Actress Teri Polo described the show as “this happy, good, hopeful thing”—an underdog story representing the kind of “feel-good” entertainment we all need a bit of right now.
“This show [is one] that doubled down on hope, that was funny, that was about dancing,” added creator-EP Liz Heldens. “I think it’s doing what we wanted it to do.”
The Big Leap is billed as a modern tale about second chances, chasing your dreams and taking back what’s yours. It revolves around a group of diverse, down-on-their-luck characters, who attempt to change their lives by participating in a potentially life-ruining reality dance show that builds to a live production of Swan Lake.
During the conversation moderated by People’s Breanne Heldman, which was preceded by a screening of the pilot, Heldens noted that the show is inspired by UK reality series Big Ballet, explaining what it was about that show that resonated with her in the first place. “I saw it and started seeing, ‘Oh, this is like The Full Monty and Silver Linings Playbook and Little Miss Sunshine,’” she recalled. “I called my agents and said, ‘Who do I have to cage fight [to adapt it] but they said, ‘No, you can just have it. It’s fine.'”
For Heldens, adapting the reality series was an opportunity to look at the stories of “people in transition” and “people trying,” which always resonate powerfully with her. “I think the idea of amateur dancers, people being bad at something before they’re good, is embarrassing and funny,” she said, “and great for drama and comedy.”
When Blain first read the script and discovered his character Reggie Sadler—a scandal-ridden football star who decides to compete on the dance show—he was immediately engaged, despite the fact that he felt more of “an affinity for film,” prior to his involvement with the show. “This felt like a coming-of-age indie drama almost, which is generally my favorite genre,” he said. “It’s funny on the one hand, but the drama was so rooted in reality without being hokey, or us breaking out into flash dances in the middle of a grocery store, which I would not be good at.”
Like Blain, the three other cast members on hand offered up a little tease regarding the characters they play. Polo’s Julia is a woman reconnecting with herself through dance, in middle age. Recasner’s Gabby is a young mother who fails her first audition for the reality dance show, but eventually finds herself involved. Foley, meanwhile, plays the reality show’s producer Nick, who is in the middle of a custody battle, as the show opens. “Nick is a darker, meaner character than we’ve seen Scott play before,” Winer teased. “Because Scott is so innately a good guy, and because the audience has a lot of affection for other good guy roles [he’s played], [Liz and I] realized the meaner, the better. You still like the guy somehow because it’s Scott.”
Heldens and Winer later discussed the persistence they needed to get the show across the finish line, given that production on the pilot was shut down multiple times, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In some respects, Winer noted, production delays brought “unbelievable benefits.”
“It brought everybody together. It was an incredible odyssey of a bonding experience for this group of people,” he explained, “and on top of it we made some creative discoveries, perhaps [hitting on] some things we wouldn’t have figured out otherwise in the rush of a normal pilot execution.”
The stars of The Big Leap also talked about the dance experience they had prior to the show, sharing that Polo was the only one with real history in this arena. Prior to being cast, Recasner had never danced professionally, and also had little TV experience. “It’s been amazing to jump into this world that I have revered from afar,” she said.
“Me and Simone are in the same boat. I’m not a dancer,” added Blain. “There’s a difference between ‘moves well, has rhythm’ and actually being a dancer, so it was a little daunting.”
Naturally, the conversation’s moderator wondered aloud at one point if Foley might get his chance to dance. While Foley deadpanned that he’s “concluded it wouldn’t work, character-wise,” Heldens wasn’t so sure.
“I think it’s something that wants to happen. We’ll see,” said the creator. “I’m drunk with power right now, you guys.”
Coming together after a six-year journey to the screen, The Big Leap will debut on Fox this fall. The series, exec produced by Sue Naegle, also stars Piper Perabo, Mallory Jansen, Kevin Daniels, Anna Grace Barlow, Jon Rudnitsky and Raymond Cham Jr.
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