What Happened To The Cast Of Save The Last Dance

2001 saw the release of a film that pas de bourrée'd its way into theaters and moviegoers' hearts. Building on the backs of various dance movies before its time — like Alan Parker's "Fame" and Emile Ardolino's "Dirty Dancing" — director Thomas Carter set out to craft his own compelling dance story in "Save the Last Dance." The movie followed Sara Johnson, a 17-year-old aspiring dancer, readjusting to life after her mother's death. After moving to the South Side of Chicago to live with her father, we see Sara enter into a relationship with a classmate named Derek Howard. Through this, the film addressed topics such as systemic issues in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, grief, and interracial relationships.

In an interview with "Today," Julia Stiles — who played Sara — shared her theory on why this movie has such a long shelf-life. "It's entertaining, and it has the formula of dance movies which I love," she stated. "But it does have something deeper going on. It's a pop teen dance movie. But underneath it is, like, 'We've snuck in some pretty major ideas.'" In addition to its deep plot, the teen drama served as a launching pad for a number of actors involved in the project. From the struggling teen mother Chenille to the troubled youth Malakai, here is what the cast of "Save the Last Dance" has been up to since the movie's massive success.

Julia Stiles is balancing her career and family life

In the aforementioned chat with "Today," Julia Stiles dished that she caught the attention of director Thomas Carter due to her drunk dance scene in "10 Things I Hate About You." Sensing that Stiles "had rhythm," he cast the New York City native after seeing the chemistry between her and Sean Patrick Thomas. Her turn in "Save the Last Dance" became one of her more famous roles, and she's remained busy since the movie's release. The actor two-stepped her way into finding consistent work year after year in projects such as "The Bourne Identity" franchise, "Dexter," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Hustlers," and "Orphan: First Kill."

The "Save the Last Dance" alum has also built a family. Stiles married Preston J. Cook in 2017, the pair went on to welcome two kids, Strummer and Arlo. During a 2022 "Live! with Kelly and Ryan" appearance, she revealed that she has had her hands full since she introduced Arlo to his older brother. "Now it's great. Now Arlo's really interactive, and they play together, and they have a great time," she stated. "It was a rocky start at first, which I did not anticipate." The doting mother of two continues to keep herself busy in the acting world. As of 2023, Stiles' most recent TV gigs include "The Lake" and "DreamWorks Dragons: The Nine Realms."

Kerry Washington had a hit TV show

Following her work in an "ABC Afterschool Special" episode and 2000's "Our Song," Kerry Washington was brought on to play the well-intentioned teen mother, Chenille, in "Save the Last Dance." Looking back at the 2001 film in a nostalgic Instagram post, Washington expressed how deeply she felt for Chenille's character and how necessary it was for her story to be told in a different light. Following the success of the teen drama, the Bronx native racked up an acting career filled with yearly work in noteworthy projects such as "Ray," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," and "The Last King of Scotland." In 2012, Washington's star burned brighter than ever before: That year, she not only appeared alongside Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Django Unchained," but made her debut as Olivia Pope in ABC's political drama "Scandal."

Washington's career has yet to slow down. Since "Scandal," she's worked on series like "Little Fires Everywhere" and "Unprisoned," as well as movies like "The Prom." "I am proud to have been able to do projects that have allowed me to build full humanity around the characters," she told Vanity Fair in 2019. "Even if I'm in a supporting role on 'Save the Last Dance,' I knew that it was my job so that you don't think of Black teen moms in Chicago as statistics anymore, but you think of them as people. And I guess for the future, I just want to keep doing that." 

Sean Patrick Thomas reunited with another alum in 2022

In "Save the Last Dance," Sean Patrick Thomas played Derek, a gifted dancer who dreams of becoming a doctor. In an interview with "Today," he admitted that he never predicted how popular the movie would be while filming it. "I really didn't know. To be honest with you it was a huge surprise to me when we came out and everybody just seemed to gravitate toward it immediately," he stated. "It was shocking. But also ... you know, I was very flattered and very grateful."

Following the success of the 2001 film, Thomas remained busy, starring in projects such as the "Barbershop" franchise, "The District," and "A Raisin in the Sun." Thomas crossed paths with fellow "Save the Last Dance" alum Kerry Washington in 2022 for the legal drama "Reasonable Doubt" — which she executive produced. During his appearance on the "People Every Day Podcast," Thomas said that while he was drawn to the script, the idea of teaming up with an old friend is what inspired him to audition. "What attracted me to the role, obviously right off the bat, was the chance to work with Kerry again," he revealed. "That's always been something that I was looking forward to all those years after 'Save the Last Dance,' so to get a chance to do that again was just fabulous."

