Exclusive Interview: Two-time Olympian Johnny Weir on skating into Dancing with the Stars

Johnny Weir on dancing with the stars
Johnny Weir Pic credit: Frank Ockenfels/ABC

When Johnny Weir took to the Dancing with the Stars stage on Monday night, it was a sight to behold as he and his professional partner Britt Stewart brought the sexy to the stage with their cha cha to Buttons by the Pussycat Dolls.

But despite being a two-time Olympian, Weir was nervous as he hit the ballroom floor because he says that for the cha cha, his feet have to move much quicker than they do on the ice for figure skating.

He had a right to be nervous as judge Derek Hough told him he was too much in his head when it came to the steps. Johnny was awarded 18 points, which put him in the middle of the pack.

“I’m focused on myself and getting the job done and remembering my routine and not making a fool of myself on television,” he said. “I’m hoping that by the end of this contest –and hopefully I make it to the end of this contest, that I am able to compete with maybe the pro dancers. That’s mentally how I’m taking on this competition. I’m not thinking about any of the celebrities, I want to be able to compete with the pros.”

Monsters & Critics: Did you watch Tiger King? What do you think about Carole Baskin being your competition?

Johnny Weir: I did watch Tiger King. I was one of the many millions that just sat with their jaws on the floor, watching Tiger King. Having lived a huge part of my life in the public eye and in the spotlight, I know how things can be twisted and made into a fantastic story.

So, I can’t say that I know Carole Baskin, and I also know that I can’t judge Carole Baskin based on what I saw in a Netflix series that was obviously edited against her to a certain degree. But, also, with that said, I hope I don’t cross her because she has a lot of big cats that she could sic on [me].

M&C: You’re obviously not new to competition. You competed in the Olympics. How does that compare to this? Are you using skills you’ve learned in other competitions here?

Johnny: I’m often asked about how different competitions or different moments in my life are compared to the Olympics. To be completely honest, there is no comparison.

I gave up my whole childhood and teenage years and early adulthood to achieve going to the Olympics two times, and I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had the opportunity. The Olympics are a dream come true.

The rest of my life I have to find things that excite me just as much, and every project I take on like Dancing with the Stars excites me, but I can’t compare it in any way to the Olympics.

However, there is a lot of pressure. We, obviously, will have a lot of eyes on us and a lot of people enjoying the competition from home and I want to make them proud.

The most important thing in this competition to me is even to make one person sitting at home smile, or giggle, or laugh, or be inspired to dance or to wear rhinestones, whatever it may be. That could be the greatest victory of this competition for me.

M&C: Lots of times, great dancers on the show don’t necessarily win. Are you scared of votes not going your way and people voting for the worst?

Johnny: I can’t say that I’m worried about that kind of a situation happening. I’m not worried about people that don’t dance as well as me taking votes from me. Everyone is here for a reason. Everybody on this show is living their life. This is a moment in time for everyone here. And if someone gets votes, I think it’s wonderful.

There are people with so many more Twitter and Instagram followers. I mean, even the celebrity dancers have more Instagram and Twitter followers than I have.

So, you know, as far as this being a popularity contest, I can’t speak to that, but I know that the audience at home and the judging panel will judge this competition fairly and correctly. And again, I just hope that someone gets a smile out of it, or a chuckle along the way.

M&C: You’re not the first figure skater to be on the show. Have you talked to Adam Rippon or any of the others who came before you to get any tips or advice from them?

Johnny:  Well, I’m a kind of a lone wolf, even when I was competing and skating. I wasn’t really interested in making a lot of friends in my little world.

I was focused on what the job at hand was, but Meryl Davis reached out. Of course, she won Dancing with the Stars and won the Olympics. She reached out immediately after hearing the news and just said, “Johnny, the one piece of advice I can give you is to focus on the moment, focus on the performance, and don’t get hung up on trying to be perfect.”

Because a common ism that figure skaters have is trying to be perfect all the time, no matter what. And, certainly, when you’re learning a new skill — and I’ve only had a few days in the studio to get my performance ready for Monday, and I definitely want it to be perfect already, but her advice was definitely helpful in just to enjoy the process and enjoy the experience.

M&C: Do you worry that with your background that you can be coming in a little bit too confident? Have you found anything challenging yet?

Johnny:  In my opinion, I’m one of the most humble people when it comes to anything outside of figure skating. I realize that this is not my profession. This is a sport and a technique that I’ve never studied or learned in my life. So, I don’t have big goals of grandeur for myself. I want to do a good job. I hope by the end of this, I’m a good enough dancer to be considered a dancer.

Definitely there are people that think that I have an advantage, because I’m a figure skater, but this is like anything else. This is like being a surgeon or an ear nose and throat doctor, and then all of a sudden switching to being a dentist.

It’s a very different skill, but I’m trying to learn. And despite my predisposition for musicality, performance ability, and being strong and elegant at the same time, I think that to judge me before I even dance as a favorite, it is a bit of a reach.

I can’t wait to see the other celebrities perform. I can’t wait to see what I’m up against. Should I continue on in the competition for more than a week — and I’m being humble about everything that I do — so far in training … I mean, honestly, I was the last celebrity to find out that they were going to be a part of the cast. I’ve been in L.A. for less than a week and, of course, I quarantined and passed the COVID tests before I could start rehearsing with my pro on Sunday.

So, we’ve logged a lot of hours already despite that, and I’m not a stranger to hard work, but I will say that with my dance for the first week being a cha cha and how quickly the feet have to work for cha cha, and also I’m used to dealing with momentum and really finishing off movements in the biggest way possible and there are things that are shortened in dance.

The quickness is definitely a bit of an issue for me, but I know I’ll have myself together and be able to put on a good show on Monday.

M&C: How are you working with the outfits? Are the glitter and the spray tans something new?

Johnny: I don’t do spray tanning. My beauty view is Snow White, so I’m trying to stay out of the sun. It was pretty impressive in California, actually, over the weekend, but I stay out of the sun, I’m taking care of myself, I’m quarantining as much as possible, just so that I can stay healthy and keep everyone around me healthy through this competition.

But I did have my very first meeting with the wardrobe creative team, which has been behind so many wonderful looks for Dancing with the Stars. And I’ve actually worked with many of them before when I judged a show called Skating with the Stars in 2010.

It was just wonderful to be all back together again and to go bigger than we did 10 years ago. The first look is definitely something. It’ll definitely be a shock to people. This is all for fun. This is pure entertainment and I’m going to bring that with my costume.

M&C: How has your experience been so far with the pandemic aspect of this, with the new protocols in place? How has that affected your training? 

Johnny:  Because of the pandemic, of course, the Summer Olympics were postponed. I was supposed to be in Asia touring from May until the Olympics, and that tour was, obviously canceled. So, it’s been a really low-key summer.

I can’t remember the last time that I was in America at the end of springtime when flowers bloom. It was just a really surreal experience and, like everyone else, I’ve been baking and eating a whole lot of banana bread.

About a month ago, at the beginning of August, I flew to Los Angeles to work for the first time since everything had happened, and it was a wild experience. I live in the country. I’m about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia and I rarely see people. I’m very quarantined in my own bubble, so it’s a shock to see people again, and now that I’m in Los Angeles, to see lots of people is a bit of a shock.

It’s very unfortunate. The amount of people that you see in the airports and out on the street that are disobeying all the rules that we’ve been told for many months and putting so many people at risk because they don’t feel like wearing a mask or they don’t sneeze into their arm.

You know, simple things that we can all do to stay healthy; people still aren’t doing that. And those people are the reason that America is still lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of staying healthy and having caseloads go down and having deaths go down. It’s really just a hard thing to be out in the world and see how people are behaving.

But when it comes to work, ABC and Disney have done an incredible job of preparing everyone for this. We’re all very well versed. We have our temperature taken every time we enter the studio. I’ve had three COVID tests since coming to Los Angeles. We only interact without masks with our partners.

I know that the pro dancers are preparing something today as a special treat for the premiere, and somehow through technology, the dancers are all going to be on the same stage and it’s going to look like everyone’s dancing together, but they’re all filming their parts separately, which is really interesting.

It’s a whole new world that we’re living in and I’m on the bandwagon. I’m all for doing everything that I’m supposed to do. I’m honored to be a part of this cast.

And if that means wearing a mask and quarantining and only really interacting with my partner, so be it. That’s the price you pay to do something that’s enjoyable to entertain people. And as an entertainer, this is all I can do is entertain people. I’m having you back to work.

Dancing with the Stars airs Monday nights at 8/7c on ABC.

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