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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
September 29, 2009

Drew Barrymore makes her feature film directorial debut with Whip It, a fun, character-driven piece set in the world of roller derby, written by Shauna Cross, a former player who adapted the screenplay from her novel Derby Girl. The film follows the story of Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a 17-year-old who spends time with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and little sister on the Texas pageantry circuit, but longs for something more. When she happens upon the world of roller derby, she discovers not only a passion and talent for the sport, but also a newfound voice, empowerment, and sense of belonging--all while rocking the derby moniker "Babe Ruthless."

The fantastic ensemble also includes Daniel Stern as Bliss' football fanatic father; Alia Shawkat as her friend and fellow waitress at an amusingly pork-themed diner; Juliette Lewis as rival derby girl Iron Maven; Kristen Wiig as cool maternal surrogate Maggie Mayhem; Jimmy Fallon as announcer "Hot Tub" Johnny Rocket; Andrew Wilson as derby coach Razor; singer Landon Pigg in his acting debut as Bliss' romantic interest Oliver; and Eve and Zoe Bell as teammates Rosa Sparks and Bloody Holly, respectively. Fans of real life players Iron Maiven and Krissy Krash, both of the LA Derby Dolls' Tough Cookies, will also spot the kickass duo in a cameo as "The Manson Sisters."

In this interview, Drew Barrymore talks about making a personal connection to the material and helming the project, in which she also has a supporting role in front of the camera as violence-prone derby girl Smashley Simpson.

Win a copy of WHIP IT, new on Blu-ray and DVD!

DREW: Hi, everybody.

MEDIA: We're told we only have five minutes, so we've organized our questions into a very concise list.

Time management is very smart.

So the first question: Why a sports movie for your first film?

[gets distracted by albums on a nearby table] Sorry, I just had to look at the albums really quick. [recollects herself] Why did I choose a sports movie to be my first film? Well, I think there are two aspects of this film that are the most central themes, which is the roller derby and the "find your tribe" and the "empower yourself and be your own hero," but also the mother/daughter love story. And I just wanted to find a film that I could really make personal for me. I didn't want to be like "a director telling a story"--I wanted to be a person who could have taken all the emotional experiences, the cultures I've learned, the music I've loved, the films I've studied, the nature of learning how a film works through being a producer for 15 years, and really just apply that into something that could be not just a movie to me, but really my heart. And this story really fit the bill, because my heart is something that doesn't like just heaviness--I don't want to just watch Sturm und Drang amongst a family. But that said, I find when comedy has heart, it's all the more funny and poignant to me.

In making this movie, what kind of support system did you have with your friends, and was there a similarity to the surrogate family that Ellen's character finds through roller derby?

I feel like with my own friends, they've been so great because they've been so honest with me along the way. They've supported me and they've encouraged me, but they've also said like, "Hey, I think you need to check yourself there" or "I think you're repeating a pattern there." And I think these [derby] women are to Ellen the way that my friends were to me. And I really related to the metaphor of pageant and Hollywood. And I was very surprised when I did so much research on pageant in film dating all the way back to the '60s--it's always parodied, it's always made into a joke. And I thought, "It's really not that. It's a rite of passage, it's a door-opener, it's a way of life. It's just not right for this character." And I feel the same way about Hollywood. There's a lot of aspects of it that I don't think are wrong necessarily, but they're not right for me: the perfect body shape, or you have to live a certain lifestyle, or that all bets are off, [or] you're supposed to act or be a certain way or it's so taboo--just this perfectionism that is impossible to live up to. I found I'm more of a derby type of girl. I want to go out there and kick butt, and have a sense of humor, and enjoy my life and not be afraid of what other people think, but try and be empowered by that. And so I just happened to find this movie that I was like, "God, I really relate to all these things. I can put myself into this."

How would you describe your directorial approach or style?

I didn't want to be on the other side of the camera, and I don't have a video village...I work right next to the camera so I can see everything. I'm a very performance-driven director. And I just really wanted this to have a lot of different gritty emotions and tones, but done in a sort of cohesive vision. And I wanted it to be a celebration of life, and I worked really hard to not make it a Hollywood ending, you know? I think life goes on. I think in my 20s, I was obsessed with like a happy ending--which was a great, and a great fairy tale aspiration for me, and I liked telling those kind of stories--but in my 30s, I'm like, "'A good day' is a good day." And so I just sort of wanted to end it on that note. And it was great for me as a director to see a young girl's side of it and the parents' side. Being in my mid-30s, I understand a parent who wants the best for their child. And they may come from a different generation, or it may not be seeing eye-to-eye, but that doesn't mean they're a bad person or to villainize them. I kept trying to take the archetypal aspect out of it, or the Hollywood aspect out of it, or the happy ending, or people who make a switch that's not really normal to human behavior, or that it's about winning. You know, the person is who they are when they start out--they just haven't found the right place for them. And by the end, through lying, cheating, stealing, and doing everything they can, and then finally having to have everything fall apart and be honest about it, they have some moment of peace in their family. And to me, that is a great triumph.

Did you consider sticking strictly with the role of director, and not making an appearance in front of the camera?

It would have been easier on some levels, because trying to juggle pre-production while training and doing all of that, or directing the performances while you're in the scenes themselves, [can be cumbersome]. On the other hand, I felt for me, it would have been more difficult because I'm not a sideline dictator--I like to know what the girls are going through. I know the value of a training camp from having to produce the Charlie's Angels movies, actors doing their own stunts...I wanted to be in the trenches with them. And I've never really related to those directors who seem like they're at the top of the pyramid. I feel like directors may be coaches to the team, but they're a team.

But as one of the derby girls, you hurt yourself...

Yeah, I did. But I hurt myself walking down the street, so I might as well put it to some good use.

You really hit your head in the scene where your character takes a fall, right?

I did. Derby's such a rough and tumble, messy sport, you know? We had a version where it was all so clean and choreographed, and I went, "Oh God, this looks nothing like derby." And yet you have to tell stories and make it cohesive. Especially a sport that's unorthodox, and not like "go past the goal line" or "put the ball through the hoop." It's a unique challenge to try and tell those stories. So I just thought this is a unique world, it deserves a unique hand, and I'm going to do my best at it.

Thanks for the interview.

Thanks for taking the time.

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