Dakota Johnson and Cooper Raiff had ‘immediate chemistry’ in Cha Cha Real Smooth [SXSW 2022]

production still from cha cha real smooth
Dakota Johnson and Cooper Raiff star in Cha Cha Real Smooth. Pic credit: Apple TV+

The creation of Cooper Raiff’s second feature film Cha Cha Real Smooth was a true collaboration, with main actor and producer Dakota Johnson coming on board before the script was complete.

“There wasn’t a script when I said ‘I have to be a part of this movie.’ It was mostly just Cooper. We met on Zoom after I had watched Shithouse (Raiff’s debut feature), and he had a meeting with my producing partner, Ro. I was filming in Greece, making The Lost Daughter there,” Johnson said.

Speaking directly to Raiff, she added, “It was late at night for me. And you were making fun of me a lot.”

The Cha Cha director, writer, and actor chimed in, “We did have immediate chemistry.”

The two went back-and-forth, building the story, and channeling an infectious energy of two people who are entirely comfortable with one another, and who respect and admire each other’s creative visions and talents.

“He was sitting very close to the computer, close to my face. I think he was seeing everything. And he said that he had a title for a movie and a general plot idea. And we said, ‘let’s go’. Then he wrote the first draft and we spent almost a year going back and forth,” continued the famed actor.

Johnson added that she helped Raiff work out “female character stuff” and that bits of their exact dialogue was written into the script.

Cha Cha Real Smooth is a romantic coming-of-age story about a recent college graduate Andrew (Raiff) and his newfound relationship with local mom Domino (Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). It is the first project to be produced under Johnson’s TeaTime Pictures production company, founded with former Netflix exec Ro Donnelly.

The film is set to the backdrop of the Bar Mitzvah party scene and explores Andrew’s struggle to find his footing in this new, post-graduate world. He loses his college sweetheart and works at a dead-end job, but refuses to let that dim his merrymaker shine and love for other people. Making its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Cha Cha was recently screened at the 2022 South by Southwest Festival and is now slated for distribution this summer by Apple TV+.

Monsters & Critics had the opportunity to chat with Dakota Johnson and Cooper Raiff about the creation of this heartwarming tale. In the same conversation, we caught up with Lola actor Vanessa Burghardt about autistic representation in the media and working alongside Johnson and Raiff. Read that interview here.

Johnson says having a crush is ‘easy’

“There was an amazing moment where I was talking about love. We were talking about love and relationships, and I said, ‘it’s so easy to have a crush because of all the possibilities,'” shared Johnson. “But his [Raiff’s] face during our conversation… it looked like he was never gonna be able to understand what I’m talking about. It took like four months for him to get it right in the script.”

Raiff admitted that, to this day, he still doesn’t fully understand it. Johnson took the opportunity to poke fun at her costar by teasing him about his reaction.

It’s this enchanting ambiguity that Johnson brings to her Cha Cha character and the creative process. “Creating this character was so honest. We didn’t try to explain her or her reactions to everything, or why she has certain behaviors or does certain things, because you don’t need to,” said the actor about playing Domino.

production still from cha cha real smooth
Dakota Johnson and Vanessa Burghardt play mother-and-daughter in Cha Cha Real Smooth. Pic credit: Apple TV+

“In cinema, especially now, you’re spoon-fed so much information about why a person is a certain way and why they do something. You have to over-simplify. I really like leaving that mysterious, and I like that there’s not ever a clear answer or a clear path for someone’s life,” expressed Johnson. “That’s the most truthful part. No one’s life is simple or succinct or linear. And the environment on set was so safe and loving that I was an outpour of emotions most of the time.”

In case anybody else was wondering — when it comes to the backstory of Domino’s name, Raiff said, “It’s a name that very, very, very few people can pull off. And I think that it’s very specific. But yeah, like no, I don’t have an answer.”

What role did Johnson’s past play in the making of Cha Cha Real Smooth?

Cha Cha Real Smooth comes at an interesting time as Johnson just played a mother in the aforementioned drama The Lost Daughter, directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She has played mothers in numerous prior projects. “It’s such an intricate part of being a woman. There’s so many relationships you can have to motherhood. I find it really interesting,” Johnson said.

production still of Dakota Johnson in The Lost Daughter
Dakota Johnson in The Lost Daughter. Pic credit: Netflix

She continued, “It’s a real sweet spot for me right now. It’s just everywhere. Everyone has a mother, or has had one at some point. It’s the most intricate relationship someone can have, even if they never really truly met their mother. No one can say, ‘no, I never had a mother before.'”

Raiff added, “I saw her play a mother in Our Friend. You are so good at playing mothers.” Johnson also brought up her prior role in the sitcom Ben and Kate where, at only 22 years old, she played a single mother.

“That’s actually where the kernel of the idea came from for Cha Cha. I saw her play a mother and I was like, ‘oh, nice.’ I think the reason why is that there are a lot of things about Domino that I think are so similar to Dakota, but the growing-up-fast thing is something I think she can relate to.”

Cha Cha Real Smooth premieres in select theaters and Apple TV+ on June 17, 2022.

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