Franchise Fred Interview: Jade Chynoweth on Step Up: High Water

Franchise Fred approves Step Up: High Water, the TV series spinoff of the dance franchise. Unfortunately, Moose does not make a cameo appearance to connect it to the films, but the stories of aspiring dancers at High Water Academy in Atlanta are dramatic enough to keep me riveted between the sick dance numbers. Jade Chynoweth stood out to me in the cast of talented dances as Odelie.

Odelie has a complicated story. Born Ashley to a wealthy family, she changed her name and lied about her background to get into High Water. She did take a spot under false pretenses, but have you seen her moves? She believes in the dance community and season two sees her training for a tour with Sage Odom (Ne-Yo).

I’ve already burned through all ten episodes of season two, so when I got to talk to Jade Chynoweth, I went deep into plot specifics. Spoiler alert, but go ahead and binge season two of Step Up: High Water on YouTube Premium and read my in-depth interview with Jade Chynoweth.

FF: Is doing a jump lift as scary for you as it is for Odelie?

Jade Chynoweth: You know, I actually can connect to it being scary because I was dropped. When I used to do dance competitions I was always the one being lifted and thrown because I was the shorter, smaller, fun sized one. So I’ve experienced being dropped so lifts do kind of scare me.

FF: Did you do any of the injury stunt?

Jade Chynoweth: I did. I made them let me do it because I wanted to do it myself.

FF: How long did the foot makeup take to make it look bruised and injured?

Jade Chynoweth: Probably about an hour to an hour and a half.

FF: Did you choreograph your water dance?

Jade Chynoweth: So the water dance actually wasn’t choreographed at all. It was just freestyle so I had about two rehearsals down in water with certified trainers just so I’d get comfortable in the water and stuff. There actually wasn’t even music in the beginning. I would just move, and then from us videoing on the GoPro, I saw what I liked and didn’t like. It definitely is a whole different thing to try to figure out how to move and really make it look good under water because the dynamic is just so different of floating around like that. It was just a freestyle, whatever I wanted.

FF: Was your comeback dance a difficult, powerful one?

Jade Chynoweth: Yes, it was definitely high energy. From a character standpoint and the show standpoint, we wanted to show that my ankle is healed and that it didn’t hurt. So we threw a lot of powerful things and a lot of things that involved me dancing on one foot because we wanted to show that it was strengthened and I was ready to be back on it.

FF: Was going head to head with Poppy fun to choreograph with your costar?

Jade Chynoweth: Oh yeah. We always have fun. The funny thing is, we’re such goofballs in rehearsal and we really do love each other outside the script. So it’s always super fun because we’ll just tease each other as we’re dancing and before we start filming it because we can’t take it too seriously sometimes.

FF: What was it like filming the concert?

Jade Chynoweth: That was a whole experience. The first time, because we had to do a couple reshoots for that specific episode, it was a little hectic because we shot out of order. So we shot that one in the middle of the season. Normally, we build up to that. We had so many dances, three three-minute dances, so we were all in rehearsals. If we weren’t shooting we were in rehearsals. It was really cool because they basically recreated a whole arena that is exactly what it would be like to go on a tour with an artist. I got to live out a different dream of going on tour as a dancer within my new dream of being an actress so it was a really cool combination.

FF: Was it a powerful dramatic scene for you when Odelie stood up to her parents’ privileged rich friend?

Jade Chynoweth: Yes, I loved it because it’s exactly my beliefs and everything I like to stand for. So I really connected with my character in that sense. We had to do it in different ways. Just being in California and coming from Utah, a lot of the ways people are raised, they have a lot of misconceptions coming from Utah. So I have to explain to them or really stand up to them for what I believe in, basically just treating people correctly.

FF: Would you also welcome the challenge to play a character who didn’t believe the same thing you do?

Jade Chynoweth: I would welcome the challenge as an actress because I think it’s important to get in the minds of other people to understand how they think because then maybe you can later understand how to connect with them and maybe get some light on what’s incorrect in my beliefs about what they think. I always think it’s great to do things that I’m not comfortable with because that’s where the true challenge lies with acting.

