Although we knew her in the shadow of her parents, don johnson and Melanie Griffith, and his great leap to stardom will come from the infamous saga “Fifty Shades”, Dakota Johnson’s career (USA, 1989) is far from conventional. Or, at least, what Hollywood had in store for her. Character surly and strange on the planet cinema —her visit to the Ellen DeGeneres program or her dissertation on limes in “Architectural Digest” will remain in the memory, only to later confess that she is allergic— Johnson tries to get as far away as possible from the shadow of nepotism and the erotic blockbuster that the put on the map. Thus, and after working with directors of the stature of Luca Guadagnino or Drew Goddardthe actress has made the leap to production with “Cha Cha Real Smooth”or “Dancing for life” as AppleTV+ has titled it for its premiere in Spain.
Always attentive to independent cinema (she comes from working in “Personal Assistant” and “The Nowhere Inn”), Johnson received a draft script from Cooper Raiff, darling indie where they are in the new American cinema and responsible for the brilliant “Shithouse”, 2020. This is how it began to shape “Cha Cha Real Smooth”perhaps one of the great covers of the awards season that is always on, and a story in which we follow Andrew (Raiff himself) in search of his own identity as an adult. Heartbroken by the departure of his girlfriend from the university to Barcelona, in a long-term project, the protagonist returns to his town, to live with his family and try to make a living as a Bar Mitzvahs organizer while he finds a related job. with his training. There he will make a name for himself among the mothers in the area, getting to know Domino (Johnson) and his daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), who is on the autism spectrum. Between nineties dances, too many drinks and gerontophile revelations, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” It is revealed as an unconventional romantic comedy, hard at times and extremely realistic in its definition of love, less serious and more restrained.
Although in his first film project, focused on his university years, Raiff explored the world from personalism, from the most egotistical self, in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” we meet an insultingly mature director (25 years old), capable of revealing his deepest likes and dislikes without losing sight of the universality of his story. Autism, perhaps the driving force in another type of film, is not an excuse or a means here, just a circumstance and almost an anecdote in the global computation of what the story wants to tell. “Dancing for life” it is, in later reflection, a film that grows in memory, not so much thanks to the succession of iconic dialogues to which it aspires as any montage of clothing indie, but because of the same ellipsis to which he submits his final stretch: Raiff talks about disappointments, but he is more interested in talking about how to overcome them, how to remove drama from them. The movie, if anything ethical prose of emotional baggage, is not only intelligent in what, but also manages to shape a how that is sometimes puerile, sometimes violent and always passionate, perhaps romantic. Johnson, Raiff and Burghardt attended LA RAZÓN in a round table from Los Angeles.
-How was the project born? At what stage did each join?
-Dakota Johnson: My production partners met with Cooper (Raiff) shortly after the premiere of “Shithouse” and told me that there was a movie project in which they wanted me to participate as a producer. With the script already written, Cooper and I confirmed, we started looking for Lola. And so we came up with Vanessa (Burghardt), who actually took on the role and changed a lot of things, very organically, making her character that much more special.
-“Cha Cha Real Smooth” deals with life after university, with that kind of generational frustration that runs through today. How much of your own experience is there?
-DJ: I think I’m always looking for my place in the world, and that identification seems universal to me, regardless of how old you are when you face the film.
-Vanessa Burghardt: Well, I just finished high school and I don’t have any plans in sight. In other words, it is not only extrapolated to the university.
-DJ: Except because you’re attending the press at a world premiere, of course. (laugh).
-Dakota, after “The Dark Daughter”, you return to a complex role, with edges, a multidimensional idea in a female character. Is that what you are looking for now? That type of characters, with more exploration, less plans?
-DJ: Cooper was very unprotective with his script. It allowed me to almost write the character of Domino alongside him, which made me able to defend him from an almost moral point of view. He is my character because I also wrote him. In fact, there is explicit dialogue from our conversations that he scripted. Working with women, directors and directors who are just starting out seems to me the most interesting thing at this point in my career.
-Both characters are mothers struggling with that same condition…
-DJ: It’s funny, yes, and it’s very nice. Working on both projects, I have been fortunate to have great professionals on the team who are also mothers. And the most important thing that I have learned is that there is no one way, there is no right or good way to be a mother. That is the myth that must be demolished, but it is very complex because it is entrenched in our societies. I don’t really know what being a good mother is, but maybe it has to do with listening, understanding that your son is a human being at least as complex as you and that he has to explore his own horizons. But actually I have no idea what I’m talking about (laugh).
-How is the Dakota Johnson producer?
-DJ: I grew up in this industry. She’s a part of me, and I love it, but as an actress I don’t always feel totally invested in the story I’m telling. I’ve always wanted a little more. In terms of creativity and vulnerability, I’ve always wanted to have a little more control, to be able to defend what we’re telling in the film. As a producer, I am much closer to that, because I see the whole process from the beginning to the end. In addition, I was interested in building a company in which love and collaboration were important, as well as respect. I have been on many shoots in which I have felt very alone, excluded from the whole process, almost hierarchically separated. He wanted to create a new kind of environment where everyone felt part of it. This is a tremendously privileged job, so I don’t see why we can’t do it in harmony, sharing only with people you want to be with.
-How does that fit with saying yes to Sony and Marvel for “Madame Web”?
-DJ: I want to do everything, in this job you can’t stagnate. They proposed me a very entertaining idea, very crazy, so I accepted it without giving it much thought. It will be fun.
-Cooper, after the success of “Shithouse”, what would you say is the main lesson as a director, almost as a craftsman?
-Cooper Raiff: Every movie is a fucking miracle. I would say that the most important thing that I learned in the first film and that I have applied in this one is knowing how to listen. Understand, in a deeper way, that it is a collective art. That is why I wanted to know what Dakota or Vanessa had to say, what they wanted to extract from their characters and put it at the service of the film. In the previous film I felt very alone, in a totally voluntary and stupid way, so I wanted to feel surrounded and that the effort be collective, that we really all give shape to this project.
-Cooper, at times, both in “Shithouse” and “Cha Cha Real Smooth”, it seems that the comedy was improvised. The dialogues are round and at the same time natural, as if there was no effort. How is this result achieved?
-CR: It’s because it’s like that! We don’t try at all! (laugh). I think it all has to do with the cast, with the casting and the choice of actors. There is no special sauce that can be added to the film, it is something more related to intuition and the chemistry that in the end you want to look for in your film. That authenticity, I think, is only possible if you really trust your film and what you want to tell.