Teri Polo was once asked to be a celebrity contestant on the ABC reality competition series “Dancing with the Stars.” After explaining to the producers they would have to change the name to “Dancing with the Star” because she would win, Polo opted not to be part of the program.
There is some merit to Polo’s claim that she would be an easy winner. She started taking ballet lessons at 5 and when she was 13, the Delaware native began attending New York’s School of Ballet. After studying ballet for 13 years, she signed a modeling contract when she was 17 which led to a role on the daytime drama “Loving.”
Polo’s getting to make a slight return to the dance world with her latest acting job, the FOX series “The Big Leap.” The comedy/drama is a fictional look at a reality dance competition show where the contestants will perform “Swan Lake” as the finale. It launches at 9 p.m. Sept. 20 on FOX.
Polo’s character, Julia Perkins, is a wife and mom who was a dancer in her youth and sees the show as a way to regain her own identity. She gets a little extra push when she discovers her husband is spending more time online looking at porn than working.
The contestants are an eclectic mix with Polo’s character being one of the oldest. She knows her character is a very important part of the mix of participants.
“I feel very honored to represent a certain group of people at a point in their lives I can relate to,” Polo, 52, says. “And it’s good. It’s really hard. It’s very difficult to be vulnerable. But they realize that I’m old and I’m in a midlife crisis.
“I’m pretty sure that’s why I got cast.”
Series creator and executive producer Liz Heldens immediately adds that Polo being a certain age was not why she was cast. What surprised them was Polo’s dancing skills. The idea they could cast someone with Polo’s long acting career who can dance was a major bonus.
Polo – whose previous credits include “Meet the Parents,” “The Fosters” and “Good Trouble” – was excited to be part of “The Big Leap” because it is the opportunity to act and dance. She has seen the show come together like a perfectly choreographed dance number.
“Getting this together has been an extraordinary collaboration. And I have to tell you, every single one – whether they’re afraid of dancing or not – have busted their humps to truly look like dancers,” Polo says. “My hat’s off to everybody for putting in the hours that they have.
“Long, long hours on the set and acting and emoting and putting their hearts out there. And then heading back to the studio. Or even in the studio, sweating, sweating, sweating, and then showing up on set and patting yourself down.”
The other competitors include Gabby Lewis – played by newcomer Simone Recasner – who once dreamt of becoming a professional dancer, but her dreams were sidelined when she got pregnant right out of high school. The show could be a second chance but it will be a battle.
Recasner has been a stage actor for years but this is her first television role. She can relate to Gabby’s insecurities because Recasner could never imagine herself on a television series because she saw very few full-figure actresses in that world.
“We’re meeting her (Gabby) at a time where she’s deciding to do the exact opposite of how the world and her brain and everybody has told her to act her whole life,” Recasner says. “When this story came around and when they were real about having a big, curvy, plus sized, fat – whatever you want to call it – body dance, it is a dream. Beyond a dream.”
Auditioning alongside Gabby is Justin Calgrove (Raymond Cham Jr.), Gabby’s former dance partner and high school boyfriend until he came out of the closet. Also competing are: professional football player Reggie Sadler (Ser’Darius Blain); Brittney Lovewell (Anna Grace Barlow), a hyper-competitive ballroom dancer; unemployed autoworker Mike Devries (Jon Rudnitsky); and Paula Clark (Piper Perabo), a high-powered corporate executive;.
Scott Foley plays Nick Blackburn, the producer who agrees to dance completion after his latest show failure and divorce. All of the troubles he has had in his life are of his own making but Foley doesn’t see him as having an evil heart.
“I had a reckoning the other day where I sort of realized, at least in my own mind, that Nick is sort of like the Darth Vader in the making of this show,” Foley says. “He’s always not the evil guy, but his intentions are not necessarily the best. Although, Vader, of course, was the evil guy, we know.
“He’s the person who makes sure the show is what people want to watch, regardless of the ethics. And I think for me it’s such an interesting character to play.”