Take the Lead: Starring Antonio Banderas

Antonio Banderas stars in Take the Lead, a drama inspired by the true story of Pierre Dulaine, an inspirational Manhattan dance teacher and competitor, who volunteers his time to teach ballroom dancing to a diverse group of New York inner-city high school students serving detention.

The students are initially skeptical of Dulaine, especially when they learn what hes there to teach them, but his unwavering commitment and dedication slowly inspire them to embrace his program. In fact, they even take it one step further and combine Dulaines classical dance with their unique hip-hop style and music to create a high-energy, unique fusion. As Dulaine becomes a mentor for his students, many of whom havent had much to strive towards in their lives, he inspires them to hone their craft for a prestigious city ballroom competition, and in return they share with each other valuable lessons about pride, respect and honor.
Joining Antonio Banderas in the ensemble cast are Rob Brown (Coach Carter, Finding Forrester), Yaya DaCosta (UPNs Top Model), Dante Basco (Biker Boyz), John Ortiz (Narc) Laura Benanti (Nine), Marcus T. Paulk (UPNs Moesha), Jenna Dewan (Tamara), and Alfre Woodard (Beauty Shop, ABCs Desperate Housewives).

Take the Lead marks the feature debut of veteran music video and commercial director Liz Friedlander (who has helmed videos for numerous artists including Joss Stone, U2, Blink 182 and Simple Plan). The film is written by Dianne Houston and produced by Diane Nabatoff, Michelle Grace and Christopher Godsick. The executive producers are Toby Emmerich, Matt Moore, Mark Kaufman, Ray Liotta and Mathew Hart.

The behind-the-scenes creative team includes cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy, production designer Paul Denham Austerberry, editor Robert Ivison, costume designer Melissa Toth, music by Aaron Zigman and Swizz Beatz, executive music producer Bonnie Greenberg, choregrapher JoAnn Jansen and hip-hop choreography from Rich and Tone Talauega.

The idea for Take the Lead came about when producer Diane Nabatoff saw a segment on the CBS Early Show about Pierre Dulaine, a dance teacher in the public schools of New York. Nabatoff was instantly intrigued by the idea of a man teaching ballroom dancing to young inner-city kids and became determined to find Dulaine and learn more about his story. After two months, she finally located him in New York and arranged a meeting. I knew immediately that I had to tell this story, no matter how long it took to get it on screen, recalls Nabatoff.

With a draft of the script complete, the search for the right director began. Liz Friedlander, a veteran music video director, was an easy choice. The minute Liz walked in, it was just so clear to me, recalls Nabatoff. She totally understood the story and had tremendous respect for it. Her background in music videos and dance also gave her an understanding of the world of these kids and the audience we wanted to reach.

As Friedlander and Houston developed the script, conversations began about finding an actor who could best portray the character of Pierre Dulaine on screen. Antonio Banderas was the obvious first choice. Pierre is a person who can walk into a room, command attention and convince you to do the impossible. He has presence and charisma, and so does Antonio, says Nabatoff. For Godsick, Banderas appeal is widespread. Its simple: women want him and men want to be like him.

Antonios such a good person that you know he would have the purity of heart to bring insight to the character. He understands what it is to give and therefore he is fully able to understand and relate to Pierre. Both Antonio and Pierre have an old world flavor to them that rings true, says Liz Friedlander.

Banderas committed to the character, because Pierre is different from anything that I have done before. He was also interested in the storys social relevance. The story is urban, contemporary and international. It uses dance as a vehicle to talk about problems that are out there on the streets of America, the streets of Europe.

The opportunity to work on Take the Lead was a dream come true for Dante Basco, who plays Ramos. Before I was an actor, I was a dancer. In my whole career I’ve never gotten to dance in a movie. I started acting because of John Travolta in Grease and Saturday Night Fever.

Alfre Woodard plays Augustine James, the principal who allows Pierre Dulaine to teach. We wanted someone who could be a worthy opponent for Pierre. Alfre has that presence, says producer Diane Nabatoff.

