In case you haven’t noticed, VH1 loves the ’80s. We’re not just talking about the dozens — or is it hundreds? — of hours of programming the network has devoted to allowing celebrity panelists to wax nostalgic over every toy, trend and trinket the decade produced. VH1’s “celebreality” phenomenon will not allow the ’80s to die — or its has-beens to go unemployed. (And for that, Tina Yothers, C.C. DeVille and Hulk Hogan are thankful.) Now it’s time to take things to the next level. A totally awesome level.
On Nov. 4, VH1 will premiere the purportedly “lost” ’80s comedy Totally Awesome, starring Dominique Swain, Mikey Day, Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan. In actuality, the movie spoofs teen classics such as Footloose, Some Kind of Wonderful, Teen Wolf and Dirty Dancing — but not Swain’s personal favorite, Sixteen Candles.
We talked to Swain about Totally Awesome, her crush on Jake Ryan, and some of the questionable fashion choices from her past.
You were born in 1980, so you were pretty young for a good portion of the decade. What do you remember most about the ’80s?
Dominique Swain: I have to say the clothes, the music. I think being born in 1980 was even more eye-opening about 1980s trends, because when you’re a kid, you look up to the older girls. So the girls who were, like, 10 in 1985 were my absolute heroes. And I was a member of a really exclusive club — I was the only person in my grade who was allowed to be in it — and we would just dance to Madonna videos. That was pretty much what the club was about, but, you know, when you’re, like, 6 or 7, that’s kind of as cool as it can get — dancing with older girls to Madonna videos.
The obvious question is, what is your favorite ’80s movie?
Sixteen Candles, and we didn’t spoof that one. Thank God. I think I would have found it a little irreverent. … I think thematically, in terms of the drama that surrounded everything, I think that [Totally Awesome] kind of got the tone of those movies and all ’80s movies. That’s one of my favorite things about ’80s movies — everything is life or death. And it’s so dramatic, you know, whether this guy likes you or whether you can go to that party — it’s what life is all about. And I like that they handle it that seriously, because when you’re a teenager, that really is what it’s all about.
None of the actors in the cast are actually young enough to be in high school. Was that part of the joke?
I think that is how they handled all of the ’80s movies. When I would watch Sixteen Candles as a 7-year-old, I was just like, “Wow, when I’m in high school, I’m going to look like that. This is going to be true.” And, no, it’s not like that at all. You’re still a scared kid.
Jake Ryan, in that movie, had to be about 35, right?
I’d say 30. He was pretty much my biggest crush, along with Jonathan Brandis, growing up. … I never figured out what the name of that actor is. Actually, I did figure it out at one point, but I forgot it immediately because he will be emblazoned in my memory forever as Jake Ryan.
Your character in “Totally Awesome” is involved in some, let’s call them “interesting” dance sequences. How much work went into the choreography for those scenes?
Well, I got tendonitis a ton. I’m hoping that people can appreciate the effort that I put into it, because we were training for hours and hours every day. But I got kicked out of The Nutcracker when I was 6 for making other people laugh — and I was really trying. I wasn’t trying to be the class clown, I was just absurd and I just wasn’t a dancer. I let that role in the family be filled by my older sister, who’s an amazing, graceful, beautiful dancer, and I completely admire that about her. So I found out I was going to be dancing in this movie, and I’m nothing if not enthusiastic. All of those moves are done with the greatest of gusto and confidence — really badly. It was maybe day two of the dancing that [director] Neal [Brennan] said that it was funnier anyway if my dancing was bad — which didn’t by any means make them cancel rehearsals, but I think that a lot of the dancing that you see in the film is me. We all had stunt doubles to do some of the more gymnastic-y kind of moves, but I, frankly, don’t know how they could cut from the double to me unless that was part of the joke.
Maybe dancing’s not your thing, but I did notice in the film that you are one hell of a screamer. How did your lungs feel after an average day of filming?
I can scream all day and all night. I’m one of those people who goes to Magic Mountain or my favorite concert, and wakes up the next day and doesn’t even notice that I’ve been screaming for, like, nine years. It’s a real shame that I’m not an exceptional singer either, because I’m very strong. I think that it’s a matter of muscle coordination, and that’s why the dancing and singing get all snafued.
What were some of the movies you drew inspiration from for this project?
Dirty Dancing, in the sense that — well, I love that movie basically. [Laughs.] … I think that I drew inspiration from ’80s movies in general, in terms of the commitment and the drama of every little hitch.
You have a pretty graphic makeout scene with Chris Kattan near the end of the film. How many takes did it require to get that one right?
That one I don’t remember taking a particularly long time, but I was laughing — it’s just terrible, it’s absolutely not allowed in the comedy world. I haven’t done standup or anything. I’m pretty fresh at this, but still I already know that that is just not allowed. I was off camera and I had my head turned away from the camera and away from him, and you can see my shoulders shaking. I was f***ing crying. I was just like, “OK, I’m not going to look back because if I think it’s that funny, it probably is that funny and somehow he’s managing to keep it together.”
Earlier you mentioned the clothes. What do you remember about the way you dressed?
I had this one outfit, it was a Lisa Frank outfit — it was like some cats playing with a ball of yarn [on] a little tutu kind of skirt that was two layers, with a matching cropped top that went with it. It was the cutest thing. … So anyway, I’m wearing this outfit and I go to school, and I have two different kinds of scrunch socks on that exactly matched the cats and the yarn. This one kid looks at me and he says, “Uh, how old are you, like 5?” And I was so impressed with my outfit that I was totally crushed. I think that I tried to make some comeback to him, but I just ended up crying and spending my after-lunch time in the bathroom. And then my mother had just gotten me that outfit and was like, “Where’s that cute little outfit with the balls of yarn?” And I had stuffed it behind my dresser and I was like, “I have no idea!” … I think that it’s really important to have that one outfit that you just thought you were the cat’s pajamas in. I remember all of that because I just wanted to be allowed to wear it. … I’m not sure what they were called, but they looked like lowercase e’s, but you pulled your shirt through it and it showed your bellybutton, and my mom was just like, “I don’t think so.” Then I turned nine and she bought me one, and I was like, “Yes!”