Probably one of the greatest cinematic moments in history was when E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial encountered Gertie, memorably played by the adorable seven-year-old Drew Barrymore. To coin a cliché, being the great-niece of Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore, acting was in her genes and after a somewhat rocky adolescence, Barrymore has matured into a productive, working actress, resulting in being nominated for two Golden Globes and racking up another 22 wins & 41 nominations, the latest of which was an Emmy nomination for her outstanding performance in HBO’s Grey Gardens.
Barrymore has taken the leap from actress and successful producer to directing her first film, Whip It, the story of a young woman’s struggle to emerge out of the suffocating small town environment in which she lived, into the exciting world of roller derby.
Ellen Page is best known for her role in Juno, for which she won an Independent Spirit Award and plays the lead role in Whip It.
The following are excerpts from two separate interviews with Barrymore and Page.
Mirror: This must be a very exciting time for you.
Drew: This is a very exciting time for me. (Coughing) Pardon me, but I’ve been on a nationwide tour hitting a different city every day. So many airplanes. I’m o.k., but gosh, I don’t know how people do it.
Mirror: What initially attracted you to the script?
Drew: It’s not just about roller derby. It’s multi-layered. It’s also a mother-daughter love story. It’s a coming of self story. It’s a person’s personal journey set in the world of roller derby which is a great backdrop because it’s unique and not something we see in the movies every day. It’s a very welcoming world because you don’t have to have a specific body type or ethnicity or economic level. The story centers on Ellen’s (Page) character who is trying to figure who she wants to be. It illuminates the familiar struggles we go through with our parents when our vision doesn’t match theirs. There’s that moment when a mother and a daughter have a crossing point where they are a bit more equal, rather than mother and daughter, and how it results in mutual respect and honesty.
Mirror: The soundtrack is fabulous. Can you talk about it?
Drew: We had over 75 music cues and that’s very unorthodox as it is far greater than most films. Music to me is really everything.
Mirror: There was great potential for physical harm. What about medical insurance? Was that expensive?
Drew: I just said get the best coverage you can as these girls are going to be doing their own stunts as I was not going to second best this. I think it’s important to see actors doing their own stunts because it gives you a better emotional investment to see them going out there and doing what they’ve learned.
Mirror: As a first time director, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
Drew: Just making sure that I was thoroughly prepared. I worked on this project for three years. I rewrote the script because I didn’t want to accept the script as is. I wanted to up the ante on the jokes, put a lot more depth into the characters, and put a lot more of myself into Shauna’s writing (Shauna Cross) which, thank God, she was open to and collaborated with me. Then there’s pre-production where you’re working with all your department heads and designers – creating the team that will put the film together.
Mirror: How long did you shoot?
Drew: We shot for a couple of months and edited for eight months. It’s a long, long process and you really have to be in love with the project because it becomes your whole world for about three years.
Mirror: Is directing something you’ve always wanted to do?
Drew: Yes. Everything has been leading up to this.
Mirror: Just to switch gears for a moment, could you talk about your involvement with the UN World Food Program and how it’s changed your life?
Drew: The older I get, the more my priorities change and I could care less about Hollywood gossip. I’m more interested in global news and spending time in other cultures trying to learn about what’s important and what has a lot more depth and meaning for me, and where I want to help and the issues I care about. This has become very personal and not something I need to do publicly. It’s a journey that privately has transformed me as a human being.
Mirror: Are you still roller skating?
Drew: Not at the moment. Not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I haven’t had the time. Once you’ve trained though, you just want to skate.
Mirror: Best of luck to you with your film.
Drew: Thank you very much.
Mirror: How was it working with Drew?
Page: It was an absolute pleasure and honor to work with her. She’s an incredibly powerful human being who is kind and warm. As a director, she always knew what she wanted and was very self assured and very inspiring.
Mirror: This is a very different role for you. What drew you to the character?
Page: Lots of things. First and foremost it was a good screenplay. The relationships felt sincere. The relationship with her mom is powerful. She loves her mother and wants to please her and craves that connection. But, at the same time she finds real passion in roller derby and that’s where the conflict begins. Also, the resurgence of roller derby was interesting to me – a world where women can be aggressive and competitive.
Mirror: How much training did you go through in preparation for the skating sequences?
Page: I trained for about three months.
Mirror: How did your mother inspire you?
Page: My mother is incredibly compassionate. She was a teacher and just retired. She managed to give me so much of her time and support but first and foremost just cares if I’m happy and healthy and balanced. She’s the sweetest thing. She hasn’t attached herself to the world I find myself in; do you know what I mean?
Mirror: You mean living vicariously through you?
Page: Yes, that’s sort of what I mean.
Mirror: What would you like the audience to take away with them?
Page: To have a good time, but as corny as it sounds my character’s journey is finding that thing in life that really makes your blood boil and ignites the passion inside of you. It enables you to develop confidence and strength and that is powerful for anyone at any age, whether they’re male or female.
Mirror: Will you continue skating?
Page: I sure will, when I have the time.