FF: Standing up to her father saying, “My name is Odelie,” was that an important moment for her

Jade Chynoweth: For Odelie I think it was because I think her whole life, she was living her parents’ identity of her instead of living her true self. I think this is someone she’s always wanted to be. I think she’s just been kind of submissive to her family throughout the years and for her to finally stand up and really step into her own life was a really powerful moment for her.

FF: In season one, the dance you do after everyone turns on you, was that a really intense scene?

Jade Chynoweth: It was because I have experienced that a little bit. When I was in my studio at home just growing up, certain people sometimes don’t like it when other people are succeeding. I have experience being iced out in real life so it was something I could definitely touch on and relate to in a sense. I drew from past experiences. I just really love living in the character and imagining what it would be like to feel like you’re the only one that has your own back in the room, that everyone hates you. It would destroy you but I also know that I would want to prove myself and show that I do deserve to be here, whether I have money or not because that shouldn’t change it. It was definitely an emotional scene. It started out with choreography and then I was able to freestyle and just do whatever felt right in the morning. All my fellow cast mates and other dancers definitely sold it so that made it pretty easy to do.

FF: There’s some real talk about everyone is told they don’t belong, but it might be less frequent you or me than a black dancer or Latin or Asian. Could you relate to that?

Jade Chynoweth: I can relate to that in most real life scenarios but in dancing I actually think black dancers are more welcome. Especially in hip hop at least, that style, because it’s something that usually comes more naturally for them. Even on tour, there’ll be a majority all black girls and then the one token white girl. For Beyonce, there’s only one white dancer. For many black female artists, which are a lot of our artists right now, who are strong and can dance and bring that aspect to their performance, they have more black casts than I would say whites. But in more technical, I’ve found that it’s different so in the more modern styles or contemporary, it’s usually harder and I think not as welcoming to other ethnicities as it is whites. But I know that I’ve always had to prove myself in hip hop because I’m like I know I’m white but I promise I can do it. I think there’s a happy medium in everything. In terms of hip hop, I think it’s harder for white people, but in everything else I think there is a stigma that white people can get everything more. I don’t know. It’s a fine line. I think a lot of times we create the problems ourselves. It’s just a matter of showing love and being open to everything. There’s no need for anyone to ever have anything to say about someone or decipher if someone can or can’t do something because of what they look like, who they love or what they were born with.

FF: I’m sorry, I took that a little out of context. In the scene it was directly about being welcome at High Water.

JC: Right, I do think with High Water I understand because in Atlanta there’s two sides. There’s the people who are fighting to make a living and fighting to even be able to go to school, so I do think Odelie doesn’t understand that it isn’t fair. You can’t just lie and get in. I do understand that she wants this and it is the best school other, but there are certain things that she could’ve done differently and maybe changed her outcome of what happened and maybe be a little bit more sympathetic. I think she’s so driven she doesn’t realize how her actions affect other people. That’s something sacred to the people that go to that school too. It’s their one safe haven and that’s the one place they can have that money can’t buy. Here Odelie is totally disregarding and disrespecting the people that have fought for it. So I definitely think there’s two sides to it but I definitely think that Odelie wasn’t very sympathetic in that moment to the people who have been fighting for opportunities.

FF: These are wonderful messages for kids watching.

Jade Chynoweth: Yes, that’s why as much as I’m like no, I don’t want to be the mean one, I think it’s really important to play those parts. Just because we’re playing them doesn’t mean that we support it but it’s also giving light and shedding light on situations that happen often. I think that’s also why I love our show. It plays on real things. It’s not just about dancing. It’s about real life scenarios and real life things that people are going. Like our main character, Petrice plays a gay half black kid who is trying to dance and come into his own. That’s really hard and I can’t imagine you can’t be yourself or not even knowing who you are. He had a really hard job with portraying all of those emotions and shedding light on what someone going through that is actually going through and what it feels like and what it looks like. I love that each of our characters have our own problems that people can relate to, but we all have faults that need to have light shed on them as well.

FF: When you do the opening titles, are those freestyle?

Jade Chynoweth: Yes, those opening titles are freestyle. We use the same music or you can choose from different versions of that song. So they just have us freestyle a bunch of times and piece together the moments that looked good and captures the eye and make one big collage of freestyle.

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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