‘Footloose’ at 40: Lori Singer Recalls Intense Stunts, Slaps, and Skinny-Dipping

Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection
Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Four decades after she starred in the toe-tapping classic Footloose, Lori Singer can still remember the time she first laid eyes on Kevin Bacon.

“Every moment was magic from the get-go. The second we said hello and shook hands, it was almost electric,” she tells The Daily Beast of meeting her then-24-year-old co-star on a Paramount sound stage, before the cameras started rolling. “We felt a real excitement between our characters and from that moment on, it was like a wild rollercoaster.”

Turning 40 this year, Footloose starred Singer as Ariel, the rebellious daughter of John Lithgow’s Reverend Shaw Moore, a man so bonded to the Bible that he’s turned his small Utah town into an oppressive place where even dancing is outlawed. But his super-conservative outlook is soon challenged when Bacon’s slick city kid Ren McCormack rolls into town and sets his sights on giving prom night the green light.

For Singer, playing the daughter of a larger-than-life patriarch was something she could intimately relate to. “I was under a lot of scrutiny growing up and I was kind of wild. I really felt like Ariel. My father was a conductor of orchestras, so we were very much in the spotlight. [His job] was like being the reverend of the town,” she says, comparing growing up as the daughter of acclaimed conductor Jacques Singer with life under the fictional Rev. Moore.

By 13, Singer was a musical wunderkind and already working as a classically trained cellist, so having to live up to lofty expectations was nothing new for her. However, much like Ariel, she also had a punk spirit that was itching to break free.

Lori Singer standing between two cars in a scene from 'Footloose'

Lori Singer

©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Ariel is singular. She’s a little more poetic [than everyone else in the town]. She writes poems on trains hoping they’ll travel the world on their tracks. Suddenly she sees Ren and he’s like a magnet to her. She doesn’t understand his hair, his jacket… he’s from somewhere else and she likes it, whatever ‘it’ is. I believed in that search for freedom,” Singer says, before sharing the main thought she had during the casting process that landed her this star-making role: “I thought, ‘Hey, you can choose anybody you want, but I am this character. It’s very simple.’”

Not only that, but it turns out Singer also had the guts and grit to take on this surprisingly dangerous part.

“I did every stunt myself, like when we were doing the scene with the train. I was very wild,” Singer says of shooting Footloose’s iconic train-dodging sequence, where Ren saves Ariel from certain death at the last second. “It was a real train; a huge locomotive. I’d choreographed what I was going to do and showed [the director and stuntman]. Then afterwards, [the stuntman] grabbed me by the arm and pinched me. He said, ‘Don’t say one more word.’ I’d just given them something wild and it was now going to be up to him to make sure I was safe doing it.”

Production on the scene began, with the film’s stuntman telling Singer, “When the train hits this mark, jump out of the way.” But the young actress had other ideas. “Evidently, I thought I could stay there longer, and the stuntman had to fly across the rails and knock me out of the way [of the train], the way Kevin actually does in the movie,” Singer reveals. “Usually you have to write down daily reports of what occurs on film sets. I bet they didn’t put that down.”

That same spontaneous spirit inhabited Singer during the scene where Ariel hangs out of a moving car driven by her pals that suddenly comes face to face with an oncoming truck. While a stunt person was used during shots of the car speeding toward the truck, Singer did actually dangle out of the moving vehicle herself.

“I risked my life by doing that scene with actors driving,” she says. “I was trusting my fellow actors while I was out there doing that. We shot that scene on the very last day in case I died. It was very serious.”

It wasn’t just the stunts that were treacherous. Even some of the film’s dramatic sequences had an element of danger to them, like Ariel’s heated confrontation with her father over the breakfast table.

“We had a very intense relationship,” Singer says of her collaboration with Lithgow. “During the breakfast scene, he actually slapped me. That was a full-on slap. However it looked, that’s what that slap was. My face had his handprint on it.”

A similarly tense moment between Ariel and her father, this time set in the surroundings of his beloved church, also proved to be unpredictable.

“We went further than was written. It wasn’t written that I go down on my knees, raise my hands, and go wild like that,” she says. “I was tormenting him because I was so tormented. [Lithgow] wasn’t supposed to shake me either. It was an intense thing.”

Footloose’s rebellious themes bled into the cast’s downtime as well, in more playful and mischievous ways. Singer tells us about a time toward the end of the shoot when a post-work party led to a bit of motel pool skinny-dipping—and a close call with the local cops.

Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Frances Lee McCain, and Lori Singer in 'Footloose'

Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Frances Lee McCain, and Lori Singer in 'Footloose'

©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Everyone took off their clothes. I did, and I know Chris Penn did,” says Singer of her late co-star, who played Ren’s friend Willard. “We had to climb over a chain link fence to get into the pool. We were laughing and yelling and somebody called the police. We had to get out of there as fast as we could and get back to our rooms before the police came.”

If caught, the cast’s little stunt surely wouldn’t have gone down well with their director, Herbert Ross—especially considering that Ross’ movie had already been shut down by conservative local authorities after they caught wind of partial on-set nudity during a shower sequence.

Lori Singer looks at Kevin Bacon in 'Footloose'

Lori Singer and Kevin Bacon

©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

“The town was very strict with very specific rules,” Singer says, recalling the time they spent shooting in Provo, Utah. “They heard some of the boys were naked and demanded to see the shot and know what was going on. For two or three days we were shut down, waiting to see what was going to happen.”

Despite all of the on- and off-screen antics, Footloose is still best remembered for Ren succeeding in his quest to liberate the locals and get them back on the dance floor to “kick off their Sunday shoes” to Kenny Loggins’ eponymous hit song. And Singer is grateful that the film’s defiant message still resonates 40 years later.

“Ariel’s rebelliousness and her search as a young person for something more and a way to express herself physically is timeless. I feel so blessed and grateful for everything that’s happened with this film,” she smiles. “I’m so thrilled that it has transcended—and I’m thrilled every time I hear the song.”

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