This is It director Kenny Ortega told an audience at an Entertainment Weekly event in Los Angeles Monday night that he’s “happy for Michael” that the film, which opened to $101 million worldwide last weekend, is now the highest grossing concert film in history. “Michael had filmmaking in his future,” Oretga said at EW‘s tribute to the legendary director and choreographer at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. “So I’m just glad that this film—even though he didn’t get to have that experience—has in fact made him a movie star.”
Ortega, who choreographed Dirty Dancing and directed all three High School Musical movies, was rehearsing Jackson’s planned 50-concert event in L.A. last summer when the singer died suddenly. (In the wake of that death, Sony bought the rehearsal footage and Ortega ultimately decided to direct the film.) Ortega, 59, had worked with Jackson in the 1990s and knew the singer well. Speaking to an audience of approximately 200 in the EW lounge — part of this week’s American Film Institute Festival in Hollywood — Ortega gave Jackson credit for helping resurrect the movie musical through his short-film style music videos for songs such as Thriller and Smooth Criminal. “We wouldn’t have movie musicals this day if it wasn’t for Michael Jackson,” Ortega said.
The director also recalled personal memories of Jackson, including that Jackson had two or three personal colognes that he frequently used, and that during rehearsals for This is It, dancers would line up to get hugs from Jackson just because of how good he smelled. One afternoon, when Ortega had been working hard all morning, and was covered in sweat, he went to Jackson’s trailer to talk to him. As Jackson approached Ortega to hug him, Ortega said, “You don’t want to hug me. I’m sweaty. I stink.” Jackson replied, “That’s ok,” whipped out a bottle of his cologne, and spritzed Ortega with it. Ortega smiled at the memory. “That whole rest of the day, everybody just was hugging me and saying ‘You smell like Michael!’” he said.