The actress talks about her first starring role with Jeff Bridges
Every four years (well, every two now), Olympians from around the world come to compete against other countries in different sports. But before the athletes have the chance to make it to the big stage, they compete in the national tournaments.
In gymnastics, most of the competitors have been training since they were just kids; by the time they make it to their teens, they're pretty much poised and ready to compete against anyone.
Disney's new film Stick It takes a look at that world - with a twist, and adds some awesome music to boot. Newcomer, Missy Peregrym stars as Hayley Graham; a former gymnast who started hanging out with the wrong crowd and left the sport for the world of bmx bikes. Missy hails from Vancouver, Canada; you may have seen her in the short lived ABC series, Life As We Know It.
In the film, Haley's games of vandalism go too far; she and her friends decide to ride around in a new house housing development. When she crashes through a window of one of the houses on her bike, she's caught by the police and sent back to do community service in the one place she didn't want to go - a gymnastics training center.
Jeff Bridges, yes, that Jeff Bridges - 'The Dude,' from The Big Lebowski, plays her new gymnastics coach. He plays another former gymnast who got hurt during competition and turned to teaching; he was a hard-nosed, balls-to-the-wall coach until many of his kids got hurt as well.
For her role in Stick It, Missy trained three months prior to the start of production to get into the best shape in her life. Even though she did have a stunt double, Missy knew she had to look her best. "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; I was like 'Guys, I can't get that big.' She was so muscular and so strong; I was like '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, Isabel, Missy,' it's so obvious. I was like 'Please, no!' But it actually worked out perfect; they knew exactly what they were looking for and I'm so proud of the way it turned out because I just didn't want this movie to look fake in that sense. I thought it was really cool."
And getting to work with 'The Dude' was more than just exciting. "I was very nervous to work with Jeff in the beginning. I was like 'Uh, somebody who has done this for so long and really educated, and 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.'"
It was their initial meeting where Missy got over her initial jitters and saw the real Jeff Bridges. "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."
She says Jeff really taught her a lot about how to read into her characters; from him, Missy learned how similar her's and Jeff's characters really were. "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 and 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 so 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."
Being a new actress, Jeff sat down with Missy and taught her a few tricks of how to better prepare for her scenes. "I remember he wanted to rehearse, he loves to rehearse. I was scared to do that because if I rehearse then I'm not going to be genuine when I do the scene because 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."
Missy recalled one particular day; "One time he said to me, 'Okay, I want to go over the lines but I don't want you to say the lines.' I said, 'That's interesting, Jeff, I have no idea what you're talking about, how do you do that?' He said, 'Well, I want you to paraphrase.' 'Okay, I hope I can do this exercise.' I felt like I was being tested; I was like, 'I still don't really get it.' He was like 'Just say how you are feeling, get your point across without using the words on the page.' That was the best exercise I have ever done because what happens is you immediately internalize, you understand the point of the scene so you try to get that across and it's not what you are saying; it's about how you're feeling. Now, you go to film the scene and you've got all that natural emotion that's within you that you remember from doing it before and it just makes it that much more real.
Through the five months of the shoot (three training, two shooting), Missy got so good at the sport, she was able to do many twists and spins on the bars that a lot of the professionals aren't able to do. But that's not what she was really concerned about. "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 like, 'How does my ass look and is it going to be fine in a leo[tard]?'"
And even though she was an extremely athletic child, she realized gymnastics is more than just how you look. "It's such a difficult sport; I didn't know anything about it before I went in there. I watched the Olympics and saw them perform there but you only see how good they are; you are amazed by it but when you know the process of getting there, you just respect it that much more."
So what's next for the 23-year-old? Well, she's moved down to Los Angeles and is starting to look for other roles. She says she's not opposed to going back to TV, but really wants to focus on her movie career. "I have a real passion for playing a role that's a strong female character, that's just not typical, with a lot of heart, not an easy sell of a movie, not real commercial. It doesn't have to be a big movie but I'm just looking for something that I really, truly, 100 percent believe in and am behind."
The soundtrack for Stick It is off the hook with crazy up-beat tunes from Missy Elliott, Jurassic 5, Talib Kweli, and K7's 1993 hit, 'Come Baby Come.' Jessica Bendinger, who wrote and directed this film, produced the album on the Hollywood Records label; it's in stores now.
Stick It leaps onto the big screen April 28th; it's rated PG-13. It also stars Vanessa Lengies, of American Dreams fame, as Missy's pseudo rival. Bendinger makes her feature directorial debut; she also wrote the screenplay for the original "Bring It On".