Terry Kinney continued to feed his passion for directing

Before playing Sara's guilt-ridden father, Roy Johnson, Terry Kinney remained a consistent actor throughout the late '80s to '90s, starring in a slew of projects ranging from "Miami Vice," "Thirtysomething," and "Devil in a Blue Dress." After snagging his role in "Save the Last Dance," the "Oz" alum continued to add to his extensive resume, showing up in shows like "Law & Order," "The Good Wife," "The Mentalist," and "Billions."

Kinney has also continued to uphold his reputation as a director throughout his career. As a co-founder of the Chicago theater company Steppenwolf, Kinney — alongside Jeff Parry and Gary Sinise —  produced numerous plays after their non-profit showing of "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds." In 2017, he directed Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub, and Danny DeVito in a production of Arthur Miller's "The Price." "I used to talk about this play all the time while we were reading in class ... So I've carried it around for about 10 years in New York like a carpet sample Willy Loman would have in his trunk," he said in a chat with "Theater Talk." "People thought of it as second-rate miller and I just ... you know, didn't."

Jennifer Anglin seemingly took a brief break from acting

Although Jennifer Anglin's screen time in "Save the Last Dance" was short, her impact was felt throughout the film. Anglin played Sara's mother, Glynn, who died in a car accident while she was on her way to watch her daughter's dance audition. However, her small role in "Save the Last Dance" doesn't reflect her rich history in acting. Better known for her portrayal of Jenny Catlin in "The Catlins" and Cheryl Stansbury in "General Hospital," Anglin became a prominent figure in the world of acting far before her inclusion in the 2001 teen drama. Her other credits include "The Untouchables," "Renegade," "Babylon 5," "Early Edition," and "Turks."

Following "Save the Last Dance," Anglin's career slowed down. She returned to the big screen in 2009 in "Chicago Overcoat." From there, the actor would make guest appearances here and there in known television series such as "Boss," "Underemployed," "Chicago Fire," and "The Chi." Anglin has also become a holistic health coach and Pilates instructor. 

Bianca Lawson starred in a slew of teen dramas

Before she was known as the popular mean girl, Nikki, in "Save the Last Dance," Bianca Lawson found success as a teenage actor in several cult classics. From making regular appearances in "Saved by the Bell: The New Class," she went on to star in other television series such as "Sister, Sister," "The Steve Harvey Show," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."  Following her portrayal of Nikki, Lawson racked up credits shows like "Pretty Little Liars," "The Vampire Diaries," and "Teen Wolf."  None, however, are as notable as her portrayal of Darla in OWN Network's "Queen Sugar," which earned her several nominations from the Black Reel Awards and the NAACP Image Awards from 2018 to 2023.

Lawson shows no signs of slowing down. Following the finale of "Queen Sugar," she sat with HuffPost to discuss future endeavors. "There's so many things that I haven't done yet. It's an interesting thing. I always had very, very specific goals of what I wanted to do now and what I wanted to prioritize now in terms of my work, in terms of the kind of work, or even just the kind of people I wanted to work with, the kind of material, the kind of characters," she stated. "And I'm in a place right now where I feel very, very open to whatever."

Garland Whitt found consistent work as Quint in The Last Kids on Earth

In "Save the Last Dance," Garland Whitt portrayed Kenny, a teenager coming to terms with the responsibilities of fathering the child he shares with Chenille. His work before the 2001 film was littered with appearances in series such as "The Cosby Show" and "Law & Order." From 2001 onward, Whitt nabbed roles in projects like "NCIS: Los Angeles," "Justified," and "Criminal Minds." In 2022, he played Imam Siddiq, Mike Tyson's spiritual advisor, in the scripted Hulu series "Mike."

Whitt has found consistent work as a voice actor, too. He'd initially started voicing characters throughout the 2000s for television series and video games, and in 2020 he landed a part in an ongoing series. In the Netflix original based on the novel "The Last Kids on Earth," Whitt voices the inventive teenage deuteragonist Quint Baker. While discussing the aspects of the relatively likable science nerd in a 2020 interview with Mommy Factor, Whitt revealed how similar he is to his fictional counterpart. "As I got older, I got more sophisticated or whatever, but I really relate to him," he told the publication. "When I was a kid one of the main things I wanted to be was a scientist. I would always try to invent things, put stuff together to see how they worked and take things apart. So I can really relate to that."

