“I look at my career and I feel like I haven’t even started yet. I feel like I haven’t even begun to shift the planet. But I’m so excited because Rock of Ages is one of the first steps of that new phase in my life.”
My playwriting teacher used to say, “The stage is not for you to masturbate on.” For some reason this lesson comes to mind when I watch Mia Michaels‘s brilliant choreography. The beloved, Emmy-award winning artist, best known for her mind-blowing routines on FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance, truly loves her craft. The beautiful drama that unfolds on the stage– when her magic is getting worked all up and through by the dancers– is so powerful and intense, it’s almost spiritual. She leaves no room for ego and does precisely what my playwriting teacher tried to teach me to do in my work: she puts the performance first.
No wonder people dedicate YouTube videos to her dances and name their babies after Mia (true story). The spirit of her work is utterly palpable and her energy is infectious. When she called PITNB to talk about one of the summer’s most anticipated films– because she’s insanely amazing and did all of the choreography for it– we couldn’t help but get creepy-excited about (tomorrow!) June 15th, the premiere date for Rock of Ages .
Read on for some inside info from Mia Michaels on Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige, and [the glorious body of] Tom Cruise.
PITNB: Everyone seems to love you and I think it’s partly because you’re so passionate about what you do, like a lot of dancers seem to be. What is that about dancers?
Mia: Being passionate– it’s such a huge, huge part of our being. I’m one of those people who’s an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person so when I teach, my philosophy is so not about the steps. It’s about the soul of the movement. Your movement is your vocabulary, it’s your voice for your body. So I’m very passionate about it, because I have a lot to say!
PITNB: Looking at the trailer and the new music video for Any Way You Want It makes it seem like the making of this film was such a blast. What was the energy like on set?
Mia: It would vary from day to day. I think the most challenging part of Rock of Ages was the scheduling, because there were so many big actors in it and you’re dealing with their schedules, and then all of the dancers too. We were working 7 days a week, 18-hour days so it was exhausting. Sometimes the set was stressful, and sometimes it was so much fun. Like when we did the Venus Club scene, all that stripper work! It was amazing! Really, all of it was fun. We have a scene with Catherine Zeta-Jones in the church and that was great. The majority of the time it was just great.
Any Way You Want It Official Video
PITNB: It must be awesome watching your work come to life. Did anyone give you a performance that totally blew you away?
Mia: Oh my God, Tom (Cruise). Oh my goodness! He is, by far, my most favorite student I have ever, ever taught. He just—oh my goodness! People always say that I can be difficult because I expect the most of you and I’m relentless about making people step to the next level. And I think that’s a great quality. When I met Tom it was like two worlds perfectly, beautifully collided because he’s the exact same way. He is so passionate and he’s such a major perfectionist. When he takes on a role he really takes on a role. His work ethic and the way he looks at his craft, every single thing about that man was so admirable. It was so cool.
After a couple of months of training, the first piece that he did was Pour Some Sugar On Me and when he performed the song on our first day of shooting—oh my God! I had tears in my eyes. I could not believe it. I mean I could, because I expected it from Tom Cruise, but when it’s right in front of you and he’s taking your work to a level that you didn’t even see coming… it was almost surreal. I literally had no words and you know I have words!
PITNB: That’s awesome. We love hearing about Tom. Other than his amazing talent, what else can you tell us about him? Anything random? Did you see him eating anything weird?
Mia: No. He was on a mission to transform his body. Not only was he working like crazy on his dance and his vocals and his guitar, but he was working so hard to get the body. I don’t know the details of his diet, but he had to stop every couple of hours to eat. He was on a mission– as you can see on the cover of W (Magazine). Did you see it?!
PITNB: Oh, of course.
Mia: And that’s not photo-shopped or anything. That’s what he did to his body during the process of Rock of Ages.
And the routines had a lot to do with it. Because while he was dancing he was also wearing these heavy leather pants with hardware, and these heavy cowboy boots. He was doing all the choreography in, like, 10 extra pounds. And it was so inspiring to work with somebody who was so fearless, and who was really striving to be the best. It’s contagious. It was life-changing; it was definitely a game-changer for me for sure.
PITNB: And Julianne Hough, Mary J. Blige? What was your chemistry like with them on the set?
Mia: Amazing! A-mazing. Julianne is just awesome; she’s a triple threat (dancer, singer, actress). She’s a dancer so she learns everything really quickly and I watched her grow so rapidly and so much from the beginning of Rock of Ages to the end.
And Mary J.– her spirit is unbelievable. She has this really interesting energy. I felt like she was a long-lost sister. She was awesome to work with and she’s just brilliant; as soon as she opens her mouth you get goose bumps all over because of that voice!
Rock of Ages Cast Performs on Dancing With The Stars
PITNB: I’m sure you wanted to be faithful to the Broadway show and be original at the same time. How did you reconcile those two things?
Mia: I don’t ever, ever copy anything. I’m very intense about that because I feel that as an artist you have to have your own voice. I don’t even watch YouTube very often because I don’t like to be infused by other people’s voices. I like to be inspired if it happens organically, but I don’t search out to try to copy anybody. My job as a creator is to dig in and to always try to be unique and really be myself.
So I loved the Broadway show. I saw it with Tom and Katie (Holmes) and Adam (Shankman, the director) and by the end of the performance we were all on our feet just singin’ and dancing, and it was really a feel-good show. At that point I hadn’t even signed on to the project yet but I felt there was something really special about it.
But the Broadway show is very different from my choreography; it’s not at all in the same style or aesthetic. When Adam and I decided to do this it was very important for me to respect the time of the 80s— it was about Rock and Roll! And I had to stay gritty and raw. It was a big deal for me to keep it from turning into a typical musical because I feel like Rock and Roll is not that. I needed to keep it gritty. My job was to keep it real, and I did. I think I did!
PITNB: Have you actually seen the movie in its entirety yet?
Mia: I did, two weeks ago.
PITNB: Ok, without any spoilers, what did you think?
Mia: You know, I’m a picky one. And I don’t like a lot of things. And I am so in love with this film. I believe it has the possibility to be a complete cult classic. The music is amazing, the actors are amazing, the way Adam directed it is amazing, the dances. Everything. I mean, it just works.
PITNB: Well, we’re looking forward to seeing it and we wish you the best of luck, Mia.
Mia: Thank you!
Rock of Ages hits theaters tomorrow, June 15, 2012.
Rock of Ages Official Trailer