Nobody puts Baby in a corner... but Patrick Swayze wasn’t so lucky. The Dirty Dancing star, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2009, was strongly against saying Johnny Castle's signature line that has long since entered pop-culture immortality. “Patrick didn’t want to say it, and I didn’t blame him!” his onscreen dance partner, Jennifer Grey, tells Yahoo Entertainment while chatting about her involvement in the new Flu Shot Fridays public service campaign. (Watch our video interview above.)
Unfortunately for him — and fortunately for the rest of us — Swayze’s objections were overruled by the 1987 blockbuster’s screenwriter, Eleanor Bergstein, and he was cornered into delivering a line that he described in his own autobiography as “corny.” As his co-star points out, even though he hated the line, Swayze still gave it his all when the big moment came.
“He did really great by it,” Grey says now. “For some reason there are certain things that feel bad when you're doing them, [but] you have no idea how they'll resonate in the world. [That line] means so many things to so many people: There are so many ways that we put ourselves in the corner or we think other people are putting us in the corner, and unless we agree with them that we belong in the corner, then they really can't — they don't have that kind of power. But you have to be able to recognize that you don't belong there.”
For the record, nobody tells Grey where she does or doesn't belong. Reflecting on her other '80s stone-cold classic, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the actress reveals that she used her own day off to crash the set while Matthew Broderick was filming the epic parade sequence in downtown Chicago. "I'm not good with a lot of days off: I like to be in the middle of the action," she says, laughing. "I knew it was a huge crowd scene, so I dressed myself up in this weirdo outfit and put my hair in a beehive and went on the set as this autograph hound with little sour balls in my bag and an autograph book."
Apparently, the ruse worked. "They had security following me and were like, 'Who is this freak? Get her off the set!'" Grey reveals. "My goal was to get on camera as this other person." Sadly, that particular alter ego isn't glimpsed in the finished scene, but Grey still has photos of her set-crashing stunt — including a shot of her with Ferris favorite Richard Edson, who played the Ferrari-stealing garage attendant — that she's shared on Instagram. She jokes that it's also a good warning to prospective casting agents: "Don't give me too much time to myself."
Grey affectionately sends up Ferris Buellerin her Flu Shot Fridays ad, where she enjoys a big day out while discussing the importance of taking some "me time" and, of course, getting your flu shot. "Experts are predicting a particularly brutal flu season, because of everyone having been isolated last year," Grey explains. "While getting the flu shot doesn't guarantee you won't get the flu, it significantly reduces your chances. There's a website that has all the resources you need, and you can also go to your healthcare provider and figure out if it's right for you. The appeal to me is just to make it a fun day! Life moves pretty fast. If you don't get a flu shot, you could miss it — you know what I mean?"
If you were born anytime after 1986, you definitely know what she means. Thirty-five years after its release, Grey says that Ferris Bueller remains a personal and professional highlight. "I love that movie. It's a smart, funny movie and it's so '80s. John Hughes was a genius, and the kind of improvisational freedom that he gave me when I worked with him meant I trusted him so much."
Hughes trusted Grey in return, which is why he listened to her when she recommended a novice actor named Charlie Sheen for a small, but crucial role. Towards the end of the movie, Grey's character Jeanie Bueller — the rule-following sister of expert school-skipper, Ferris (Broderick) — ends up at a police station where she sparks unlikely chemistry with a punk-ish guy who got picked up on an unspecified drug charge. "I had done Red Dawn with Charlie, and John didn't know him," Grey recalls. "He only knew Emilio [Estevez, Sheen's brother] because he did The Breakfast Club. "I said, 'Oh, his younger brother is so great. He's so weird and funny; you would love him.' They brought him in, and they gave him the part!"
"When we shot it, it was really hard to keep a straight face," she continues. "It was all improvisational. John would just yell out while we were shooting, 'Say "Most guys call me Shauna,"' and I was like 'OK.' I trusted him because I knew he had a vision." Funnily enough, when Grey envisions Jeanie's future, she doesn't see a place for Sheen's bad boy in it. "I don't think Jeanie ends up with anyone for a really long time. I think he just showed her that she's more than she had thought of herself."
Asked how Ferris Bueller might unfold in the smartphone era, Grey pitches a concept that specifically takes those devices into account. "It would be great to do Ferris Buller's Day Off Your Phone," she says, laughing. "Can you imagine if we all were off our phones for a whole day? We wouldn't be constantly showing each other things on our phones, we'd just have feelings and dreams and thoughts that weren't dictated. Wouldn't that be amazing?"
Sadly, Grey hasn't been invited to consult on any Ferris Bueller reboots that Paramount might have planned. But she is taking a leading role in Lionsgate's efforts to bring a new Dirty Dancing to the screen. Grey is set to executive produce and star in the planned revival, and she's approaching the task seriously. "I'm really committed to getting it right and to doing right by the fans," she says. "I just feel an enormous responsibility to the place it holds in people's hearts and what made it so special, and to do it without Patrick is just unthinkable. So it has to be enough of a departure, because I would never be part of something where we're just rehashing and redoing the old one."
For Grey, the not-so-dirty secret to Dirty Dancing's longevity is that it's a thoughtful and authentic depiction of a particular place and time, one that touches on serious issues in between beloved dancing sequences. "We were dealing with abortion in the movie, because it was a time when people couldn't have a legal, safe abortion," she notes, drawing a connection to the present day fight over abortion rights. "The idea that we're unfortunately dealing with this again now is bizarre."
"[The new film] has to have something fresh and it has to be about real stuff," Grey adds. "[It has to] empower you to realize that you'll never find yourself back in that corner, or that if you do, you know how to get yourself out again. There's always a corner to be put in or to allow someone to put you in. The question is, how many times can you just decide: 'There's that corner again. I'm going to get myself out.'"
In case you still doubt that Grey has embraced Johnny Castle's cornerstone philosophy three decades after Dirty Dancing, she's incorporated that line into her upcoming memoir, Out of the Corner. Scheduled to be released next year, the book will feature candid commentary about her film career — including whether she and Swayze clashed during the film's production, as has been long rumored — as well as off-camera events like her plastic surgery procedures in the early 1990s.
"It's a really deep experience to write your own story," Grey says of the writing process. "I recommend it to everyone. There's a facileness to the way people just decide they know who you are and what your story is. This idea that we are this fixed thing... we're always a work in progress. I love learning and growing and changing my perception of things. It's powerful to be able to say: 'Everyone's going to think what they want, but I know who I am.' I wish that for everybody."