What can you say about first opportunities to meet A-list celebrities? As much as you pretend to disregard the distance movie-stars have built between you (and the rest of America), these people still exude an unnatural glow that’s impossible to ignore. Enter Drew Barrymore. She makes one thing perfectly clear before we sit down to discuss her latest film Whip it, also her directorial debut: She missed DVDs, and cannot believe VHS tapes are now declared novelty items. Barrymore insists she will never buy films through iTunes, and misses the days of yore, during which she could track down some, “rad VHS porn.”
Barrymore is a lively act to keep up with, but as four other writers gather around us to discuss her film, she makes it very apparent she will be treating us as equals (despite her slight financial advantage).
I found a great roller-derby name. “Midlife Crashes.” DREW: Nice, nice.
Were all the roller-derby names scripted beforehand, or derived on-set? DREW: Most of them were scripted. It’s such a part of the derby sub-culture. We had to change a few here and there, for legal reasons. But, that was one of Shauna’s (Cross) greatest gifts to the script, these really fun names. I was always Smashley Simpson, and there was no way I was every going to change that. Does Ashley [Simpson] know? DREW: I don’t know. I’d love if she’d see it. I just always liked that name, you know? It’s f**ckin on, I love it.
Is there a real “Babe Ruthless?” DREW: There actually is. She did a cameo in the movie. That was Shauna’s brainchild, too--Ellen Page’s character would be “Babe Ruthless.” I said I wouldn’t give that name up. I would do whatever it took to keep it. I had to keep that name... but, I called Ellen “Small Newman.” That was my name for her.
Now that you’re directing, how important is the role of feminism in your films, and what would you say is the difference between Whip It, and Charlie’s Angels? DREW: I think they’re actually really similar. I love when girls get to do what boys do. I love empowering women, and I love women that are capable. The one thing that I’m not crazy about are women that feel like they have to BE a man to live in a man’s world, or that men have the upper hand. These women have this bitter chip on their shoulder, and that’s not really sexy. I like girls who have got eachother’s backs. I don’t like cattiness, either. I hate seeing women be rude to each other. Oh God. I don’t like man-haters, and I don’t like back-stabbers. I like chicks who can f**ckin rip it up, pull sh*t off, and want to go for a beer with each other at the end of the day.
CHRIS: Hollywood is really a black hole for a lot of scripts. Matt Damon said it took seven years to get The Informant! made. Do you find, as your status escalates, it’s easier to get a movie made than it has been before? DREW: It’s always a challenge. But, if you have a dream, and you’re the only person who’s going to make it happen, you have to do the homework, have a vision, be able to present it, back it up, and know it on every f**cking level. You have to give up your social life. You’ve got to work non-stop, with crazy passion [for it]. Hopefully, you’ll still be lucky enough that someone will take a chance on you. I think they tend to take their chances on people who have their sh*t together.
CHRIS: Like you? DREW: Well... People who really say, ‘Here is the movie I’m going to make.’
CHRIS: So, you just walk in there, slam said script down on the table, and go “Bam!” DREW: Yeah. I told them this was the movie I was going to make, and actually re-wrote the script with Shauna for a year... I loved the roller-derby world, and I loved the idea. I just wanted to make the characters more personal, and there were just certain things I wanted to change about it. It was a very personal project for me, and I really wanted to inject all that into her awesome story.
Is this a movie you would have seen yourself doing at Ellen Page’s age? DREW: I would have LOVED to be able to do this movie at her age.
Is that part of what drew your to it in the first place? DREW: Yeah. I just related to her journey. The pageant-world was a metaphor for Hollywood, for me. I f**ckin hate cookie-cutter boxes. I hate when you’re supposed to be a certain way, or a certain kind of person. But, I didn’t want to necessarily sh*t on the world of pageants because it’s a total way of life for some people. It does open some doors. I see every film parodying pageants, like they’re the worst things on the planet, and I didn’t want to do that. I just don’t think it’s right for Ellen’s character in the movie. There are so many great things about Hollywood. I love filmmaking. I love the creative process, but there’s a lot of crap in there, too. I don’t think I’m the perfection-type. I think I’m more of a derby girl! These metaphors really meant something to me.
I read somewhere you said the Roller Derby world helps you express yourself. DREW: Absolutely.
