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Welcome To Burlesque
When it comes to the vibrant, timeless world of burlesque and its recent pop culture renaissance, writer-director Steven Antin had the kind of intimate connection impossible to ignore: his sister and Antin had recognized there was a rich story in the art form, its fans, and its performers. Encouraged by Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper, Antin used his knowledge of burlesque to chart out Ali Rose's incredible journey from a bar in Iowa to a club on the Sunset Strip.

One objective for Antin was to remain true to the spirit of the art form, noting that a popular misconception about burlesque is that it is synonymous with stripping. Antin explains: "Burlesque only became associated with striptease in the United States in the early twentieth century, and that was inspired by the Moulin Rouge in the 1890s in Paris. Previously, burlesque was defined by comedy shows with singing and dancing, storytelling and parodies. It was considered risqué and funny and appealed to the mass culture.

The risqué elements of Burlesque, though, never venture beyond a cheeky suggestion or a delicious double entendre. "Burlesque is sometimes risqué, always sexy, but never sexual,” Antin continues. "Everything we do in this movie, like with original burlesque, is intended to be something enjoyable. It's a big, friendly, bawdy, fun romp. Burlesque was entertainment for the masses in its original form, and it still is today in Burlesque.”

Antin's screenplay imbues the Burlesque Lounge with its own rich personality and history. His desire was to present a somewhat magical space that could transport its inhabitants to an alternate reality. "When Ali Rose walks into the Burlesque Lounge, she's falling down the rabbit hole, not unlike ‘Alice in Wonderland,'” says Antin. "She descends this staircase and the first person she meets is Alexis, who looks suspiciously like The Mad Hatter.”

With the script in place, Antin and Culpepper set out to find who would populate the world of the Burlesque Lounge.

Who's In the Spotlight:

To give Burlesque the marquee pizzazz they envisioned, the filmmakers knew that only a megastar would do. It meant that they pursued Cher tirelessly before the Oscar® winner agreed to end a seven year hiatus and return to the big screen. (They even paid a surprise personal plea to Cher when she was on the Sony lot doing an ADR session for MGM's animated The Zookeeper.) The filmmakers believed that Cher would respond to the role of Tess because the character is both familiar and contemporary, somebody with a lot to give who's in danger of having her dream taken away. Antin notes: "Tess is one of a zillion people losing their shirt. That's a very real thing happening right now and I thought it was an interesting thing for this character to be experiencing.”

"Cher said, ‘I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better.'” Antin continues. "She's been up and she's been down and she's had good times and bad times. I knew that she would relate to this character and this world. She's the embodiment of female empowerment, you know? And that's what Burlesque is about: female empowerment.”

When it came to the role of Ali, the filmmakers had their eyes on Christina Aguilera, who Antin had long been friends with. But what cinched it for him was her appearance on "Saturday Night Live,” which made him certain that she had the chops to portray Ali. "I had this instinct about her,” Antin notes. "I had seen her on ‘Saturday Night Live' doing something very difficult. I don't think people realize how tough it is to be funny in a live element like that. I knew she could do this based on her instincts in those seemingly simple, but really incredibly difficult comedy skits. I knew she could do any of the comedy in the movie and all of the drama.”

From Aguilera's standpoint, her enthusiasm for the project began when she connected to what Ali goes through. "I could relate to Ali as a whole: having this dream, being denied, getting a chance, and getting people to take you seriously, because it took a few times before someone bit and I got my big break,” says Aguilera.

Cam Gigandet, who stars in Screen Gems' Priest and The Roommate, portrays Jack, Ali's confidante and fellow musician. "The preparation that he brings into the room every day is pretty extraordinary,” Antin says of the young actor. "This very handsome, young guy with an incredible body swaggers into the room and you expect somebody really different than the person that you get to know. He's a quiet, introverted, very thoughtful guy. He has a process that's really interesting. He really cares about his craft and cares about what he's doing, and he comes prepared.”

Gigandet took breaks from Priest, which also shot on the Sony lot, to see the progress of the building of the set and to observe rehearsals for Burlesque's many musical numbers. "I had my whole cowboy get-up on, and I walked over there and they were dancing and rehearsing and it was so wild!” Gigandet recalls. "I don't know what I had in my mind, but it was much smaller. The grandness of it and the attention to detail was just amazing. It just blows my mind how well it's done and how gorgeous the lighting is.”

Stanley Tucci, who also appears in Screen Gems' Easy A, portrays the Burlesque Lounge's stage manager Sean. Says Tucci, "Sean is Tess's right-hand man, confidante, ex-lover, and best friend, who will do anything for her and for this art form that they both love.”

The filmmakers were enthusiastic to have Tucci join the production: "He just makes the character real, funny and organic, and natural. He doesn't have a moment, not a nanosecond on film that isn't truthful and honest. It doesn't matter what you ask him to do, or what you ask him to say, or what he does on film. That's a fundamental, intrinsic talent that you can't teach somebody and you can't learn. He's so compelling to watch because it's just so honest.”

Aguilera wasn't the only movie newcomer to join the cast. Singer and former "Dancing With The Stars” performer Julianne Hough makes her screen debut in Burlesque as dancer Georgia. "I'd seen Julianne on ‘Dancing With The Stars' and fell in love with her,” explains Antin. "I thought she was somebody really special and an incredible dancer, and drop-dead beautiful. She had something about her. She had that ‘It' factor.”

Alan Cumming had wowed Antin with his cabaret-style performances at LA's Geffen Playhouse, so he cast him as Burlesque lounge doorman Alexis, whose rejoinder to all who enter is "We may not have windows, but we do have the best view on the Sunset Strip.” To film the movie, Cumming had to balance the Burlesque production schedule in Los Angeles with his New York schedule for CBS's hit series "The Good Wife.” "In New York, I'm playing a political analyst,” says Cumming. "I go back and forth playing this very conservative guy to playing this crazy person.”

The ensemble has its share of characters that stand in the way of the success of Ali and Tess. For Kristen Bell, Peter Gallagher and Eric Dane, their characters weren't villains, just survivalists coping with complicated circumstances.

Kristen Bell plays Nikki, whose attitude and self-destructiveness turn Burlesque Lounge's backstage into drama-filled turmoil. "I don't think you can ever come into a part that is seemingly the antagonist and, as the actor, believe that they're bad,” Bell says. "You have to look for the reasons why Nikki thinks what she's doing is right. She's just more entitled than everyone else. She's had it easy, she's also worked very hard to get where she is, and she's going to defend her territo

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