Ser'Darius Blain's first big leap was onto a middle-school stage. His latest is costarring in Fox's drama The Big Leap, which is all about second chances.
A strapping fellow (he played football player Young Fridge in the recent Jumanji movies), Blain was a painfully timid kid. One day as he helped his mom, a middle-school language arts and drama teacher, revise a play, she realized he'd memorized all the lines. So she persuaded him to audition.
He landed a role, and when the lead fell ill, Blain stepped in, performing to standing ovations. "As soon as it opened," he says of the eighth-grade production, "I felt like I was in my element."
For this series about a ballet-based reality show, Blain plays another football player, Reggie. "My character starts off as this brash, wild-child party boy," he explains, "and over time he realizes he is more than a circus act. Gabby really pulls that out in him — she sees him. And he sees her for the beautiful person she is."
Gabby (Simone Recasner) is paired with Reggie in the show-within-a-show. A talented high-schooler headed to NYU on a dance scholarship, Gabby finds herself pregnant. As a result, she abandons her dream and raises her son. Yet all she wants to do is dance, like the others vying for a spot on the show.
Expect buzz about body acceptance because Gabby looks like most women: curvier and heavier than the advertised ideal — especially in the dance world. Still, she has a quality many waif-like ballerinas don't: she's fun to watch because she's having so much fun.
The series, which premiered September 20, features Scott Foley (Scandal) as executive producer of the show-within-the-show. His character has all the compassion of a starved snake — and spot-on intuition of what makes compelling reality TV.
The forces behind The Big Leap know what makes compelling drama. Liz Heldens (Friday Night Lights) is creator, showrunner and executive producer; Jason Winer (Modern Family) is director and executive producer, and Sue Naegle (The Plot Against America) is an executive producer.
They cast the show far more inclusively than most dance competitions, hiring older dancers and, in Blain's case, a novice. He trained hard for five hours a day, five days a week, in ballroom, ballet and jazz.
"Turn-out is tough," he says of the basic ballet stance. "It sounds like a dying cat in my apartment every time I am rehearsing."
Although Blain has worked steadily since arriving in Los Angeles in 2009, if acting hadn't worked out, he would have been a chef. "I love rich foods," he says. "Thank God for metabolism — and five-hour dance classes."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No 9, 2021