Did you feel like it would be Drew Barrymore up on the screen, just sort of being yourself? DREW: I think I always bring a lot of myself to every character I play because I want the performance to be honest. I want the emotions I draw from to be my own.
That definitely comes out in this film. DREW: Oh, good! I do try and create distinctions between these characters so it’d not always, you know, the same sh*t. I try to find a nice balance of that.
How early on in the process did you have Ellen Page in mind for the lead role? DREW: Right away, actually. In fact, I asked her to do this before she started shooting Juno. When I watched the whole Juno phenomenon happen, I was there rooting her on. I had watched her body of work before that, and I thought she was the real deal. This is an actor. I wanted a no bull sh*t person for this part. I wanted someone I thought was a really authentic person. I wanted someone who I believed was timeless. To me, she has this beautiful vulnerability, but an incredible strength at the same time. She’s not this sensationalistic party-girl out there, she’s really someone who’s got her priorities straight, and a great head on her shoulders. She’s incredibility talented, and I wanted someone like that to be the hero of my movie. I can’t believe she said ‘yes.’ I was so thrilled! Juno was awesome, but I knew she was going to play a really different character in this. She hid her vulnerability behind wit in that film. In this film, I wanted something more neutral, and I knew we could show her range, and I wanted to showcase her joy and buoyancy. I tried to help her find the distinctions between the characters.
CHRIS: One my favorite things she’s ever done is that digital short from SNL, with Andy Samberg. I think it was around Halloween last year. Samberg played a monster, and Page played… herself. It was hilarious. DREW: Oh my God, the most genius f**cking thing ever?!
CHRIS: Absolutely! She has that vulnerability you talked about, but also a great intrinsic amount of comic timing. This is something you have as well, and it really came out in the film. DREW: Thank you!
CHRIS: When you’re fighting to get a film like this made, how important is it to instill a comedic side to it? This is basically a cute, but serious film about a young woman finding herself, but without comedy, it may have sank a bit. How’d you infuse a correct amount of comedy to pull it all off? DREW: Well… CHRIS: And, you had access to Kristen Wiig, who’s… DREW: A national treasure! CHRIS: Absolutely. She is. She should have her own monument. DREW: She should! She’s literally like… saving lives, I feel like. CHRIS: I think she is. DREW: I do too! CHRIS: I think a couple people who were sort of teetering between life and death went, “Oh, Kristen Wiig’s in the world, so I guess I’m going to live!” (Drew laughs)
CHRIS: How do you find the balance in a film like this, between comedy and drama, without losing your focus? DREW: I really like to find the balance in everything, because I really believe in polarity. With someone like Kristen, I know when I hang out with her, and we’re drinking a glass of wine, and we’re talking, she has this very calm, neutral, good-girlfriend quality. I really wanted that for her character. I told her there were definitely opportunities for her to get some great laughs, but I really wanted to feel like she was an awesome older sister to Ellen’s character. I wanted to show some her more natural and dramatic sides. With Juliette (Lewis), I was like, “You are a f**cking animal, and I want you to go ape-sh*t!” I didn’t want her to go easy on Ellen. To Ellen, I’d say “here’s where I need you to cry,” or “here’s where I need you to be funny…”
CHRIS: As a director… DREW: Right, I’m more performance-oriented. I work next to the camera. I don’t use a monitor. I think that whole video-village with a bunch of producer-hens sitting around is total crap. I would not allow it on my set. I love to work with people right next to the camera and keep the camera rolling. I like doing takes where their natural instincts come out. When you cast people, you want them, so you want what they already have to offer. My favorite takes are when you literally go, “Surprise me!”
CHRIS: Wow, pressure… DREW: This was a group of people that could always bring it. I wanted to surprise people. Who were watching the movie as well. I wanted to reveal that there was depth, and meaning. Family, to me, is a very tender and sensitive subject. I’ve had a lot of sensitive feelings regarding me and my own family, and I wanted to inject that into this movie. Then again, I just live to laugh. So, I wanted to put a lot comedy into this too. I love action. I love sports. You know? Filming that is a total challenge, but it’s also really fun. I didn’t know how I was going to get all these juxtaposing tones, cohesively into one movie! I wanted to balance it out so all these things could fit into one world.