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Streetdance 2 – Sofia Boutella interview

Streetdance 2

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SOFIA Boutella talks about some of the challenges of making Streetdance 2, including learning Latin dance for the first time.

She also talks about her journey from becoming a dancer to an actress and working with the likes of Madonna and – almost – Michael Jackson just prior to his death.

Q. Did you feel any pressure when making this sequel?
Sofia Boutella: No. I didn’t feel that way. I started to watch the first one and then I stopped because I didn’t want the first one to come into my head while we were creating, rehearsing and shooting the second one. I didn’t want it to have any kind of influence over us and I didn’t want to compare. I wanted it to come from a fresh new place. This is a sequel but it’s not really a continuation of the original story.

Q. It must have been a challenge for you doing Latin dance for the first time, so how did you overcome that?
Sofia Boutella: It was very challenging, extremely so. It was really exciting as an actor to develop this character because I’ve danced my whole life but I’ve never done Latin at all. So, you do the work of an actor by researching. So, researching and dancing. But it’s like anything… the more you learn about something in art or whatever you’re doing in life in general the more you realise what’s involved and it opens the door to another universe. You realise how hard it is… three months to learn how to do that kind of dance is really tough. These people have trained for many, many years, so I got as close as I could to it but I know it’s a really, really deep and intense dance. But I love it.

Q. You trained as an actor in LA for two years…
Sofia Boutella: For six years.

Q. What was it like experiencing your first big premiere after all that time at London’s O2?
Sofia Boutella: It was great! It was so exciting. I loved it. I never thought about doing a red carpet at all – not even when we were doing the movie, or when we wrapped. It was only a week ago that I thought: “I’m going to do a red carpet!” I had to look it up [laughs]. But it’s exciting and I think it’s a reward for everybody’s work. I understand what it means better now that I’ve lived it. But the job of an actor is not to focus on these moments because you have to deliver so much work and that work is really hard. So, those kinds of moments have to be earned. It’s not all about that.

Q. How tough was the training regime for this?
Sofia Boutella: It was really tough. It was every day for three months from 9am to 8pm, every day but Sundays. Also, what I just realised is that I’ve done a lot of rehearsals on tour and with other dancers, and what’s good in that scenario is that sometimes the attention goes to someone in particular, or just a duet, which gives you a break for a quick second, even if it’s just 10 minutes. But the mental pressure is different when you’re by yourself and you know that there is nobody else… the choreographs and the people responsible for this movie are not looking at anybody else but you for certain routines, so you’re all day like that in Latin heels!

Q. Did you pick up any injuries?
Sofia Boutella: No, no injuries at all. I’ve trained hard and I’ve trained my body, so I know how to stay healthy and fit and I know what to do. It’s very important to stretch and to take a bath with some salt. Stretching is the best. But also be careful… go for it, yes, but be careful. But no, there were no injuries at all for anybody in the movie.

Q. How old were you when you first started dancing as a little girl?
Sofia Boutella: Five.

Q. And was that mum pushing you?
Sofia Boutella: Not pushing… she just dropped me there and said: “See you in a few years!” No, they just took me there and I loved it. My family is very artistic and creative… my father is a composer and my mother is an architect but she paints. Everybody kind of works in that environment. So, they put me there and of course I had the choice to leave and not go back but I kept going and wanting it.

Streetdance 2

Q. What style did you begin with and when did you start to branch out?
Sofia Boutella: Ballet and then I did rhythmic gymnastics for many years. When you do rhythmic gymnastics you keep on doing ballet. It’s a sport but it’s performed with music. It’s the girls with the hoops and the ropes and the ribbon. It’s dancing. So, from five to 18 I did ballet and then before I was 18 I started to be a little more rebellious and I went against it. I was trying to change the rules because I was going frustrated with having to do this and do that, tuck your feet, tuck your tummy and all that – I wanted to do the total opposite. So, then hip-hop came along. I met those people and they were free-styling and I loved what they were doing.

I felt like they were completely free, whereas I was in a cage, so I wanted to do what they were doing and I was awful at it when I started. But then I did modern jazz and then I started working. But before I booked Nike I’d never really worked as a dancer. People never really booked me because I never fit in any box. People right now say I’m a hip-hop dancer, for example, because of the Nike commercials, which are mainly street. But really what I did is I’ve learned notions of bits and pieces and I put them together and I create my own style. So, I’m not a hip-hop dancer. There are a lot of hip-hop dancers out there and they are amazing at what they do. But I wouldn’t take that credit. It’s a huge compliment. But it’s not right.

Q. So, you don’t associate yourself with any genre?
Sofia Boutella: No. I think acting is… when I found acting I was like: “This is it!” I remember telling my mum when I was little… you know when you’re little and you start to develop a realisation about death and all that? When I realised it, I was bawling and I told my mum: “How am I going to have to time to do this and this and this…” I felt I had no time and it was really traumatic. And then I started dancing and the same thing happened. I wanted to do this and this and this in order to fit it all in! And then when I met with acting and understood what it was, I thought it was perfect. I told myself: “This is the way you will be able to do this and this and this in a small amount of time.” I truly had the heart for it.

And that’s what happened with this movie. If I hadn’t done Streetdance 2 I would never have started salsa and tango. Each time, when I was dancing before, I remembered I was always portraying something. It couldn’t only be steps, especially when you dance with Madonna on tour. She not only does steps and choreography, her dancers are actors. She’s truly telling a story each time and you have to be able to channel it. I always felt that it was the work of an actress, so this transition is making total sense to me.

Q. Apart from Madonna, are they any other people that you’ve danced for that have provided you with inspiration?
Sofia Boutella: Not that I really met and got to learn from. Not like her on that scale. I’ve dance with Madonna for eight years, so that’s quite a long time. I had the chance to do a Michael Jackson video but I never got the chance to meet him. I did that video two years after I booked the This Is It concert that I couldn’t attend because I was on a break of six months between two legs of Madonna’s tour. I went to that audition thinking there was no chance they’d book me but I wanted to celebrate his comeback because I’ve loved Michael Jackson since the age of six.

Anyway, I went there and I booked it but I didn’t really understand what was happening. I then got the chance to speak to him on the phone, but never got the chance to meet him. I was supposed to meet him after I was done with my commitments but he passed away maybe a month afterwards. It was extremely hard. We were about to come to the O2 with Madonna. He was supposed to get there two weeks after. Oh my God, it was… especially in Madonna’s camp there were people who had worked with Michael Jackson. Growing up, I remember telling my dad – and this was before I started dancing professionally – I knew what he was feeling. I just knew it. You know when you recognise something? I was only about 12.

So, when something touches you like that and then this happens [Michael Jackson’s death] in your life, it’s kind of disturbing in a way. So, then when I got to do the video I said: “Thank God, at least I got to do something.” It’s really difficult when somebody brings you so much throughout your adolescence and growing up as far as inspiration goes… and then the day you get to give them something, because they’ve seen a way in which you can help them create their show, but you weren’t able to do it.

Read our interview with Falk Hentschel