Recently I had a chance to chat with my friend Henry Byalikov about his exciting participation in Baz Luhrmann’s movie, The Great Gatsby. Henry is a familiar name to many of our regular readers, particularly those who followed along on Hector’s and my coverage of Dancing with the Stars this past season. Henry is a Principal dancer on the show, currently performing with the Troupe. Henry is also a busy guy. When not working on Dancing with the Stars, he ties up his off-time with additional projects. In the Fall of 2011, one of those projects was The Great Gatsby.
Personally I was very excited for this movie. I made my way to the theater on opening day, hitting up the first matinee and opting for the 3D version. I was not disappointed. Full of glitz, glam, amazing costumes, fabulous music and wonderful character portrayals…I completely enjoyed! So of course I was interested in finding out more! Thankfully Henry carved out some time to share his thoughts!
So, Henry! Working on Great Gatsby…Wow! How were you approached to participate and by whom?
It was the choreographer John O’Connell, a brilliant man to work with and for, that made me aware The Gatsby was going to take place. Initially, I worked with John as a dancer to help create the main dance piece for the workshop of the musical King Kong, and as a result he told me about The Great Gatsby. Needless to say, I didn’t need much encouragement to want to do it!
What were you specifically hired for and did your participation in duties evolve over time? I know you’ve said Principle Dancer – which includes some acting.
I was officially hired as a Featured Dancer and worked with Carey Mulligan as a rehearsal partner. Side note: Yes there were moments where I was completely star struck haha
You’ve said that you worked for approximately three months on the film…what was your schedule like? Average hours on set, call time, etc. Also what was it like on set? How was it working with Baz?
Scheduling on a film is very different to anything I had experienced previously. You can be there for an average of 8-10 hours a day, and only be actually working for approximately 30 minutes. But what I liked to do, my personal routine, when I wasn’t required on set, was to observe how Baz Luhrmann directed the leading cast as well as the scenes of extras and the like, such an incredible piece of choreography, to make it all seem so real. The anticipation on set during each scene was felt by all including the extras, featured performers and the leading cast. Baz would decide he wanted the leading cast to walk through the set in a particular way and, as a result, the rest of the supporting cast including the Featured Dancers would improvise movements, gesticulations and even conversations. It was amazing to be directed by Baz himself, alongside the likes of Leo DiCaprio, Toby Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton and Elizabeth Debicki.
How long did costume and make-up take on filming days? Cast that large for the major dance sequences, was it controlled chaos?!
Costuming was a process of organised chaos indeed! Just to give you some perspective, not only were the leading cast dressed in head to toe vintage period wear, but even down to the extras the costuming was second to none. For example, every female extra wore a pair of what I think was $10,000 vintage Ralph Lauren heels. Catherine Martin, Baz’s wife and head of Costuming for the show, is amazing. The way she coordinated such a film I’ll never know!
Have to ask…how was it working n scenes where the leads were included in the take? Did anything about them surprise you?
I loved when all of us were on the same set filming. Truly felt like second nature as I’m so used to it, except for the fact that it was a delicate balancing act of being star struck and not. When Leo entered the room, it was the first time I’d ever been star struck. I’m a big fan of his work and was inspired by his professionalism and dedication to his craft. I quickly kicked back in to gear and got on with my role of Featured Dancer, but wow what an experience.
What I loved most about working around the leads including Toby Maguire and Joel Edgerton, was that they all have worked so hard to get to where they are, you can see it and you can feel it. The way they threw themselves into the dances we participated in was incredible. A true honor.
How amazing was the set itself? Did you feel as if you were really in that world and did that help you get in the right frame of mind? Was there any of it you found funny, as in it looked real but it wasn’t what it seemed? What about the water features (fountain & area where the little walkways went across and people were dancing)…anyone accidentally fall in and get wet?!
I think Baz Luhrmann is a genius and the set itself was epic. Just about all parts of the mansion you see in the movie were real and built in 2 big warehouses. How they managed that I’ll never know. The attention to detail paid to the set was exceptional, from the Jay Gatsby styled fenced railings to the art deco ceilings. I feel it certainly helped get into the mindset of the party goers pictured in the film, not to mention the fact that each day working on this film was an adventure in itself as it was my first experience in film with some of the best in the industry!
Because it’s obviously a make shift mansion, some bits of the set were less real than others, like the trees and the “bricks” hehe.
Funny you ask whether anyone had accidentally fallen in, because we weren’t supposed to be in the pool until one elderly gentleman unintentionally slipped in the pool! He was wearing white too, and when Baz saw it he said everyone in!
How crazy was the big party dance number at the Gatsby mansion? Can you share a bit of that experience? How many days did that take to shoot?
It took about a working week to shoot the party scene if my memory serves me correctly, I might be wrong, but let me tell you I loved every second of it. Unfortunately, as with any big production, it can take quite a lot of “waiting around” time until you finally shoot but when we did it was like the 100m sprint at the Olympics, a fun filled manic dance to the finish!
Did you keep any mementos from the set? If so, what & why!
I received a wonderful personalized card, hat and key chain from production. Guess I did a good job? :p
What was your most favorite thing about this experience as well as the worst?
Favourite thing: Was getting to be a part of it. Worst part: It had to end!
Really important stuff == > How was craft services? 😉
Craft services was about as good as Dancing With The Stars craft services…Is that too ambiguous?
Take a Peek at The Great Gatsby Music (and therefore dancing!)
Fast Five – Questions for Fun!
Last song you listened to on your MP3 player? I don’t own an Mp3 Player, but if it’s the last song you want, then Def Leopard – Love Bites – love that song!
Favorite food indulgence? Peanut Butter…Chocolate…Ben and Jerry’s
Favorite guilty pleasure? Peanut Butter filled Chocolate!! Are you getting a theme here?
Celebrity crush? Choco…Just kidding! Umm I know she’s married but Jessica Biel!
Worst habit? I love to overwork myself! And eat too much chocolate ha ha!