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

© 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. Peregrym speaks around the release of the film, including about working with her co-star Jeff Bridges.

Peregrym and Her Stunt Double Isabelle Severino

In working with her double stunt man and Olympian Isabelle Severino, Peregrym noted that the camera work was amazing due to the way that they filmed it.

She goes on to say, "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." Fearful that she couldn't get as big as Severino, she was determined to work as hard as possible due to the difference in how big Severino was in comparison. In the end, Peregrym said that it worked out perfectly for the film.

"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." Peregrym

On Her Lack of Gymnastics Training

Peregrym went into the film thinking that she could do everything from a handstand to a cartwheel and even a front handspring. Despite her being able to actually do it, the directors on set needed something more than landing on her feet: they needed a perfect form.

It took her four months to learn the basics of gymnastics plus the strength required to do any of the tricks. Additionally, it took all that time just to get the strength for Peregrym to try some of the difficult moves. Because it is a dangerous sport, everyone on set was supportive and made sure to take things slowly and to not get hurt.

Ultimately, the goal was to get her 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," Peregrym said. She trained for four months: five days a week for six hours a day. Her attitude was that it was going to be fun, despite it being a long time, but ultimately she described it was the most painful thing she has ever done. Peregrym was sore every day but formed a bond with Vanessa Lengies through the training 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.

Peregrym says that it is a mental game. "It’s very emotional and as our bodies were changing, it was demanding to eat properly and being able to support how much we were working out." She notes that it was weird to be in a gym for that long because you lose your perspective for what’s really important in the world.

She jokes, "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

In Hollywood, Peregrym doesn't believe there are a lot of these female role models. This is part of why she was attracted to the role so much; she is passionate about the way that Haley is because she had an arc, and many teenage girls are going through the same thing. She personally comments, "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." From making sarcastic jokes to bouncing things off of you like it doesn't matter, Peregrym relates to the character trying to mask disappointment and hurt.

Peregrym defines how Haley was of great influence to her:

"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."

The Positive Message of Stick It

The story is not about getting the guy. It is not about looking good, getting a make-over, acting cooler, or having a cute short skirt. This story is about the character really seeing who she is, evaluating that and coming to terms with it. Peregrym says that she would love to see every girl be able to do because she wants girls to respect themselves. She elaborates, "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."

Working With Jeff Bridges

Peregrym was very nervous to work with Jeff in the beginning because she admired his work and was coming into this new situation as her first movie. She wanted to work with him and be real without killing the scene. Peregrym felt comfortable with him when he first came into the gym because he was friendly, open, genuine and sincere. Having him take her in was encouraging and allowed her to learn more about the characters on a deeper level.

"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."

She goes on to say that she wanted to make sure that it was a positive relationship between a gymnast and a coach. There is a lot of stuff that happens in the real world of gymnastics and she just didn’t want to go there. Both Peregrym and Bridges agreed that they wanted it to be caring but not creepy so that the audience didn't question if something else was going on. This was a fine line to walk, but ultimately rehearsing helped get the words and movements of the scene down. This allowed them to work seamlessly together and to have fun, be free, and to not think about the scene too much.