Let’s Hear It For The Girl: Sarah Jessica Parker On The Making Of FOOTLOOSE

Sarah Jessica Parker, be forewarned: This story may embarrass you.

Back in 1984, just as Footloose was debuting in theaters nationwide, the then-18-year-old Parker granted me an interview. Her co-star Lori Singer was originally supposed to do the promotional plug, but she had been called away to shoot The Falcon and the Snowman in Mexico. So Parker generously stepped in. She was dividing her time between rehearsing To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday at Circle in the Square and filming a domestic drama called Firstborn, with Teri Garr, Peter Weller, Christopher Collet and a young actor who would soon become Parker's boyfriend, Robert Downey Jr.

Footloose represented a huge break for Parker, her first substantial role in a movie. At the time, she was primarily known for having played the title role in Annie on Broadway and for her short-lived but much-loved TV series Square Pegs, in which she and Amy Linker played adorably geeky high school outcasts trying to click with the right cliques.

Signing on to Square Pegs had been a tough decision for Parker: "Doing television for me was such a weird experience," she recalled. "I'd never made a pact or a vow [not to do TV], but I'd focused my career in a different direction. I was a little embarrassed because New York puts this attitude into theater people's minds that television is silly work, and if you do television, that means you're selling out.

"But I was really proud of Square Pegs. I thought it was a quality show. It was my first opportunity to see that television is underrated. I think people have the wrong attitude about what is available to them on television."

Footloose had been in the works at Paramount for several years and had initially been planned as a comeback project for Michael Cimino after the debacle of Heaven's Gate. Just as the project was gearing up in 1981, Cimino demanded $250,000 to rewrite Dean Pitchford's screenplay as an anti-Moral Majority screed, in which Ren McCormack is part of an army of unemployed, Grapes of Wrath-ish wanderers who are shunned and shamed by the sinister reverend who dominates a Southwestern town.

"My John Steinbeck-inspired musical comedy didn't reach the screen," Cimino once griped on Twitter. Footloose producer Craig Zadan responded, "Cimino wanted to make a darker movie; we wanted to make an entertainment." In no time at all, Cimino was booted off Footloose and Herbert Ross took over the director's chair. Paramount would get the mainstream commercial film it wanted: the movie grossed over $80 million in its initial release.

Parker joined Footloose when her former Square Pegs' co-star Tracy Nelson backed out of the film at the last minute, unhappy with script rewrites that made Rusty less rowdy and more dowdy. So, within the space of 24 hours, Parker had to clear her schedule, pack her bags and hop on a plane to rural Utah to join the cast in the summer of 1983.

She, Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer and Christopher Penn found excitement hard to come by in the Mormon-dominated community where alcohol had to be smuggled in across the state line and partying was frowned upon. One of their big nights involved a group trip into town to see Richard Gere and Valerie Kaprisky's steamy remake of Breathless. "We couldn't believe it was playing there!" Parker said, with a laugh.

She confessed to having a major crush on Bacon, although neither of them did anything about it. "We'd just kind of smile at each other," she said, with a wistful giggle.

Strangely enough, music was in short supply on the Footloose set since most of the songs were still being written or finished up while the movie was shooting. Parker revealed that Penn's show-stopping Willard-learns-to-dance montage, which is underscored by Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It For the Boy," was actually choreographed on the set to Karla Bonoff's song "Somebody's Eyes." 

When it came to kicking up their heels, Broadway-trained Parker and Singer, a veteran of TV's Fame, were better prepared than Bacon or Penn, both of whom required several weeks of intense study. Much to her surprise, Parker learned a few lessons of her own.

"It was the first time in my life I was really alone," Parker said of that summer. "But it was really good for me because I was always an independent person anyway, and it was the first time I got to test my independence as far away from home as that. And that was what provoked my moving out of my home, because I realized it was something I could deal with: I was budgeting my time and disciplining myself."

Soon after her return from Utah, Parker landed her first apartment and learned the ropes of being on her own.

"I don't realize until the situation arises that I can stay out as late as I want, I can sleep as late as I want -- that there's no supervision, and it's all up to me," Parker said. "It has changed me because I've acquired an ability to supervise myself and be as much of an adult as I can, and I think that's been really good for me."

Parker also had to face the cold realities of what happens after shooting wraps on a movie. Although Bacon and Singer lived nearby in New York, there had been no Footloose reunions at her apartment, which came as something of a shock to her.

"When you're thrown together (making the movie), you have the option of either not getting along or really making it work and, since this was my first film, I thought making it work meant that you were all going to be friends forever -- and it can't be like that," Parker said. "Really, you only have so much in common. You get to know people well enough that you get along, and that's great. But (afterward) everybody's life goes back to what it was."

At that time, the future Carrie Bradshaw couldn't have had any idea that a little more than a decade later, she would have no trouble finding Manhattan faithful friends with names like Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte.

This was originally published in April's issue of Birth.Movies.Death., in honor of films celebrating their thirtieth anniversary this year. See The Class of 1984 at the Alamo Drafthouse this month!

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