Ashley Tisdale on dancing and Aliens in the Attic

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Two dancers co-star in the sci-fi family comedy Aliens in the Attic—Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical) and Robert Hoffman (Step Up 2: The Streets)—and their dance training helped them handle the film's physical choreography and slapstick.

Tisdale plays Bethany Pearson, and Hoffman plays her boyfriend, Ricky, in the movie, a comic take on the alien invasion story. Aliens shoot Ricky with a transceiver that lets them control his actions and voice via remote control, and Hoffman had to perform physical slapstick, falling, flipping and otherwise acting a fool.

"The choreography itself is more [figuring out] what your character's going through, what are the limitations or lack of limitations, and then coming up with what's the realm of movement," Hoffman said in a group interview earlier this month in Beverly Hills, Calif. "In my case, it was just zombie and spastic and random. From there, you have your guidelines: OK, this point, I can walk like a chicken. I can do things that are mocking the Pussycat Dolls. There really was no limit, whereas [in] dance, you kind of set the moves or freestyle and go with the music. With this, it's like, 'What does the story entail? OK, go nuts.'"

Unlike dance, however, the film did not require Ricky to be graceful. In fact, it's funnier if he's not. "Absolutely," Hoffman continued. "Clunky and wacky and ridiculous is better. I tried to also mock life in certain ways, like walk effeminately or walk like a monkey. I did lots of different stuff like that."

Hoffman put himself at personal risk to provide a complete performance as Ricky. Producer Barry Josephson revealed that Hoffman insisted on doing his own stunts.

"It was not only that he wouldn't say no," Josephson said in a separate phone interview. "He never would use a stunt double. The stunt coordinator, Paul Shapcott, would say, 'Well, we're going to throw you this way, we're going to throw you over the car, we're going to have you fight with Nana, we're going to have you fight with the stunt double, we're going to have you be thrown up in the air by this swing.' Every single time Paul would tell him about what his stunt double was going to do, Robert said, 'No, no, no, I'll do it.'"

Bethany spends most of the movie distracted by her relationship problems, with Ricky acting strange and trying her patience. She encounters the aliens only at the end. She has one fight scene with the evil Razor, who would only be added via CGI in post-production.

"My action scene, where I'm fighting Razor, that was all just choreography pretty much to me," Tisdale said in a separate interview. "It was just like a dance, almost, as if I learned a dance. So nothing was there, and I just acted like something was, which was really funny after watching it on the dailies without the aliens. I thought it was going to be really challenging, but it was actually a lot of fun and not that hard."

Most of Tisdale's work is reacting to Hoffman performing as the possessed Ricky. That is what Josephson hired her for, not her dance background. "I wanted Ashley to do the movie more for her comedy experience than anything else," Josephson said. "She is just such a great comedienne, and you just see it in all of the scenes that she has in the movie, and the scenes with Robert especially. She's so funny, and her instincts are so strong, and her timing is so good. In that scene where she is telling off Ricky and Ricky never speaks back to her, it really shows you what her gift is."

Aliens in the Attic opens July 31.