Jenna Dewan first rose to fame as a dancer.
After working as a back-up dancer for Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, and more, Dewan broke out starring in the dance film Step Up. While she’s maintained ties to the dance world with shows like World of Dance and the upcoming Flirty Dancing, it’s been over a decade since we’ve gotten to really see her strut her stuff in a role.
Netflix’s Soundtrack is here to change all that — Dewan stars as Joanna, a social worker who once aspired to be a dancer. While we see Joanna’s struggles as a dancer and the moment that inspires her career change, we also get to see Dewan dance throughout the series in lip-synched musical numbers.
Creator Joshua Safran (Gossip Girl) wrote the role specifically for the actress and Dewan says the dancing aspect was a huge part of the appeal for her. “It was really fun to do something that was dancing within an acting medium again,” she tells EW. “And in a different way, with singing. I got to pretend I was my own pop star within my scenes.”
Dewan has several standout moments, most notably, a number in episode 2 where two versions of herself face-off — one more balletic and soft, and the other, a fiercer version, sporting a leather catsuit. Dewan says the costume felt like a nod to Jackson, who helped boost her career in its early days. “‘Human Nature’ — I watched that video over and over,” she explains. “In the tour, I was on, All For You, she did it in one of her numbers. It’s like Catwoman. It’s just empowering. It is truly woman empowerment in a catsuit. You cannot feel anything less than empowered while wearing a catsuit.”
The number required Dewan to learn two full sets of choreography and to work with a double, who she danced alongside before they digitally altered the number to look like Dewan was dancing alongside herself.
“[Josh told me] your character is having a moment of trying to fight her own self — who she is and who she wants to be and where she needs to go. So we’re going to have you play two versions of yourself and then you make out. (Laughs). That was all the information I got,” she says. “It was really cool because I had to dance two different versions of myself the character and with another dancer, we became really close. Then we switched parts, and we had to kiss each other and make it look like I was kissing myself. It was a very interesting moment for the character, trying to get her to break free and let loose and not go by the rules she’d always been told to live by.”
Dewan’s character’s life takes a very different direction from her own. While Dewan found success as a dancer, Joanna decides to set aside those dreams in pursuit of a new one. She says it was a valuable, moving perspective for her. “I looked at it in a lot of ways, like choose-your-own-adventure in my own personal life,” she muses. “I had so many struggles as a dancer and auditioning and not getting roles. I did get that ‘Yes’ finally. Joanna doesn’t get that ‘Yes.’ But what she gets is her true purpose and her true calling, which is helping others, being empathetic, wanting to be of service, and finding out that fulfills her more than what she thought her original dream was. That happens a lot in life. I was like, ‘Well what would’ve happened if I didn’t continue pursuing dance in my life?’ It probably would’ve been something very similar.”
To understand the ins and outs of Joanna’s job as a social worker, Dewan spoke to an actual one, Amy, a friend of Safran’s. “She told me everything — exactly how you feel in the role, the complex emotions you have, when you walk into a room, what you have to assess when you walk in,” she explains. “You can’t be too forward in their lives; you can’t be too passive in their lives. There’s a real dance that has to happen constantly as a social worker and also understanding that you as a social worker have very complicated feelings about a lot of the people you work with.”
Complicated feelings that certainly make for interesting developments in her character’s life.
Soundtrack is now streaming on Netflix.