For Colt Prattes, playing bad boy dance instructor Johnny Castle in ABC’s musical reimagining of the beloved 1987 film Dirty Dancing isn’t just a dream come true but a coming full circle.
As a kid growing up in rural Georgia, Prattes watched the film with his stepmom whenever it appeared on TV and admired Patrick Swayze’s cool, but didn’t yet realize the impact the actor and role would have on his life. “Eventually she told me that Patrick’s mom owned a dance studio and he’d been dancing his whole life. All of a sudden this world opened up to me,” Prattes recalls. “I realized that it wasn’t just something he did for the movie. This was something he did for a passion. You don’t think of men as dancers, especially not in north Georgia, so it was something I was fighting against. Then, when I found out Patrick Swayze had been a dancer, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s on.’ Because he’s Patrick Swayze. He’s Road House. He’s Point Break. He’s Ghost.
“It was a huge part of accepting being a dancer,” Prattes continues. “My parents were both police officers and they were incredibly supportive of me, but I remember that my dad and my brothers would joke when I first started. I started singing first, and they were like, ‘Just as long as you don’t start dancing, buddy.’ Then I started dancing. They were like, ‘Just as long as you ain’t doing ballet.’ Then I started doing that, and they were like, ‘It’s cool, dude. Just do whatever you want.’ There were no more jokes.”
Especially when Prattes began making his living as a dancer in music videos and concerts and scoring ensemble gigs on Broadway. Still, he longed to break into television and films. Then his agent called about an acting gig that would also require he sing and dance — a TV remake of Dirty Dancing. His dream role. And when a callback landed him in front of another hero, the film’s choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who recently worked on the Broadway smash Hamilton, Prattes wondered if it was all meant to be.
“I assumed, ‘OK, there’s going to be a bunch of us in the room’ like any audition,” Prattes recalls. “Instead I walked into an empty studio with myself and Andy. We had both gotten there early, and we just sat and talked. If nothing else had happened, I would have still been over the moon about everything.”
Prattes landed the role and was soon performing alongside castmates Abigail Breslin, who plays Baby; Bruce Greenwood and Debra Messing as Baby’s parents; Nicole Scherzinger as Johnny’s bestie Penny; and Katey Sagal as his married lover Vivian Pressman. But don’t expect a carbon copy of the ’87 classic. This Dirty Dancing blends its coming-of-age story with a coming-of-middle-age story for the Houseman parents and boasts a distinctly girl-power feel. “We all knew the original and loved it and there was just that palpable energy of how important this story is,” Prattes explains. “In our version, you get to find out so much more about who these people are and more important, why they are. We have a little bit more time. We get to expand those stories.”
Still, Prattes says, stepping into Dancing’s most iconic scenes — teaching Baby the lift and reminding her father that no one puts her in a corner — brought goose bumps. “The first thing I looked for when I got the script was, ‘Line … OK, the line’s in there. The lift is in there.’ And when we did it, after they said cut, Bruce and Debra both stood up and cheered. Everybody, even the extras, clapped and cheered. It was a huge moment.”
And for some of those extras, a second chapter. “Some of the extras in our film were extras in the original, because it was filmed in the same area,” Prattes reveals. “They were old enough now to have children that were there, too. That was my favorite, to talk to them and hear stories about Patrick and Jennifer [Grey] and everybody on set. It made you feel really close to it.”
Nonetheless, Prattes says he paid homage to Swayze by not playing an exact replica of his Johnny Castle. “I wanted to approach it the same way that I felt that he did, which is just bringing as much of myself and my heart and my honesty and my story to it as I could. Because this story is a love story. It’s a thousand love stories. I’m so happy that new generations get to see this, and I hope people who’ve seen the original will appreciate the way that we did it and allow it to be fresh and new. This story, it’s all of our stories.”
Dirty Dancing premieres Wednesday, May 24 at 8/7c on ABC