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Drew Barrymore on Whip It

Published October 1, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Fox Searchlight
Whip It PosterWhip It
When Drew Barrymore announced she was making her directorial debut, A-list actors lined up to star in Whip It for her. She landed Ellen Page, fresh off Juno, Juliette Lewis, Eve, Zoe Bell, Kristin Wiig, and Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden.

Barrymore's Whip It

“It makes me want to burst into tears because Nancy Juvonen, my partner, my sister, when we started our company, we just thought the one mantra we should really keep is that you make a promise and you keep your promises,” Barrymore said. “A lot of the films we started out with, some of which didn’t have scripts, like a Charlie’s Angels or Never Been Kissed which is about a gawky teenager who looks unattractive and is trying to represent people who felt like crap going through high school, or a Donnie Darko where people didn’t want to make this first time director’s story. So we’ve always been people who have just said, you know, if you take the leap of faith on us, we will not let you down. That’s whether it’s a studio or an actor who’s joining the process. So for me, that means the world to me because I think keeping your promise is everything.”

Now Barrymore’s directing career has exploded. She almost landed the third Twilight film, but she’s even got the clout to pass that one by. “Timing-wise, I’m glad that it didn’t work out and everything I think happens for whatever reason it’s supposed to. I’m very much looking forward to seeing that film. And there’s been two or three others that I’ve flirted with. The thing that’s really the most important for me is to be so in love with what I do, to be so in love with something that it’s what gets you out of bed and makes you work six to seven days a week, 18 hours a day because unless you’re that invested, you won’t care about every single detail. Every little coffee mug that’s in the corner, every little lighting scheme, every lens package, every costume, every piece of casting, every line of dialogue. Everything has to get 150% of your attention and passion. So it has to be something that you’re that in love with so I’ll wait until I find that thing. The truth is I haven’t had the time yet in order to recharge my batteries and find that thing yet.”

Whip It explains the rules of roller derby and captures the athletes skating around the track so that the audience can follow along. Not bad for a first timer. “I was much more drawn to a lower light sort of boxing style arena of lighting and crowd scenes. Derby has such an eclectic crowd that I really wanted to show the diversity of the people in the bleachers. I really wanted to do a lot of techno-crane and doggy-cam so that you were right there in the middle of all the action but I also wanted to do a lot of handheld and in field shots and three camera angles so you could cut it in a very traditional way, sort of more like a hockey movie. That said, it's hard and it was a great challenge for me to choose a sport where it's not like put the ball over there or put the ball through the hoop or pass the goal line and you kind of know what's going on. It's a difficult sport to follow visually and to try and have the responsibility of keeping it fun and there's all these things going on but trying to tell a little story that furthers the movie along with each game. So I just tried in the writing and the choreography and the jams to really combine all the elements and yet keep moving it forward and maintain action and comedy.”

It’s also the story of a mother and daughter coming to terms with one another, even though they want different things out of life. “That's really what I wanted to make the film about because that's something that I personally relate to. It's so emotional to me because I know what we go through to try and get our parents acceptance especially when we don't see eye to eye on our futures. So for me roller derby was a wonderful backdrop in an irreverent sports comedy but really the central reason that I wanted to make the movie was because I understand the emotions that come with trying to figure it out with your parents. So to me it's a real balance and it's a real family film. I hope that comes across.”

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Fox Searchlight

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