Much like the characters going after their desire to make it as a dancer, Lauren Gottlieb, the female lead actress in the new Bollywood dance film ‘ABCD: Any Body Can Dance,’ also pushed through boundaries; she made the transition from being an American actress to finding success as a Bollywood star. ‘ABCD’ also broke through barriers by being the first Indian dance film to be presented in 3D, and exceeding expectations by becoming a box office hit.
‘ABCD’ follows Vishnu (played by Prabhu Deva), who finds himself thrown out from the Swish Dance Academy by his manipulative business partner. Heart-broken, Vishnu decides to give up dance and leave Mumbai forever. However, the night before his departure, he witnesses a captivating sight-a group of dancers preparing for the upcoming Ganpati Dance Battle, an annual festival that pits Mumbai’s best dance groups against each other. Watching the raw talent of these amazing dancers helps Vishnu arrive at a decision where he takes this disparate group under his wing, help them overcome their personal rivalries and turn them into India’s best dance squad. Vishnu finds help in fixing the dance group from Reva (Gottlieb), who helps him realize that with dance, anything is possible.
Gottlieb generously took the time recently to answer questions about the musical dance film. Among other things, the actress discussed how her lifelong dream of combining dance with acting, and the honor of becoming Bollywood’s newest heroine, convinced her to take on the role; the transition of going from a backup dancer and supporting actress to a lead actress; and how having director Remo D’Souza’s support was a big compliment to her.
Question (Q): You play Rhea, the female lead in the new Indian dance film ‘ABCD: Any Body Can Dance.’ What was it about the character of Rhea, and the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Lauren Gottlieb (LG): I took this role because the offer to become Bollywood’s newest heroine was a huge honor! It has also been a lifelong dream of mine to combine dance with acting and star in a dance film.
I opened an email one morning from UTV Motion Pictures explaining that Remo D’Souza, the director of “ABCD,’ is a huge fan of mine from when I was on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ and he wanted me as his lead heroine. Being from Hollywood and not having too much knowledge of Bollywood, I researched names like UTV, Remo D’Souza, Prabhudeva, Siddarth Roy Kapur and Ronnie Screvwala! It didn’t take me long before I realized I had come across a huge opportunity.
I’m always striving to take that next step forward in my career and do projects I can look back on and be proud of. The idea of starring in India’s first 3D dance film sounded like being a part of history. In this case, the script was almost secondary. I have a strong intuition that guides me in life and it was screaming at me to take this offer and make my debut into Bollywood.
Q: Rhea is your first major leading role, after appearing in supporting roles in such films as ‘Disaster Movie’ and ‘Bring It On: Fight to the Finish,’ and on such television shows as ‘Ghost Whisperer,’ ‘Glee’ and ‘Make It or Break It.’ What was the transition process like, going from your supporting roles to your role as Rhea, especially since the movie was filmed in India?
LG: Everything I have done in my career, I have used as a way to learn my craft and find my passions. I danced my entire childhood, so naturally my shift to Los Angeles was to conquer all my dreams through dancing. It wasn’t until I started diving into the Entertainment Industry that I realized I could do more than just dance, and I began learning how to act. I’ve always known in my heart I was destined for big things that surpassed the norm of being a “back up” dancer.
With that being said, I feel blessed that I was still able to have life experiences of performing on big stages like the Grammy Awards and American Music Awards. To share the stage with artist like Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Shakira and Enrique Iglesias was a huge privilege. They were all things that made me grow as a performer. ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ gave me a platform as a solo artist and also pushed my name out to the entire world.
The transition process going from supporting roles to now leading roles was just timing and preparation. My dream is to be an actress in film, not necessarily having to do with dance. I want to find roles that push me out of my comfort zones as an actress and that make a difference in the world. The fact that my first film was a dance movie summed up the whole first chapter in my life; it’s a huge personal achievement and a debut that is very special to me.
Q: The film’s director, Remo D’Souza, said that he became a fan of your dancing after you appeared on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ and knew he would cast you in a Bollywood film one day. Did having Remo’s support give you the confidence to film the movie in Mumbai?
LG: Remo’s support was what intrigued me at first. Having a director that believed in my talent so much as to hire me from the other side of the world on faith alone was a huge compliment.
But my personal connection with God was what gave me the confidence to take this leap and film in India. The opportunity was big but I also knew the task would be a huge challenge. I’m always ready for a good challenge! Being complacent and only doing things you know you can achieve stunts your growth and will never push you to new levels.
In this case, I moved from Hollywood to Bollywood for 3 months, started learning Hindi, lived a different life style, ate different food, danced different styles and starred in my first film (not in my language). There were so many foreign variables that at times, I would break down and didn’t know if I could handle it. I turned to God many times to keep me on track. I felt I was ready to take the lead, but for that to be a film in a foreign language was a different beast. It’s only fitting in my heart that I was given an opportunity of a lifetime but had to fight every day to achieve it.
