Kenny Wormald Talks about Love & Mercy

From teaching on tour with NUVO Convention to leading the KaMotion intensive at the upcoming DancerPalooza, Kenny Wormald is in pretty high demand these days. Add in his work on films, like the recently released Love & Mercy, and he might just be one of the busiest dancers in L.A.

Totally righteous, dude! (From left: Kenny Wormald, Graham Rogers, Brett Davern, Jake Abel and Paul Dano in Love & Mercy; photo via

In Love & Mercy, a biopic about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Wormald plays Wilson's younger brother (and drummer) Dennis Wilson. You might be thinking, A movie about the Beach Boys? Is there even any dancing in it? As it turns out, Wormald choreographed a scene that recreates one of the band’s signature performances from the 1960s.

How would Wormald’s hip-hop background translate to surfer-dude movement from that  period? Dance Spirit spoke with him to find out.

Dance Spirit: Did you put your own personal style into the film’s choreography?

Kenny Wormald: Well, the producers and directors wanted to recreate the real performance to a T, so I couldn’t really add in my personal style. (And my style couldn’t have been further from what’s in the film!) But growing up at a studio, I trained in tap, ballet, jazz and hip hop, and that diverse background has given me a solid understanding of movement in general. I’ve benefited from being able to adapt to many styles of dance.

Setting the choreography on all of the dancers was really fun. It was a lot of goofy surf moves, which felt different for us hip-hop dancers, who try to be cool all the time. In the scene, I’m drumming and the dancers are behind me. We were cracking up in between takes. Just looking at dancers—like my best friend, Misha Gabriel—in short shorts and tight shirts doing all these old-school moves was hilarious.

DS: How did you prepare for the role?

KW: Luckily, there’s so much material about the Beach Boys I could study. I watched a ton of videos of Dennis drumming—and learning to “drum” was a lot like learning choreography. Dennis had a very specific style: Instead of crossing his arms, which is more typical, he played open handed. It always seemed like he was grooving.

Presenting the Beach Boys 2.0 (via @kennywormald)

DS: What was the best part about being on set?

KW: We got to shoot in an actual recording studio that the Beach Boys, Elvis and the Rolling Stones all used. That was definitely my favorite part. But also the chance to dive into this part—and to work so closely with Paul Dano, an amazing actor who totally crushes playing the young Brian Wilson—was so cool.

DS: How would you say this experience compared to a few of the other films you’ve been in, like Footloose or Center Stage: Turn It Up?

KW: My previous roles have certainly helped me prepare for this film. Real life experience is definitely the best acting school there is! But many of those films, like Footloose, were dance movies—my skills as a dancer were just as important as my acting. It’s been a dream of mine to do more non-dancing roles, so I loved working on Love & Mercy. Of course, I won’t ever stop dancing—and I can't wait for my next chance to do another dance movie. But I feel like I can call myself a real actor now, too, which is something I’m really proud of.

Love & Mercy, rated PG-13, opened in theaters on June 5. Watch the trailer here, and check your local listings for show times.

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