Tango, merengue. salsa, foxtrot, waltz and hip hop, anyone To prepare for the dance scenes, the actors went through an intensive, month-long rehearsal period under the direction of choreographer JoAnn Jansen. I have to consider the geography of the room and the geometry of the movement, says Jansen of her approach. Known for their up to the minute choreography, brothers Rich and Tone Talauega added the hip-hop moves, which added to the classic dances resulted in the fusion style that dominates the last section of the film.

In his role as Pierre Dulaine, Banderas performs the tango to show his reluctant students the passion and excitement that can be evoked by ballroom. Contrary to popular belief, Banderas is not a trained dancer. Many people think I am, but its because I have a facility for physicality, says the actor. Ive never been a great dancer, but, after dancing with Chita Rivera for 228 performances on Broadway, I dared to play in this type of movie.

Banderas training began at his home in Los Angeles. After arriving in Toronto shortly before production began, he began working specifically on the choreography. JoAnn knows how to make a person look like a dancer even if they dont dance at all. I know the tango because I learned it. Its about learning the fundamentals and then you can improvise. You start acting like a dancer ” how to look at the girl, position your body, the movement of the head; these things can make the audience believe that you are a better dancer than you actually are, concludes Banderas.

Though the rehearsal period was intense, the actors portraying Pierres students came to appreciate the training and the life lessons. Its something that you can use for the rest of your life, says Shawand McKenzie, who portrays Big Girl.

Though recognized as a trendsetting choreographer in the ever-changing inner circle of hip-hop dance, Tone Talauega found that he, too, had a lot to learn from the rarefied, disciplined world of ballroom dancing. Partner dancing is definitely a challenge for people from the hip-hop world because hip-hop dance is about ones self. Ballroom is a totally different animal. You have to be one with your partner; you have to look like twins.

Describing her initial vision for the film, director Liz Friedlander says, I visualized the movie starting as a stylized documentary, then exploding into a Hollywood movie at the end. In discussions with her creative team, Friedlander stressed the idea that the film should take its cues from the learning curve of the kids. As their world opens up, the movie should also open up in look and feel.

The rapport between his younger cast-members also captivated Banderas. The success of the movie lies in that group of kids interacting with each other on screen. Sometimes society forgets about kids that are in urban neighborhoods and public schools. They are very susceptible to end up with a gun in their hands, or drugs. But if you put in a little attention and a little love – the results are magnificent. You can literally change society, because they are the future. It is there.

Antonio Banderas’ Career

Antonio Banderas recently starred in The Legend of Zorro. His work in The Mask of Zorro opposite Catherine Zeta Jones and Anthony Hopkins earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Other recent work includes voicing the character Puss in Boots in the blockbuster animated film, Shrek 2, a role which he will revisit for Shrek 3.

Born in Malaga, Spain, Banderas attended the School of Dramatic Arts in his hometown, and upon graduation he began his acting career working in a small theater company based there. He later moved to Madrid and became an ensemble member of the prestigious National Theater of Spain.

In 1982, Banderas was cast by writer/director Pedro Almodovar in Labyrinth of Passion. It was the first of five films Banderas would do with Almodovar, the others being Matador, Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! The international success of these films introduced him to Hollywood. Notably, for his American film debut in Mambo Kings in 1992, he spoke no English yet learned all of his dialogue phonetically.

He went on to land his first starring role in Desperado and continued with the follow up – Once Upon a Time in Mexico alongside Johnny Depp and Salma Hayek. Since then, he has starred in such films as Spy Kids, Spy Kids 2, Original Sin, Four Rooms, Assassins, Miami Rhapsody, Never Talk to Strangers, Interview with a Vampire, House of the Spirits and Philadelphia.

Banderas received critical praise and a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination for his acting and vocal talents as Che opposite Madonna in the big-screen adaptation of the musical Evita. Other awards to his credit include a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for his Broadway debut in the Roundabout Theater Company production of NINE, a musical inspired by Fellinis 8 . He also received a Best Actor Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama League Award and Theatre World Award.

Banderas made his directorial debut with Crazy in Alabama. He also recently directed the Spanish film El Camino de Los Ingleses.