When Dakota Johnson signed on to star and produce in “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the first film under her Tea Time Pictures production company, director and writer Cooper Raiff wasn’t set to act in the production at all. But Johnson encouraged Raiff to change his mind, believing that he was perfect for the lead role of Andrew, a bar mitzvah party starter who befriends a single mom and her autistic daughter.

“Cooper has an incredible ability to be both in a scene and studying his scene partner and himself — it’s almost like he’s within it and without it,” Johnson said at the Variety Virtual Sundance Room, presented by Audible. “When Cooper was in scenes and I wasn’t in the scene, I was at the monitor. [Producer Ro Donnelly] was always at the monitor. He did this really incredible thing where he kind of wrote a manifesto of the whole movie and what each scene was meant to be. So we were all able to hold him and have his back while he was on camera. It was just magical to have everyone really aiming for the same goal.”

Johnson and Raiff were joined by “Cha Cha Real Smooth” cast members Vanessa Burghardt, Leslie Mann, Evan Assante, Raúl Castillo and Odeya Rush in a conversation hosted by Variety senior entertainment writer Angelique Jackson. The cast talked about what drew them to the project, debated whether or not the movie should have opened with Lupe Fiasco’s “The Show Goes On” and shared stories about what it was like working together on set.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” is the first professional acting credit for Burghardt, who identifies as autistic and portrays Lola, the daughter of Johnson’s character Domino. Burghardt said she was drawn to the project because she felt her character avoided many of the stereotypes and clichés that often define portrayals of autism in film.

“Most of the auditions I get are for autistic characters and they’re usually very stereotyped, like a shell of what people think autistic people are supposed to be,” Burghardt said. “But Lola seemed like a fully formed person. And I really like that.”

Watch the full conversation above.