Q: As a choreographer, Remo also created the dance sequences for ‘ABCD.’ What was your working relationship with Remo like while you were shooting the movie, and did you offer any creative input on the film’s dance routines?
LG: Remo sir and I had a great relationship on set. Coming from different backgrounds, our universal language was dance. I respect him greatly for taking the risk in making ‘ABCD.’ It is definitely a stretch in the Bollywood market, since hip hop, the main style of dance in the film, was only introduced 6 years back in India. I know there were a few people close to Remo who believed ‘ABCD’ would flop, which actually gave us all a huge opportunity to prove ourselves.
I come from a more trained background then most dancers in Bollywood. I did feel I was an asset to the team when we were putting together all the routines. All of my solo bits throughout the film I choreographed, as well as a few 8 counts here and there in every routine. I tried to sit back and let the creative process unfold, but whenever the choreographer of each routine had a creative block, I would just start dancing and my cast mates would jump in and learn what I was creating. It was just minutes before my steps were inserted in the routines.
It made me proud to watch the film and see my choreography throughout. In fact, the opening routine with the umbrellas was solely my concept and choreography. Remo could sense that I was itching to conceptualize a routine, so one day he pulled me aside and said he was giving me the opening number, do as you wish! I ‘m not sure if our set designers knew what they were getting themselves into when they said, “Lauren, we will build anything you can dream of.”
In just two days they built me a 2 tier stage wrapped in gorgeous red fabric ,and 12 umbrellas with LED lights around the perimeter and inside across every spoke. I called for 12 dancers, sparklers, wigs, and a complete wardrobe. After a full 15-hour day of filming as an actress, I stayed on set from 11pm-3am choreographing my dancers on stage. We filmed the routine the following morning at 7am! In moments like these, I realize anything is possible when you believe in yourself.
Q: You were learning Hindi and Bollywood techniques during the three months you were filming ‘ABCD.’ What was your overall preparation process for the movie like, since you are studio trained in jazz, ballet, hip-hop, lyrical and tap?
LG: The three months I spent learning Hindi and Bollywood techniques was the same three months I was filming in India. That was a challenge! It all happened so fast! The script didn’t come until a few days before I jumped on that 18-hour flight from Los Angeles to Mumbai. I had to rely on the years of training in both dancing and acting I had under my belt in order to pull this off.
I did have an angel in Mumbai and he was my Hindi coach, Kishor Sadhwani. It took us a few days to find our groove and come up with the quickest and most efficient way for me to learn my dialogs. With an English script in one hand and a Hindi script in the other, I had one week to learn my lines in Hindi and practice how to act and react in my scenes. This was by far the hardest task ever given to me. It’s a very good thing that I work well under pressure.
Q: The film follows Vishnu, who’s widely known as India’s best dancer, who changes his mind about leaving Mumbai after seeing a group of dancers preparing for the upcoming Ganpati Dance Battle. What was your working relationship with Prabhu Deva, who played Vishnu, like while you were filming, particularly since he’s a choreographer as well?
LG: Prabhudeva and I got along great on set. He is an unbelievable choreographer/dancer and a great director with some big hits under him. With so much success and the fact that he’s so down to earth makes him someone I look up to very much! I only wish I had the chance to dance with him on screen. Hopefully one day we’ll bust a move together!
Q: ‘ABCD’ is the first Indian dance film to be released in 3D. What is the feeling like, knowing that you’re part of a history-making movie in India, and do you think the country will embrace the new film technology?
LG: ‘ABCD’ being India’s first 3D dance film IS history. It was also a smash hit at the box office! It broke the record of becoming the highest grossing film opening weekend with a non-star cast in the history of Indian cinema. A very proud moment in my life!
Q: ‘ABCD’ was released by India’s biggest film studio, UTV Motion Pictures. Is the release by UTV bringing attention to the film in India, and what kind of reception to the film have you received so far there?
LG: We are all lucky the producers behind the film believed in it as much as we did. They took a gamble having a non-star cast and proved a lot of film critics wrong when ‘ABCD’ became the first hit film of 2013. Everyone at UTV was super kind and made me feel welcome in a new country.
One thing we did have to our advantage was every individual cast member’s fans supporting us. With all of us having been on TV dance shows, we were able to hit social media really hard and get the message of ‘ABCD’ out to the masses. With me being from the US, we really took it global. The reception from around the world has been wonderful! Dance is a universal language and ‘ABCD’ can be enjoyed by everyone.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects lined up, whether acting, dancing or choreographing, that you can discuss?
LG: I am currently still in India. This is a huge crossroad, not only in my career, but also my life. I have accomplished so much as a dancer performing on stage, film and movies. I now have a great platform as an actress, which is a direction I had always hoped my career would take. The life crossroad is Hollywood or Bollywood? I always let my intuition guide me. I have a couple big projects lined up but nothing I can discuss at the moment. So you will have to wait and see where that next step will be!