Interview: Actress Missy Peregrym on Gymnastics Movie 'Stick It'

"I love that the story is not about getting the guy"

© Touchstone Pictures

Canadian actress Missy Peregrym made her film debut in 2006's Stick It. Peregrym stars as a former gymnast who's forced back into the world she gave up after getting in trouble with the law. About.com spoke with Peregrym around the release of the film, including about working with her co-star Jeff Bridges.

On the Gymnastics Scenes and Her Stunt Double, Olympian Isabelle Severino:

The camerawork was amazing, the way that they filmed it.

I thought the double was phenomenal. When she came in, we were in the middle training and I was terrified. She was so muscular and so strong. I was like, "Guys, I can’t get that big. I don’t know how I’m going to do that." I’m willing to work as hard as possible but I’m like, "This is going to look so weird. It’s going to be like, ‘Missy, Isabelle, Missy, Isabelle." It’s so obvious. I was like, "Please no!’ But it actually worked out perfectly."

They knew exactly what they were looking for and I’m so proud of the way it turned out. I just didn’t want this movie to look fake in that sense and for people to get out of the story to notice the doubling. I thought it was really cool.

On Her Lack of Gymnastics Training:

I kind of went in there thinking I could do everything [Laughs]. I went in there and was like, "Okay, cool. I can do a handstand…" Yeah, for like a second. Then I thought I could do a cartwheel and a front handspring and I was like, "See?" And they were like, "No." "What do you mean no?

I just did it and I landed on my feet." "That was good, but it’s all about form."

It really took four months to learn the basics of gymnastics plus the strength required to do any of those tricks. It took all that time just to get the strength to even try some of the difficult stuff. Obviously, it’s such a dangerous sport and they are not going to be like, "Okay, guys, we’re going to do three back flips right now and we want to see you land on your feet." I’d break my neck, so really it was about getting my body to look like a gymnast.

The Biggest Challenges to Playing a Gymnast:

The biggest part that was the most productive of the training period was really seeing what it’s like to be in the gymnast world. We trained for four months, five days a week for six hours a day. That’s a really long time. I was like, "Yeah, this is going to be so much fun. I can’t wait to get into this," and it was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I was sore every day. Thank God Vanessa Lengies was in the training with me because we just really bonded through that experience. It’s so hard to get up every day and be that sore. Because you are so sore, you feel like you’re getting worse and worse. You want to go in there and be like, "Yeah, I can do all this and all that." But, even in gymnastics, you train and one day you can do every trick and nail everything. By the way, my trick is a spin… But the next day you go in and can’t do anything. "Why can’t I turn?" That’s just the way it is.

It’s a mental game. It’s very emotional and as our bodies were changing, it was demanding eating properly and being able to support how much we were working out. It was so weird to be in a gym for that long. You lose your perspective for what’s really important in the world.

I was, "How does my a** look and is it going to be fine in a leotard?" It’s like, "Missy, re-group. Not important.”

On the Lack of Female Role Models:

Definitely in Hollywood I don’t think there are a lot of those roles. That’s why I was attracted to this role so much. I’m really passionate about the way that Haley is because she had an arc, and I think a lot of teenage girls are going through the same thing. I can’t speak on behalf of guys because I not a guy and I don’t know what their process is, but I know that, even for myself, I didn’t have the same family life or the same issues exactly but every girl has this process of defending herself. I have kind of the same defense mechanisms as Haley. I make sarcastic jokes. I try to bounce everything off me like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, it doesn’t matter." You try to mask your disappointment or the hurt and everything.

It’s funny because I’m kind of going through now what I was trying to portray as Haley. You really look at those things and what you thought were strengths are now weaknesses. You can’t go through the whole time deflecting everything and Haley really gets to a point of where she really deals with what is going on, the real issues. She uses them in a positive way to make a difference instead of just being this wall to absolutely everything. She opens up and lets things in and really excels and gets the people around her to excel. She was a great influence.

The Positive Message of Stick It:

I love that the story is not about getting the guy. It’s not about looking good, getting a make-over, acting cooler, having a cute short skirt. It’s about her really seeing who she is and evaluating that and coming to terms with that, which I would love to see every girl be able to do because I want girls to respect themselves.

I want girls to be who they are and what they have to offer. It’s not based on what other people think about you. I mean, you really become your worst critic in that area when you’re used to people putting that pressure on you. It’s not just gymnastics, because gymnastics is a very pressure-filled world at such a young age. That’s why it’s such a great parallel to this. It’s really about seeing it for what it is and loving who you are now, so that you can make a difference later on in a really positive way. I love to see women do that.

On Jeff Bridges:

I was very nervous to work with Jeff in the beginning. I was like, "…I admire his work and I’m coming into this like this is my first movie. I hope that I can work with him and be real and I don’t kill the scene."

I remember when he first came into the gym, he was so friendly and so open. I remember we immediately started talking about the characters and how we felt about it. He really took me in and was just very encouraging to me. He was so genuine and sincere and taught me a lot about it.

We wanted to make sure that the characters, as much as they’re defined, and really, there are some similarities between the two.

He didn’t always coach in a cookie cutter fashion. He didn’t always want his gymnasts to do the safe thing. He coached them to do crazy stuff and push the boundaries. When they ended up getting hurt, he got burned so he conformed to what the rules were - and I kind of did the same thing. I quit. I was like, "I’m not conforming so I quit and I’m just not going to deal with you. That’s the way I’m gonna do it." So when I was forced to go back in the gym, we wanted to make sure that it was more like a father/daughter relationship in the beginning. You know, that I still care what he thinks about me but I’m not going to show it and he still cares about me but is not gonna put up with my crap either. We wanted to make sure that it was really genuine and real and, by the time you reach the end of the movie, that we both learned from that and encouraged each other to go push the boundaries in an appropriate way. We weren’t disrespectful and we didn’t conform, but we definitely did it in our own way that was effective and gave each other our life back in a sense.

We wanted to make sure that it was a positive relationship between and gymnast and a coach. There’s a lot of stuff that happens in the real world of gymnastics and we just didn’t want to go there. We wanted it to be caring but not creepy, if you know what I mean. So that the audience isn’t like, "What? Is something else going on?" So it’s a fine line.

He was wonderful to work with. I remember that he wanted to rehearse. He loves to rehearse and I was scared to do that because if I rehearse, then I’m not going to be genuine when I do the scene. I’m going to be tired of it, but that’s not what happens. You really get down the words and movements of the scene and you don’t have to think about them anymore. You throw them away and then you can just be free to try different things and be open. That was one of the coolest things, and it made it just so much more fun to be in a scene.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick