Los Angeles Times
Jennifer Grey turns ‘the Corner’
‘Dirty Dancing’ star discusses the sequel, her memoir and the ‘fundamentally wrong’ Roe vs. Wade ruling
BY YVONNE VILLARREAL >>> Jennifer Grey wasn’t sure she wanted to keep our appointment. A few hours before, the news alerts had begun f looding in: The Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, eliminating a constitutional right to abortion that had existed for nearly 50 years. And there’s no handbook that explains how to promote a memoir the day such a seismic ruling comes down.
“I feel so emotional,” Grey says. “Even though I’ve seen it coming, even though we’ve been hearing what’s coming, it doesn’t feel real.”
Movie viewers already know Grey as the star of “Dirty Dancing,” the 1987 film best remembered for that famous lift and Grey’s steamy chemistry with co-star Patrick Swayze. But the film — set in 1963, a decade before Roe vs. Wade — features a powerful pro-abortion rights message within its foes-to-lovers coming-of-age story. Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), a dancer at the resort where Frances “Baby” Houseman
(Grey) and her family are staying, is faced with an unplanned pregnancy. To help fund Penny’s (illegal) abortion, Baby borrows money from her unsuspecting father; Baby’s father, a doctor, later helps Penny recover from the botched procedure.
“We saw someone who was hemorrhaging,” Grey says. “We saw what happens to people without means — the haves and the have nots. I love that part of the storyline, because it was really a feminist movie in a rom-com. It was a perfect use of history.”
Before she was known in the popular imagination for “Dirty Dancing,” Grey had her own experience with abortion, as she alludes to in her memoir, “Out of the Corner,” which details her hardpartying, rebellious years as a teenager and young adult. “When I try to imagine my own daughter at 16, playing house, essentially living with a grown-ass man, doing tons of blow, popping Quaaludes, and going to Studio  — not to mention being lied to, cheated on, then gifted with various and sundry STDs and unwanted pregnancies, it makes me feel physically ill,” she writes. “No teenager should be swimming in waters that dark . ... ”
Grey says she felt empowered by her sexual freedom at a young age and was careful about using birth control. But even as someone with the access and means to abortion, the choice to end a pregnancy can take its toll: “It’s such a grave decision. And it stays with you.
“I wouldn’t have my life. I wouldn’t have had the career I had, I wouldn’t have had anything,” Grey says. “And it wasn’t for lack of taking it seriously. I’d always wanted a child. I just didn’t want a child as a teenager. I didn’t want a child where I was [at] in my life.”
At age 41, Grey gave birth to her daughter, Stella Gregg, now 20, with thenhusband Clark Gregg.
“This is just so fundamentally wrong,” Grey adds of the Supreme Court’s ruling, “and it is sounding a bell for all women to rise up and use their voice now because we have assumed, since 1973, that our choice was safe and that it was never going to be overturned.”
Though Grey says she is “heartbroken,” the conversation eventually turns to other personal topics she explores in her memoir. She writes about her childhood experiences as the daughter of Broadway and film legend Joel Grey and actor Jo Wilder; the wild, sometimes reckless tales of her youth; and how trying to conform to Hollywood’s standards of beauty affected her career. She’ll join the L.A. Times Book Club at the Montalbán Theatre on July 27.
Talking over breakfast at Little Beach House Malibu — not far from where she lives now and where she spent part of her childhood — Grey spoke further about looking back on her life, reconciling her youth as an adult and that “Dirty Dancing” sequel. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
With some hindsight now, what did you get out of the process of reflection in unpacking your life in this way? I can’t imagine going through old journals of mine ...
I have a chest of them. And I never looked at them until I wrote the book. I never opened them from the moment I wrote them — no one sits around reading their old journals. But it’s like getting a bird’s-eye view into your brain from another moment. And what I found, because I’ve never written anything before, but the same way Baby is not a perfect dancer, sometimes it’s better to not be perfect. That’s not to say the struggle isn’t real for all the virtuosos out there, but there’s something about the challenge that brings different energy. The difficulty is kind of like the secret sauce.
I was writing a letter to my daughter — sometimes we write to each other. And I was saying that it was just weird that the book coming out and the book getting so much praise and love and just incredible response is nice, it’s really gratifying, it means a lot to me, but it’s not as satisfying as the struggle of writing it.
The thing about memoirs is that often, in telling your story, you’re telling the story of other people in your orbit. Was it a challenge for you to be honest in telling your story?
Extremely. I grapple with my ability to tell the truth in a way that might hurt anybody. Because it is so, so deeply part of my DNA to not want to hurt people, because I want to wish no harm. And to not care what other people think of me, or that I’m disliked or people are angry at me is very painful for me, but it’s almost like the exposure I need to expose myself.
Before I die, I want to be able to not look to other people for my worth or for my opinion of myself, to not have it be so up for grabs. And so writing the book was real, right in the middle of that struggle of how can I tell my truth and my story, because everyone has a right to telling their story . ... The one note I kept getting from editors was show, don’t tell; scenes, not theory. When I started showing myself on a page, I got to watch as I morphed.
Something that felt familiar was the way your mother maybe unintentionally conditioned you to think about your looks, your nose especially. Maybe it’s projection or protection, but the good intentions don’t make it any easier for one’s self-confidence.
They know the world. They want you to have a better life. And they think, “If I could just tell you the truth, you could do better because I know the ways of the world, I know the ways of showbiz, I know what a woman needs to do in order to do this, so let me clue you in.” It’s all under the guise of helping and also projecting.
But as a child, that’s not how it’s received.
You’re a sponge, you’re just absorbing every energy, even the unspoken stuff, especially the unspoken stuff. They could tell you a million things about how beautiful you are, how great you are, and all you need to do is feel their truth.
My mom worked with [feminist] Gloria Steinem, yet she had given up herself. And then I’m like, “I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to ever do that. I’m going to pursue my career. I am not going to let this happen,” and then I find a guy who doesn’t want me to be successful, not so dissimilar from my dad. And not consciously; he’s not a bad guy. Why am I attracted to that person of all the people in the world? And why am I letting it affect me? Why am I staying?
For those who haven’t read the book yet, the relationship you’re referencing is with Matthew Broderick. What you describe is being in a relationship with someone who was a rising star and maybe too immature to handle you becoming one.
To me, it’s love, it felt like love. It was like an imprinting. Some part of me was addicted to that dynamic of being with somebody who didn’t feel comfortable with me blowing up and getting to where I was going. And some part of me felt that I deserved it.
I want to circle back to the comments from your mother about your appearance, because you didn’t dislike your nose — you write: “I’d taken a certain pride in being an original, not looking like every other actress.”
I was fine, but I was not perfectly fine. I always wondered about it, and I had insecurity about it. Everyone has something about themselves that they think, “This makes me less lovable, if only I could change this thing about myself.” And the truth is my mom was right about Hollywood. I’m not going to talk about other people’s plastic surgery. Let’s just say it is more normal to have a nose job than to not in Hollywood, and there was no one who looked like me that had a major career.
And so she was right. She was like the voice of my darkness, of my own selfattack, so she became the person that held that for me until I did it. And I was so resentful that my own mother was actually telling me the truth, which is: It’s hard to cast you; if you want to be in movies and television and get a lot of parts, make it easier for them. And I was so stuck.
How do you think that shaped how you talk to your daughter about things she may be insecure about?
There’s nothing about her that I would ever want her to change. The culture is very heavily focused on perfectionism, and whatever the culture decides is the body to go for now is the face to go for now — there’s so much input coming at these young people about this ideal.
When I was growing up, it was Twiggy. And now it’s the Kardashians. In between, it was Farrah Fawcett and before that it was Marilyn Monroe. But what I see is these young people and influencers who are doing a lot to themselves — a lot of surgical intervention, very young. It’s become almost commonplace to change, or surgically change, anything about yourself. I hope someday there will be a kind of backlash to all the artificial manipulation of a face or filters.
What did “Schnozzageddon,” as you call it, tell you about Hollywood?
I couldn’t get over it, I just had to get with it. I had to have a deep surrender, and I had to just say, “Oh, I guess I made a choice. I did something. I didn’t want this. I’m not a victim. But it happened to me. And it was not my plan.”
I felt very alone, because I didn’t know anyone else who’d ever had that experience. I just had to start from scratch and figure it out. That’s why it was the best thing that happened to me. Because it freed me. For so long, I couldn’t please other people, I couldn’t make a shift, so I felt very stuck, and I couldn’t make a living. It was kind of like a come-toJesus moment. It didn’t happen overnight. It was like, “OK, who am I and what am I here for?” It was very, very painful, but it’s like a rebirth.
The “Dirty Dancing” sequel is in the works. You’re an executive producer, and you’re coming back as Baby. How are you feeling about coming back to it at this time in your life?
I’m excited by the challenge of looking at it from the point of view of what happens when it’s 30 years later and it’s the ’90s. What happens with the person that had that experience — what happened to her and what is now relevant about the original story at a different moment; looking at it through a different lens. I think it’s, hopefully, really going to satisfy without ever feeling like it’s — look, I have no desire to remake the first one or to compete with the first one or to make it better than the first one or as good. It’s more about: What’s a fresh story to be told?
Questions of a sequel have plagued, or followed, rather, your whole career. So what made you feel like, “OK, I like the script enough now, this is the time to do it”?
You say “plagued” as if it’s a bad thing, but the truth is it’s because of the love of the movie that people wanting more and wanting to know maybe there’s more there.
It’s about not waiting for anything to be perfect. You just leap, and it just seemed like really good people. Jonathan Levine (“Warm Bodies,” “Long Shot”) is a good director and good writer. I just thought “These are good people, and they seem to get it.”
Has it been a process trying to capture, or even evoke, the magic without Patrick?
There is no going back. There is no having that again. That was its own creature. There’s a new creature, and what is that new creature? And what is the way in which — we still need to have the next iteration of ourselves be born, and who is going to help bear that out? What is the need? Where’s the place where you need to be catapulted into a different dimension?
We don’t start until next spring, and it comes out the following Valentine’s [Day]. We’re in the getting-thescript phase.