It’s one of the greatest rom-com moments of all time, complete with the often-quoted line. Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray’s bickering and love-hate relationship on screen is part of what makes the movie such an enduringly beloved romantic success. But by now it is also well-known that the two actors started off on the wrong foot and continued to clash throughout the shoot. They had starred together previously in 1984’s Red Dawn and the actress had been so horrified by his on-set behaviour that she tried to have his casting in Dirty Dancing blocked. Matters weren’t helped by Swayze’s belief that Johnny should not end up with Baby.
Grey told The View about their Red Dawn problems: “Patrick was playing pranks on me and everybody, and late, and the boss of everybody. It was just, like, macho, and I just couldn’t take it. I was just like, ‘Please, this guy, that’s enough with him. So, when they said, ‘What about Patrick for the (Dirty Dancing) movie?’ I said, ‘Oh no, no, no.'”
Early last year, she revealed that when Swayze was brought in to screen test with her, he apparently knew he needed to clear the air because she was strongly opposed to him starring opposite her again.
Grey said: “He pulled me down the hall and said to me, ‘I love you, I love you, and I’m so sorry. And I know you don’t want me to do the movie.'”
Their screen tests together convinced the producers to cast Swayze. Grey tried to put aside her reservations but the set was abuzz about their strained relationship.
Lonny Price, who played the sleazy Neil Kellerman, son of the holiday park’s owner, said: “When I first got to the set there was a lot of talks about them not getting along.”
Swayze had previously opened up about their time together and their clash of personalities in his autobiography, The Time of My Life.
He wrote: “She seemed particularly emotional, sometimes bursting into tears if someone criticized her. Other times, she slipped into silly moods, forcing us to do scenes over and over again when she’d start laughing… I didn’t have a whole lot of patience for doing multiple retakes.”
Grey was also terrified of the daring lifts and hated perfectionist Swayze’s insistence on multiple takes. It didn’t help that Swayze was also in considerable physical pain during most of the now-iconic dance scenes (even ending up in hospital), due to a recurring injury from his dancing days.
In his autobiography, The Time of My Life (also written with Lisa), he said: ” “Whether rewriting scripts or honing my performance, she and I have worked together on every movie I have ever done – she has an amazing ear for dialogue, a great sense of story and knows how to zero in on performance.
“More importantly, she’s absolutely truthful, even if it’s something I don’t want to hear.”
They worked intensively on the Dirty Dancing, inserting the scene where Johnny has a fight with the sleazy waiter, and spending all night polishing his final big speech. Tall, blonde and lithe Lisa also bore a striking resemblance to the actor and dancer Cynthia Rhodes who played Johnny’s fellow dance professional Penny, a role Swayze had hoped Lisa could take.
Swayze said: “I felt all along that Johnny should ultimately end up with Penny, as they were so much more alike and a more realistic couple than Johnny and Baby.”
This time, however, he did not get his way: “That change got overruled, which was probably for the best.”
He probably had a very good point, but romcoms have never succeeded on realism. And they almost never have to then show what happened after the fairytale big ending. Swayze apparently turned down $1million to make a sequel.
The actor died in 2009 but Grey will return as Baby in a sequel from director Jonathan Levine, who confirmed that Swayze, who died in 2009, will also somehow feature.
He said: “Johnny is a part of Baby’s journey in the story. This film exists in a dialogue with the original. We want to introduce this story to a whole new generation. That said, Johnny’s absence looms large over the story, so it’s a coming-of-age story but also a coming-of-age for Baby’s character in a way.”