can’t remember “when the acting bug bit [her],” Colón knows it’s all she has wanted to do her entire life. After high school, she studied business for a short time at Clayton State University, but auditioning for roles always took precedent. Her big break in the industry came when she was cast in the remake of the 1984 musical “Footloose.”
In the remake, which opens at theaters Oct. 14, Colón plays Rusty Rodriguez, a teenager living in a small town in Tennessee where rock ’n’ roll and dancing has been banned. In the original, Rusty was played by Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City”).
During our interview, Colón talked about how she made Rusty her own character and how she was able to learn all the dance moves for the movie without a background in dance.
What was your reaction when you found out you earned a role in the remake of “Footloose?”
I’m not going to lie, I yelled in my living room. That week, I had three auditions – one with the casting director and two with [director] Craig Brewer. [Craig] called me himself on a Saturday morning and said, “I have two questions for you. How do you pronounce your name? And would you like to play Rusty Rodriguez?” I was ecstatic. That was on a Saturday. By Wednesday, we were already rehearsing.
Did you go back and revisit the original movie before you shot your version or did you want to start from a clean slate?
I was very aware of [the original]. I had seen it so many times over the years. I didn’t revisit it to create my character, but I already knew Rusty. I knew what kind of girl she was. I wanted to keep the essence that Sarah Jessica Parker brought to Rusty. I wanted to keep certain characteristics of her personality and then add my own aspects as well.
Do you worry people might compare you to Sarah?
I think it’s inevitable that people will do that, but it doesn’t worry me at all. I’m actually honored they would even compare me to her.
What is the auditioning process like for you at this point of your career?
I try to become my character and I get competitive with myself and bring that to the audition. I guess it takes a certain type of person to go into an audition room over and over again and just do it and not worry about being judged. It’s not easy or daunting. It just comes natural to me.
Talk about your background in dance before you took on this role. Did you have any moves you brought to the set?
(Laughs) Of course I had my own moves! I was not a professional dancer, unless dancing in the living room with your family counts. When I started on the film they asked me if I could dance and I said yes. Then I started working with a choreographer, who was so wonderful and patient. I had a month to prepare and worked very hard at it.
It sounds like you had to learn quite a bit of dancing in a short amount of time.
Yes, absolutely, but it was so much fun! We all became such good friends. It was like learning dance moves with my friends. It never felt too much like work. We just had a great time.
Where do you see your career going from here and what kinds of roles will you pursue?
Well, I hope to continue acting in films. I just want to find roles that spark my interest. I’m not going to stick to one genre because as an actor I want to explore. I want something that moves me.
Starring: Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Dennis Quaid
Directed by: Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”)
Written by: Dean Pitchford (1984’s “Footloose”) and Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”)
Director Craig Brewer’s remake of “Footloose” opens as the original did, thumping along with the rousing kinetic energy of Kenny Loggins’ title track from the ’80s guilty pleasure. Only instead of shots of dancing feet against a “Cosby Show” backdrop, Brewer uses it to kick off the film’s narrative with the first of many genuinely exciting dance sequences. As fun as the scene is, some cognitive dissonance sets in when you realize the characters are actually dancing to the song “Footloose” made famous by the movie “Footloose” that is being remade here. So what made the song famous in this universe? Does the original “Footloose” exist for them? Are these people aware they share the same names and life events with people in a fictional movie made 26 years ago?
The plot unfolds differently, however, taking the opportunity to play out a scene only referenced in the original film. Immediately after leaving the party, five teenagers, buzzed on liquor and dance, are killed in a head-on collision with a semi truck. One of the teens is the son of local preacher Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) who copes with his personal tragedy by leading an effort to save the children of Bomont, Georgia from themselves by setting out to criminalize loud music and public dancing.
Three years pass by the time Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) sets foot in town. Having just lost his mother to leukemia, Ren is taken in by his kindly aunt and uncle. Already on the town’s radar as a troublemaker after getting pulled over for playing his music too loud, Ren is introduced to Reverend Shaw and his daughter Ariel (Julianne Hough) at Shaw’s church. It’s here that city boy Ren learns about the small town’s Draconian restrictions on his right to dance, igniting his rebellion.
If you’ve seen the original film, you know what happens from here. Somewhat surprisingly, Brewer sticks to the original screenplay nearly word for word, although changes have been made to accommodate the evolution of society. The casual drug use has been relegated to the “bad guys” and the existence of non-white people has been acknowledged, most notably in an electric reboot of the dance sequence at a diner set to hip-hop instead of ’80s cheese pop.
While welcomed in some respects, stripping away the insulating layer of cheese of the original exposes this updated film’s flaws. Hough oozes enough sex appeal in her dance sequences to derail a freight train, but falls flat when called upon to emote effectively. Wormald also captivates while in motion, but no one is going to forget Kevin Bacon’s take on the role. The same goes for Quaid’s Reverend Shaw, whose kinder take on the role pales in comparison to John Lithgow’s stern presence. Throw in odd plot distractions like Ren’s acrobatic punch-dancing in an abandoned warehouse and a school bus demolition derby (that replaces the original’s just-as-puzzling game of tractor chicken) and you begin to wish you had the guilty pleasure excuse to fall back on while watching.