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Jennifer Grey: ‘I was so scared’ to do the ‘Dirty Dancing’ lift

July 25, 2012
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It's one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. The last scene of "Dirty Dancing," where rough-around-the-edges dance instructor Johnny (played by Patrick Swayze) utters the now-famous line "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" and pulls Jennifer Grey's starry-eyed character on to the stage where the two perform a perfectly choreographed routine set to the infectious "(I've Had) the Time of My Life." The scene ends with "the lift" — Grey getting a running start as she jumps into Swayze's arms and he hoists her above his head to cheers from the crowd. It was a dance move her character struggled to perfect throughout the 1987 film, but in real life Grey didn't actually even practice it.

"I'd never done the lift before I did the lift at the end of the movie. I would refuse to rehearse it because I was so scared," Grey, now 52, confesses. "The only time I've ever done it was when the cameras were rolling. I didn't even do a rehearsal of it. I was terrified. I just didn't have any choice. I had to do it. They were like, 'You gotta do it.' I'm like, 'No!'" It was that kind of a situation."

[Related: See stills from the original 'Dirty Dancing']

Despite a marginal amount of dance experience, Grey didn't use a double and did all of her own dancing in the movie. "I just had taken ballet class as a little girl, you know, like Saturday mornings. They were casting someone who had never moved her body in her life."

Though she had acted throughout her early 20s, as a teenage guerilla in "Red Dawn" and as the title character's eye-rolling sister in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," it was "Dancing" that shot Grey — who was 27 when the film was released — to true fame. "It definitely was a big turning point in terms of putting me on the map and being somebody who was a bit of a household name," she shares. "That changed everything in that sense, and in the sense that people just treat me with so much love and warmth when they greet me. I think people have such a nice association with the movie that I just get all this warm love showered on me. It's just a lovely dividend."

[Related: Jennifer Grey's surprising celebrity ex (Video)]

Two and a half decades later, those "lovely dividends" come in many forms, including a very big shout out in last year's romantic comedy "Crazy Stupid Love" where Ryan Gosling's womanizing character reveals to the girl he's trying to romance (played by Emma Stone) that he uses "the lift" to impress women. The two pull off the move … and then fall in love, of course. Grey was flattered.

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"I'm such a fan of Ryan Gosling and all of a sudden, he's saying my name [in the movie]. I'm just in the theater with my husband and I look at him like, "Oh my God. Ryan Gosling just said my name. What's going on?" Grey recalls. "I was so scared. I was like, 'Oh, no. What are they about to do?' All of a sudden, there I was, like part of their movie."

To mark her film's 25th anniversary, Grey has teamed up with low-fat ice cream maker Skinny Cow, which is hosting free "Dirty Dancing" screenings around the country this summer complete with ice cream and a few appearances by Baby herself. "It's just such a gas to watch people so happy, dancing, and singing and saying the lines along with them," Grey laughs. "It's just a totally fun event, like slumber party."

Grey's career has had its ups and downs, but the actress made some unwanted headlines after getting a nose job (and subsequently a second procedure to fix a problem caused by the first) in the late '90s, which ended up changing the look of her face and, ultimately, rendering her unrecognizable to many fans. Though she wouldn't discuss her plastic surgery in this interview, she did explain why she chose to star in the 1999 ABC sitcom "It's Like You Know" shortly afterwards playing a version of herself (named, not-so-coincidentally, Jennifer Grey), and poking fun at actors, Hollywood, and even nose jobs.

"I thought it was a really fun thing," says Grey of the show that lasted two seasons. "I just think we all have to take ourselves less seriously and make fun of ourselves as much as we can, get as many laughs, and try to see the humor in things and how weird life is or how weird life can be. Enjoy your day and get on with it."

More than a decade later Grey — who has a 10-year-old daughter, Stella, with her husband of 11 years, "Iron Man" actor Clark Gregg — found herself back on ABC primetime and back on the dance floor on the mega-hit reality competition show "Dancing With the Stars," where she used her fancy footwork to help her and partner Derek Hough win the mirror ball trophy.

"I'm really proud that I didn't quit. I'm really proud that I said yes and started it, and I'm really happy that I finished it. I learned a lot about myself and about what I'm capable of," Grey says of her stint on the series' 2010 11th season. "It was ultimately a really great experience, much more difficult than anybody knows, with enormous pressure. It's exhausting and it's a reality show, so the more you fall apart, the better for them."

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