The Georgia native — who is playing Swayze’s iconic role of Johnny Castle in ABC’s remake of Dirty Dancing — grew up watching the hit 1987 movie almost every weekend that he visited his father’s house, where the TV was often tuned to an airing of it.
“She always had it on in the background, and we used to sit there and watch it,” Prattes, 31, told PEOPLE of his stepmom, who has since passed away. “She loved it so much. I remember how happy it made her.”
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If Prattes is getting sentimental, it’s because Dirty Dancing is a title that inspires many important memories. Aside from his stepmother, it’s a movie that turned him on to dance; a love story that inspired him; a soundtrack that played throughout his youth; and now, a role that’s his biggest to date.
Here are five things to know about the rising star.
1. He’s crazy for Swayze
Many actors would be terrified to step into such an treasured role. But Prattes didn’t feel nerves — he felt honored.
After all, it was Swayze who helped Prattes see a career for himself in dance. “I played sports until I was 15 years old,” he explained. “To find out that he had been dancing his whole life made it okay in a world where that wasn’t an option for me.”
Stepping into Swayze’s shoes, Prattes said he focused on bringing as much heart and soul to the character as he could. “I felt like that is what he did,” Prattes said of Swayze. “I couldn’t try to be Patrick Swayze, he’s Patrick Swayze. The man’s a legend. I just wanted to love it and dance as hard as I could.”
2. He came to dance later in life and met his wife doing a Broadway show
5 years ago today we stood alone in our first apartment in Hoboken and I asked if you would create a life with me. For over 2 years before that you had seen me more clearly than anyone ever had & somehow you still didn't judge what you saw. You've taken this road with me even though I have, more often than not, had no idea where it was going. The only thing I knew was that I didn't want to go anywhere without you. Thank you for making my life more than I imagined it could be. Happy anniversary Mrs. Prattes. I love you. 123
Growing up in Marietta, Georgia — right outside of Atlanta — Prattes didn’t take up the arts until high school, going to a performing arts magnet program at Pebblebrook High School. Starting later in life as a dancer meant he had to work extra hard in after-school rehearsals and stay late for extended dance practices “to make up for lost time.”
It paid off. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati — where he studied dance with the musical theatre program — Cottes racked up a slew of touring gigs (High School Musical, A Chorus Line, Rock of Ages) and some roles on Broadway too (like the 2011 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).
But it was Prattes’ role in the revival of West Side Story that really gave him his biggest gift: his wife, actress Angelina Mullins. The two have been married now for over three years, and together for seven. “I thank God every day for my wife, and I pray I can be as good of a husband as she deserves,” he wrote on Instagram.
3. He was that super hot guy in Pink’s “Try” video
Pink’s video for her 2012 hit “Try” featured herself and Prattes as a couple whose relationship problems played out in a paint-splashed, fire-burning modern dance.
The imagery was so strong, the duo recreated the routine at the American Music Awards, Grammy Awards, and on tour.
Though not a trained dancer, Prattes gushed about working with Pink — saying their relationship really came down to trust. “Once you earn that, you’re unstoppable,” he said. “You can’t do any of it without trust.”
4. His reaction to that lift with Abigail Breslin was real
Building trust may have happened behind the scenes with Pink, but for Prattes and his Dirty Dancing costar Abigail Breslin, they got to have their journey as dancers documented in front of the camera.
Playing Frances “Baby” Houseman, Breslin was a novice to dance. “She is Baby,” Prattes said. “We fell into the roles immediately. As soon as I earned her trust, we were solid. And I had to take that time and do that.”
So how did the two handle one of the movie’s most known moments — the lift that Baby and Johnny practice in the lake before showing it off in front of the crowd in the film’s final scene?
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“[Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler] and I knew early on that we had to slowly build up to that,” Prattes explained. “So the first time we did it, I was laying down on my back and held my arms up to push her up to the air so she could feel how your weight needs to shift.”
By the time they got to the water, the costars and friends were having fun — playing around and letting the actual moments between one another come out on screen.
- For more inside scoop from the beloved dance romance and its new small-screen reimagining, pick up PEOPLE’s special collector’s edition Dirty Dancing — The Music, The Moves, The Memories, in stores now or available on Amazon!
None of that prepared him for filming the finale, though.”When you see it, just know that when she goes up in that lift, that is the genuine reaction from that room,” he said. “Nobody had seen it — we had only done it in private.”
“I’m not going to lie, I was freaking out,” he continued. “I’ll never forget the look on her face after she came out of that lift and realized what had just happened.”
5. He was terrified of saying the movie’s most iconic line
If there’s one line fans quote from Dirty Dancing the most, it’s Johnny’s bold “Nobody puts baby in a corner.” And Prattes felt every bit of pressure to make that line just as memorable this time around.
“That line? That terrified me,” he said. “I was shaking the day I went to say that line. I was in the background running it over and over, being like ‘Don’t forget the line. Please don’t forget how to say the line,’ — talking to myself, psyching myself out.”
When he finally did say it, Prattes got some major encouragement from costars Debra Messing and Bruce Greenwood. “They stood up and cheered me on,” Prattes laughed.
Dirty Dancing airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.