Fredro Starr remained consistent with his music career

Fred Lee Scruggs Jr. — also known as Fredro Starr — played Malakai in "Save the Last Dance." Similar to the likes of Tupac Shakur and Method Man, Fredro Starr was a successful music artist before becoming an actor. As part of the hip-hop group Onyx, Fredro Starr — alongside Sticky Fingaz, Big DS, and Sonny Seeza — rose to stardom after the release of their 1993 album "Bacdafucup," which included their hit song "Slam." That same year, his acting career began. As he said on a 2021 episode of "The OG Hour," "I was at the right place at the right time." He went on to nab roles in "Strapped," "The Addiction," and "Moesha."

After playing Malakai, Fredro Starr continued to find success as an actor. His yearly commitment to this budding passion saw him appear in projects such as "NYPD Blue," "The Wire," "Diamond Ruff," and "Bust Down." This, however, never got in the way of his music career. As a solo artist, Fredro Starr kept himself busy producing and releasing full-length projects from 2001 to 2022. 

After making fun of artists who say they're going to retire only to come out of retirement right away, Fredro Starr revealed on "The Dr. Greenthumb Show" in 2023 that he is on the verge of calling it as well. "Guess what, I'm retiring too this year. After this year I'm done. For real," he stated. "30 years of hip-hop, this is the last year."

Vince Green is a successful voice actor

As the film's main source of comic relief, Vince Green played the ever-so-loving wisecracking DJ Snookie in "Save the Last Dance." The Chicago native started improvising and acting when he was still in school, and that experience sure paid off when he was on the "Save the Last Dance" set.  "I improvised about 95 percent of Snookie's lines," Green dished to Chicago Reader in 2001. "Thomas Carter [the director] loved it."

In addition to inspiring Nicole Polizzi's iconic nickname, "Save the Last Dance" served as a launching pad for Green's career. Following his memorable turn in the movie, the young actor flexed his colorful personality in several projects such as "Barbershop," "Punk'd," and "Everybody Hates Chris." He's also found success as a full-time voice actor, working in both commercials and video games. After securing his first voice acting gig for the video game "Saints Row" in 2006, Green would lend his voice to other video game franchises like "Call of Juarez," "Grand Theft Auto," and "Mafia." 

Elisabeth Oas created a podcast about endometriosis

Elisabeth Oas played Diggy, the white girl who "thinks she's down," in "Save the Last Dance." Though she was a supporting character, nabbing this role was a massive step in the Michigan-born actor's career. From there, Oas found relative success in other films such as "Design," "Unconditional Love," and "Under the City." The last stretch of her acting career ran from 2007 to 2009, which saw her star as Valeria in "Witches' Night," Theresa in "Barefoot to Jerusalem," and Maria in "Into Temptation."

After Oas was diagnosed with endometriosis, she founded and co-produced a podcast titled "The Pelvic Messenger." On each episode, the hosts speak with different experts about the chronic pain disorder. According to the podcast's description, the broadcast is supported by the International Pelvic Pain Society and Beyond Basics Physical Therapy. Since the show's conception in 2011, Oas used her Twitter account to update her fans on the release of each episode. As of 2017, however, both her Twitter page and the podcast appear to be inactive. Despite this, the episodes are still up for those wanting to educate themselves on the illness.

Ora Jones became a renowned figure in theater

In "Save the Last Dance," Ora Jones played Mrs. Gwynn, a teacher that walks Sara to her first class after transferring. Though her part in the 2001 film was fairly fleeting, this didn't reflect her acting career as Jones remained relatively busy after the release of "Save the Last Dance." After portraying the inner-city school faculty member, Jones starred in several films ranging from "Uncle Nino," "Prison Break," "Chicago Fire," "Betrayal," and "Somebody Somewhere."

Most notable, however, is her career in theater. By 2007, Jones became a member of Terry Kinney's theater company, Steppenwolf. During her time with the company, Jones made herself known within Chicago, starring in "The Violet Hour," "The Unmentionables," and more. In 2013, Jones headed to Broadway to play Mrs. Phelps in "Matilda the Musical." She also played Madame de Volanges in a Broadway production of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Booth."

In 2011, Jones was named best actress by Chicago Magazine (via Steppenwolf). In a 2018 interview with N'Digo, she expressed gratitude for the opportunities she was given as a Black actor in theater. When asked what was next for her, she appeared very optimistic about what is to come. "My dreams are fluid; they change from day to day," she stated. "I do see some sleeping in, in my future ... haha!"