SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the series premiere of “The Big Leap.”
“The Big Leap,” the title of Simone Recasner’s new television series, has multiple meanings for the rising star. It is the name of the reality dance competition within the show, on which the main characters are competing, in the Fox dramedy, and it also refers to the chance they are taking in being a part of the show at all. “The Big Leap” is Recasner’s first major acting role, reflecting the way her own life is about to change as she appears on screens in millions of homes across the country.
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“Being new to the form of filmmaking, the ebbs and flows of set life has been a big adjustment for me,” Recasner admits.
Her specific role of single mom and aspiring dancer Gabby comes with its own complications, of course. When Gabby is first introduced in the series premiere, she is the captain of her high school’s dance team, ready to pursue her dreams of performing professionally, only to find herself pregnant. The show then flashes to years later when Gabby has opted to push aside those aspirations to instead raise her son. Her office job is not enough for her, though, so when she learns of the reality show, she decides to reunite with her high school boyfriend Justin (Raymond Cham Jr.), who is undoubtedly not her son’s father, to audition together.
At first she doesn’t make the cut (though he does), but her determination causes her to push into a producers’ meeting and ask them to put her on the show if she gets fallen pro athlete Reggie (Ser’Darius Blain) up to speed so he, too, will do the show. It’s a strategy that works, and the two begin to bond almost immediately, leading showrunner Nick (Scott Foley) to correctly pick up on the fact that she is going to develop feelings for Reggie, which provides an always-sought-after showmance storyline.
“Gabby’s continuously on the brink, as if she’s standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or something, and on the brink of making a decision of how she’s going to journey down. It’s terrifying as much as it is thrilling, and to be continuously existing in that hyper-sensitive space has been totally challenging,” Recasner says.
And that’s even without mentioning the dance training. The characters of the show-within-the-show will be rehearsing to perform a version of “Swan Lake,” which means Recasner has undergone weeks of ballet rehearsals.
“To make the pilot itself, it took us three separate times because of COVID. Each time we came back to make it, we had three weeks of rehearsal and Raymond, Jon [Rudnitsky], Ser’Darius and I were consistently the four that were not smart enough to say, ‘No we don’t want to come to rehearsal a month early!’ But actually it was such an amazing bonding experience that really lends itself to the ultimate story,” she says. “We were in dance rehearsal for nine hours a day, every day for five days a week, but now that we’re in production, there are days where I only have 20 or 30 minutes before I have to do the dance and I have to learn it on set, in a corner. My body has certainly grown to the point where I’m learning choreography a lot faster now.”
Here, Recasner talks to Variety about tapping into Gabby’s confidence level, the budding relationships with Reggie and Nick, and portraying a character who lives with depression.
We really only get a small taste of who Gabby was in her younger years, but there is such a big distinction between the then and now in terms of her life. What was most important for you to know about who Gabby was and who she may need to become again?
A big question that I spent a lot of time ruminating on was why she decided to have the baby. For me, it had a lot of clues into who Gabby is in general. She was the captain of her dance team, and I think she’s an incredible leader and she’s really good at jumping 100% into whatever she does. And so, having that opening dance itself was hugely helpful for me in understanding the freedom that existed in her body, to then [understand] the restrictions that she now has to exist with to make ends meet. It is a really bold dance that has a very high energy about it. Now, she has to show up and do mundane stuff every day to make sure her kid is safe and taken care of. Gabby goes on this journey of unlocking and therapizing the last few years, and she learns a lot about herself in the process. She will be returning to the most natural, unobstructed version of herself.
In speaking to having the baby, where does the father fall in? Did you need to know who he was right from the beginning of the story?
It was very important to me, pretty much from the very beginning, to know who the dad is. It was a huge key into understand who Gabby is and why she makes the decision to not pursue her dream in the way she had been pursuing it.
Where do you think her confidence level is at the start of the show?
I think that she’s finding it. I don’t think she really has it. The first episode is all about adrenaline and instinct, and then we’re plopped into the midst of her having to deal with what happened when she is faced with the dream coming true in the sense that she got on the show, but she’s overwhelmed with all of these old insecurities coming out and these old stories happening in her head and also out loud. A lot of her experience is just trying to catch up and do the best she can. But at the same time, I think she was born a confident person, but the world told her not to be.
She meets a couple of people pretty much right away who do seem to boost her confidence, to different degrees. Nick saying she looks like America and wanting to put her on the show has to make her feel good that someone with so much power is giving her a chance. What does their relationship look like, going forward?
I think Gabby is one of, if not the most, driven people on the show, and Nick is certainly a vessel she has to get through in order to get what she wants, but she sees him as a person doing a job, not a man with all of the power in his hands. I think she’s more intimidated by Monica, by Wayne, by the other dancers. Those are the people whose opinions matter more to her. But I also find it really endearing that they find a mentorship relationship between them. He’s not just giving her advice about the show, he’s also giving her really great life advice.
And then there’s Reggie, who gave her such a special moment by performing the lift in their dance.
I think that lift was the biggest shift that she could have had, but didn’t think was possible. I like to think of Gabby as somebody who lives within four walls, and she has been braced, but then the lift literally breaks that, and now all of these other things she thought were not possible or not part of her story, maybe they can be, too. We’re meeting somebody at the moment of learning she can be bigger than she ever thought she could be, and that is also terrifying.
How much of a distraction will he become for her?
She has to battle through [it], but ultimately the core of Gabby is the same, and that is that she wants to prove to herself that she can do this. Reggie is somebody I don’t think Gabby ever expected to have feelings for, nor did she expect to have any contact with somebody like that at all, but her life is being blown open. And he’s a man who is so different than anybody she has ever interacted with before and there is a genuine spark, but whether it’s romantic or friendship, I don’t know.
When Gabby finally reaches out to Justin, she tells him one of the reasons she stopped communicating with him before was because she was depressed. How much does her mental health factor into the story now, and what did it take for you to step into that mindset?
It wasn’t necessarily that hard for me to understand. A huge thing for Gabby is to understand the hope that she existed with before. It’s not that everything was rosy in her life in childhood — it wasn’t — but she lived with this understanding that things would get better, and when that ball dropped on her and things didn’t get better, I think it really unlocked a lot of betrayal for her. Life isn’t going to offer anything to any of these people, and it’s certainly not going to offer it to Gabby; she has to push a lot to get where she wants to go. Even if it’s not something that’s directly talked about, it all relates to how she’s moving through space and time in the present. So, there are some things that get dealt with, and certainly there’s a reason that’s where our episode starts — that that’s where her present-day introduction is.
“The Big Leap” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.
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