Adam Garcia for “Coyote Ugly”

Is Adam Garcia the next Heath or Mel, or his own bloke? From wowing British audiences in the stage musical Saturday Night Fever, this tap dancer from Sydney is heading to a movie screen near you. In Coyote Ugly, the flashy bar-stomping romantic comedy, Garcia plays a charming Aussie footloose in New York City, and in love with a pretty girl from New Jersey trying to hit the big time as a songwriter.

Adam also turns up in the tap-dancing Aussie musical Bootmen, which is set to open simultaneously in both the US and Australia come October, not to mention the fact that young Adam and his Bootmen are all set to perform at the opening ceremony of this year’s Olympic Games. And next up for this fresh Aussie star is a new flick with Hollywood superstar Drew Barrymore. But, as Paul Fischer discovered when they met in New York, Adam might be the Next Best Thing to come out of Oz since Fosters, but behind the stardom, lay a laid-back Aussie bloke who loves a good laugh.

Adam Garcia might indeed be touted as Australia’s next best thing, but here in New York, where Adam is busy promoting his first big Hollywood film Coyote Ugly, the Sydneysider remains philosophical about his new found success, yet at the same time wary at what stardom may bring. "I find ‘celebrityism’ a bit of an obscure concept; idolising people who appear on film is a bit silly, really when you think about it. ‘Ah, he speaks, therefore he’s a hero’. People do more important jobs than acting in film that should be recognised, but for some reason it’s big money, so people are elevated in status. If I was a bus driver, I’m sure you wouldn’t be interviewing me. So the loss of anonymity does frighten me if it happens."

Garcia has come a long way since his tap dancing days. Now, at a mature 27, the young actor has much to think about, such as performing in the Olympics with his Bootmen cast. "Dein [Perry, director and choreographer of Bootmen] has been asked to do something with the opening ceremony, and the seven of us are pitching in. It’s partly designed to promote the movie that opens around the same time,” Garcia explains from his New York hotel. It s the biggest buzz to be a part of the opening ceremony but terrifying – 1.4 billion people will get to see that."

Garcia is a dancer by trade. Initially studying science at Sydney University, Garcia lasted six months. "I played a lot of pool and went to the engineering bar where my brother was studying engineering," he recalls. "I was a real competent student, which is why I only lasted those 6 months in favour of a tap dancing career." That ‘career’ began when the young dancer "was invited to do a tap dancing show by some friends of mine who I’d been working with for several years."

While many of Garcia’s mates were out aspiring to be firemen or cops, Adam wanted to dance, not exactly ‘manly’, but Garcia smiles and says that nobody seemed to care, "because it was such a novelty for everyone. I think when kids are really young and you say: I dance and someone else goes: I fly model aeroplanes, they’ll go, cool, and off they go and play." Garcia attended dance class and was the only guy in a class of some 60 girls. Ah, those were the days! "Yeah, it was a hard life. You eventually get used to looking at girls picking their leotards out of their bums and that sort of stuff."

Adam made his mark as a tap dancer in the internationally acclaimed Soft Shoe Shuffle. It was that show that led him to England and the birth of a new career in London’s West End. But it was, one can say, an unplanned birth. "Shuffle ended up being quite a big success and was invited to play in London on the West End, so after we played there, I wanted to stay and become the backpacker. I ended up getting an agent and another job." That other ‘job’ was a small, but pivotal role, in the smash hit revival of Grease. Garcia stayed with the show before deciding that musicals were boring. "They have a habit of being a little vacant and unchallenging after a little while."

After [proving himself by appearing in such dramatic plays as Birdy, Garcia was lured back to the musical theatre and the role that would change his life: Tony in the stage version of Saturday Night Fever. "It was my first chance to do a lead and I jumped at it." Luckily the stage version was very different from the groundbreaking film from which it was based. "in that the audience has been sanitised. I mean the film was pretty hard and gritty – double rape scenes, suicides, drugs, swearing, the whole bit. So they changed it a lot for the musical and sanitised it." Garcia remained with the show for almost a year and became an overnight sensation. But he became exhausted and quit before the year’s run ended. "I did eight shows a week and, whenever I had time off, I just wanted to stay home. The producers were determined to have me do a year. And my body wouldn’t have held out."

