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Exclusive Interview with Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Schemke

You guys filmed “Dirty Dancing” almost exactly a year ago in North Carolina. How excited are you that everyone will finally get to see it this week?

I would put my level of excitement somewhere between Christmas morning and the feeling you get when you first go through the turnstiles at Disneyland, with a touch of over-caffeination. 

Were you a fan of the original 1987 film? 

I was a huge fan, and still am.  It was released during my formative pre-teen years, in fact my first real kiss happened during the credits, so the passion and emotion of the original “Dirty Dancing” felt intertwined with my own.  And, it’s a film that has grown with me.  Every time I watch it, I see something new.  Jerry Orbach and Kelly Bishop can do no wrong.  Since we filmed so much of it in the same places as the original, and many of the extras had also been extras in 1987, it was a bit like being in a kind of immersive star-tour. 

Your character is named Esther Feinberg and you describe her as a “a woman of multiple high, backcombed updos, who mostly lurks around looking fabulous with her moody, husband Leon, but also lends her two cents at a Bridge game.” Was she created specifically for this re-imagining?

She was!  I feel like in a way she was present in the original film, but went unnamed.  She’s a definite “Kellerman’s Lodge” prototype, of sorts.  She emerged from the proverbial woodwork here to help support a storyline which was expanded for this new imagining.  And I’m so glad she did!

The movie boasts quite an impressive cast.  What was it like working with so many well-known actors and did you ever find yourself star-struck?

I’m so happy you asked!  This may have been among my greatest challenges, to maintain a professional coolness around actors I admire so much, and whose work has had a role in my own personal development.  To have my name on the same cast list was surreal.  But, I think I kept it together pretty well.  As a fellow actor, I understand the importance of focus, and I certainly wasn’t about to allow the stars in my eyes to impede the process of what we were all working together to achieve.

What is something you love about this interpretation versus the original?

The strange thing about calling this a remake is that it really isn’t an accurate name for what it was.  I don’t think there is a name for it.  The spirit of the project felt like much more of an homage, certainly not meant to replace the original in any way.  It was clear that we were working with hallowed material.  The producers had a tremendous reverence, they loved the original so much, and that’s why they chose to make it.  So, I love that they were careful to stay very close- in many cases I think shot for shot- to the original, and yet they differentiated this project by expanding on some of the relationships- that of Baby’s parents for instance, and the journey of Baby’s sister- that the original didn’t.  It’s just different enough.

Will you please share a favorite memory from on-set? 

Going back to the subject of being among such luminaries in the cast, some of my favorite moments were being in the hair and makeup trailer.  You know, it would be Katey Sagal on one side, and Nicole Scherzinger on the other, and a few chairs down Debra Messing would be getting her makeup done.  And there was just this jocular ease and sense of fun.  I was always having my hair teased into these incredible 60’s coifs by a woman named Betty, who had lived through that era and really knew her way around a rat tail comb.  The rest of the cast would always wait to see the result and be in awe of the mastery on my head. The crew was as awesome as the cast.  It was also cool that the choreographer, Andy Blankenbeuhler got his Tony nomination for “Hamilton” while we were on set.  There was a little party that day at lunch to celebrate.

Now that you’ve had the time of your life, what’s next for you?

I just finished shooting my role on Season 2 of “Magic Funhouse”, Brandon Rogers’ new show on fullscreen.com.  Brandon and I met at a film festival in 2011 in which we both had films we’d written and directed, and since then we vowed to work together.  Fast forward to his great YouTube success, which turned into this show, and now we are!  He writes different roles for me each season and they seem to get more and more fun.  I highly recommend watching “Magic Funhouse”, if you haven’t already.  It’s a wild ride, and really well done.  I’m also developing a few shows myself.  One of my favorite things to do is write and perform different comedy characters, you might say in the vain of Tracey Ullman.  You can see a sample on my YouTube channel, and I think those characters, as well as some new ones, are gonna be making some appearances.

And lastly, we can’t call ourselves TalkNerdyWithUs without asking what you nerd out about?

I’m a bit all over the map, really.  RuPaul’s Drag Race springs immediately to mind.  I love the New Orleans Saints and all things New Orleans (I lived there for 6 years.)  I get really passionate about color.  Is it mauve, or is it dusty rose?  Does that orange have more yellow in it, or more red?  The rainbow goes beyond ROYGBIV.  I love to categorize the nuances of different hues and values, and play with paint and fabric, and texture in visual art.  I’m the same with music, and harmonies, exploring relationships between notes and rhythms.  Music production is fascinating to me.   And fragrance!  I lose all sense of time at a good perfume counter.  I adore talking to strangers, especially the older generations.  Talking to and observing people is definitely where I derive most of my inspiration to write characters and do what I do.  Lastly, and this isn’t just to blow smoke, I nerd out about “nerds.”  A nerd, about anything, is a passionate person, and I love that life force, curiosity and love are still so abundant in this world.  Viva La Nerds!!!

 

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