Drew Barrymore chose a real balancing act for her directing debut. She does it on wheels, directing and acting alongside “Juno” co-star Ellen Page in “Whip It,” a rowdy tale of roller-derby women.
Barrymore had never put on skates before shooting the movie, spending a month alongside castmates learning the ropes in a roller-derby boot camp.
Her training as a director has been going on for years, since she began producing movies in the 1990s, her credits including her “Charlie’s Angels” adventures and her Adam Sandler romance “50 First Dates.”
Once they acquired the rights to roller-derby player Shauna Cross’ book “Whip It,” Barrymore and producing partner Nancy Juvonen began casting about for a director. Before long, Barrymore realized this was the one she had to direct herself.
“I’ve been producing for 15 years, and it’s all been preparing for the big test. I really care so much about what I do, and I love filmmaking so much. I love every detail and every aspect of it,” Barrymore, 34, said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “Whip It” premiered in advance of its Oct. 2 theatrical release.
“I think slow and steady wins the race, too. I didn’t need to direct when I was 21. I wanted to produce and learn about the filmmaking process and understand every element going into it, so that by the time I did direct, I was as knowledgeable and well-prepared as possible.”
“Whip It” stars Page as Texas teen Bliss Cavendar, who follows the path of her mom (Marcia Gay Harden), a former beauty queen overseeing her daughter’s rise on the pageant circuit.
On a whim, Bliss tries out for a cellar-dweller roller-derby team, discovering she’s a natural skater and soon leading her squad on an underdog quest for the local league championship. Kristen Wiig, singer Eve, stuntwoman Zoe Bell and Barrymore co-star as some of Page’s teammates, with Juliette Lewis cast as her nemesis, the star of the league’s top team.
Barrymore proudly notes she cast Page before production began on “Juno,” the 2007 Toronto festival hit that shot her to stardom, becoming a $100 million smash and earning her a best-actress Academy Award nomination.
Page, 22, said she has looked up to Barrymore since her early teens, admiring her for the strong women she has presented on screen as both an actor and producer.
“She’s maintained such a sense of identity, she’s never let herself be pigeonholed, she’s never worried about what people think,” Page said. “Every single person has wanted a piece of her whole life, yet she still maintains this groundedness and kindness that is really remarkable.”
A scion of one of Hollywood’s great acting dynasties, including her grandfather John Barrymore and his siblings Lionel and Ethel, Barrymore has been a star since early childhood, when she debuted in the sci-fi tale “Altered States” and later became a screen darling with the blockbuster “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
While Barrymore was not necessarily looking to act in her own directing debut, she took on a supporting role so she could bond with her cast as they tripped and stumbled through their derby training.
“It was one more thing on my plate that I kind of didn’t need as a director, because you’ve got so much going on, the training and the derby and skating on wheels and directing on top of all of that,” Barrymore said. “But I thought it was invaluable to the process as far as creating that trust and relationship and chemistry with the girls.”