It was time to move on, and move on he did, returning to his tap dancing roots in the semi-biographical Bootmen, a low budget Australian film that has been selected to close the Montreal Film Festival, and that will be distributed in the US through Fox Searchlight in October. "It’s an Australian tap dancing movie. How the HELL did we come up with that I ask myself?" How indeed. "It’s sort of a bastardisation of Dein Perry’s life story. He worked in the small Aussie town, Newcastle, in the steelworks, as a fitter and turner, and he got sick of that and wanted to be a tap dancer, because he’d always done that since he was little. When I first met him he was broke and living in a Valiant, eating baked beans out of a tin, and teaching tap-dancing. Now’s he’s a huge Australian choreographer. So he did a movie about his life to make some MORE cash out of it. It’s sort of like a Full Monty thing but without the nudity," Garcia adds laughingly.

Garcia went from Bootmen to the $40m budgeted Coyote Ugly, produced by prolific Jerry Bruckheimer, no less. It was a big jump, and Garcia recalls how he was struck by the money spent on a big production. It was, he says, something of a humbling experience. "I was certainly ‘humbled’ by the 18-meter trailer they gave me, versus the box I had on Bootmen. They spend an awful lot of money on I-don’t-know-what in Hollywood movies; I certainly didn’t get any of it. But they sure do love spending money."

Coyote Ugly, a kind of new take on Bruckheimer’s seminal 80s flick Flashdance, revolves around small town girl Violet Sanford (Piper Perabo) who dreams of making a name for herself as a singer and songwriter, so she moves to New York City in hopes of landing her big break. Needing to support herself until stardom rolls around, she takes a job as a barmaid at a new nightspot called Coyote Ugly, where Lil the owner (Maria Bello) and the staff of attractive young women dance on the bar, flirt with the mostly male clientele, sing along with the jukebox, and goad the customers into matching them shot for shot. Her h=journey leads her into the arms of an Aussie (Garcia) working and surviving in the Big Apple. "The term ‘coyote ugly’ is used when you go to bed with someone and you wake up in the morning and they’re so ugly, you’d rather chew your arm off than wake them up, like a coyote caught in a trap, chewing its leg off to escape."

Adam wouldn’t concede if that was a situation he could relate to. But the actor DID love the idea of playing an Australian character in the film, which came about by accident. "The character was originally American but they heard MY sweet voice and thought: Hey, novelty accent, excellent, just go with it." Garcia DID go with it, perhaps a bit too much in the beginning, "judging by the first couple days during which nobody could understand a word I said, especially having come straight off Bootmen. So I was talking like this all the time [Imitates a very strine accent], so they had to go back and reshoot stuff, because they kept on asking: What the hell are you saying? I mean, are you actually SAYING the lines? Are you DOING anything in this film? So I had to almost tone down my Aussie accent so that the director could understand if I was saying the correct lines or not."

It was not only the dialogue in the film that the Americans failed to understand, but Garcia’s own vernacular was incomprehensible, at least 50% of the time, by co-star Piper Perabo. " It s true that most of the things we Aussies say generally are either about genitals, drinking, sex or other forms of rudeness. Something a little subtle. Garcia jokingly recalls that it was the genitals that clearly broke the ice between these two. Let’s go for the balls, the MEAT of the conversation. God, there were a lot of expressions she didn’t get, like ‘I’m so hungry I could eat the arse out of a low-flying duck’, subtle stuff like that, or ‘face like a dropped pie,’ ‘Face like a bashed crab’, Face like a bulldog licking piss off a — ‘, yeah, I think we get the idea".

Coyote Ugly may not have exactly attained rave reviews by the American critics, but all agree that Aussie Adam is a star in the making. Next up, is another big Hollywood film. I’m doing Drew Barrymore’s next film, Driving in Cars with Boys, which Penny Marshall is directing. It’s the true story of a woman called Beverly D’Onofrio who has a child at age 16, which obviously changes her life. She ends up having a bad marriage and bad break up from her family. I play the son when he’s grown up and there’s a very close relationship between him and his mother. It is hard to believe: Drew Barrymore as Garcia s mum? Yeah, she’s a year younger than me and playing me mum. Ahhh, the art and illusion of Hollywood. What is not illusory is that Adam Garcia is the next hot young Aussie, and life, he admits, is sweet indeed.