Step Up is back for a third season, this time on Starz. A television drama series adaptation of the film franchise, the third season picks up at High Water – a next-level incubator for new artistic talent, where danger, corruption, suspicions, desires, resentments, and ambitions collide in and out of the halls of the headquarters. As the label’s talent roster grows, High Water founder and megastar Sage Odom (Ne-Yo) faces murder charges, financial ruin and powerful political enemies. His partner in business and in love, Collette Jones (Christina Milian) struggles to maintain their image as she balances a nationwide tour and stepping out of her role as the woman behind the empire all while carrying a secret that threatens to ruin it all.
Milian takes over the role following Naya Rivera’s passing. Shadow and Act spoke with Ne-Yo and Milian on working the transition of the character, how they paid homage to Rivera, and how the characters are a contrast from their personalities.
S&A: Christina, congratulations on the role. Obviously, you're taking over for the late, great Naya Rivera. Going into this, how big of an impact was it for you to be a part of this project knowing that you were taking over for her?
CM: Knowing that I was taking over the role of Colette had a huge impact on my life. It was just so honored to be considered to play such a strong role, but a role that has already been committed to in the past and played by such an amazing actress. This is a storyline that’s built-in, so it takes a lot of trust in my eyes for the creators and for people like Starz to actually say, ‘Hey, we want to continue this story, and we choose you to do this.’ So initially, it was definitely a fun challenge or a big challenge. I had to wrap my mind around it how I was going to do this and didn’t want to give the same energy or overstudy what had happened in the past, in previous seasons, because I really wanted to learn my character and to play an original take on that. So it took some time and I can’t say it happened overnight, but it definitely did over time. And I think the storyline was so good, and the character is so strong, and her arc is so important, I think for women to see that, that it became a lot of fun for me to play.
S&A: How did you feel as if the writers or the team went about making the character of Collette a fit for you?
CM: That’s a good question. I actually asked myself that many times because actually prior to when they first started to talk to me about it, they didn’t know that I was actually pregnant. I was out of town shooting another movie, and I just talked to them about it. And then when they came back to me, they were like, ‘Hey, we would like you for the role.’ And then I had the breakdown. I was like, ‘Hey, it’s I’m pregnant.’ And they’re like, ‘OK, we’re going to come back to you real quick.’ And they said, ‘We want you.’ And so I was like, ‘Wow, that’s huge for them to actually say that.’
And so part of me felt like, yes, also because I’m a Black Latina that is singing, an actress that’s been in the performing arts for a very long time and also connects with people and has played different roles that people love and enjoy. I also think the element of being a nurturer and a mother and an empowered woman, female, I think probably had elements to do with it because this is who this character embodies. And she’s also sexy, and I’m not afraid to be sexy. But when they found out I was also pregnant, I think that’s fantastic they knew that I can do this. And to me, it meant so much more. And the role of being a mother. And to me, that was also a significant connection for me, not only as her being a performer, but as a mother. And this character, I think, embodies a nurturer in a lot of ways for what she does for High Water, which is just her stage and also just leveling up for herself.
S&A: Ne-Yo, how was the addition of Christina for you, and what would you say the transition was like for you having to get used to a new leading lady?
Ne-Yo: The word of the day is seamless. The transition was seamless. I definitely felt for Christina initially, knowing that she was coming into a situation that had already been established and developed, and in that right kind of robbing her of the ability to kind of make her create her own version of the character, or at least that’s what I thought it was going to be. But I got to say, it definitely speaks to the kind of actress that she is that. She came in, embodied the character and is giving us just enough of what had already been developed, while at the same time giving us her own isms in the world of the character. It was it was easy.
It was easy for me. I wouldn’t dare speak on the workload and what was mentioned if I had to have to do that. But as far as her interaction with us or interaction with me, I mean, me and Christina have known each other for a little while. So that might have played into making things just a little easier. But on the other side of that, her level of professionalism, her level of skill – it’s like seniority. It’s like she had been there, you know what I mean?
The most painful part of it was just reminiscing on Naya. We found really cool ways to pay homage and respect to her throughout the shooting of this season. But other than that, it felt amazing. It felt amazing to be back with the original cast, the additional new characters came in like family, and it was great for the season.
S&A: For both of you, this is also more of a serious role than I think a lot of fans are used to seeing the both of you guys. What are you looking forward to for people to see on all of season three?
CM: Oh, I think for me, like you said, it’s definitely more of a serious role that I’ve played before. I love for people to just really be so drawn into the storylines of what these characters are going through, that they’re going to enjoy the drama. I know it lessens drama, so we bring the drama with each of our characters, and it’s part of our journey and helps get us to the destination from episodes 1 to 10.
But it’s exciting to see the roles played with each other, especially Sage and Collette. In a relationship in the music industry where it’s set in power, and it’s set in the arts, and it’s not easy. And what happens in the dark sometimes comes to lights and sometimes really figure out with the contrasts that, which are put in front of you are the challenges, how are you going to get through that? So there’s a lot of heart, and there’s a lot of passion and sexy. And I’m happy that people are going to get to see us play characters that maybe they haven’t seen before.
Ne-Yo: I especially dig the contrast between Ne-Yo and Sage, and people that have seen the two previous seasons, and they come up to me and go, ‘Oh, Ne-Yo, you’re a jerk.’ And I have to remind them that I’m not Sage. Sage is a jerk. I’m the nice person now. But what I want people to take from me, I just want people to be entertained.
Starz definitely knows drama, and I feel like as far as us, we fit right in to do that best Starz lineup. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by what they see. I think people are going to be inspired by what they see, and they’re above all of that, entertainment and justice. I think they’re going to thoroughly enjoy this season. At least, I hope so. We put blood, sweat, and tears into this thing. So I hope that is appreciated.