Interview: Missy Peregrym

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

Stick It Movie Poster Click for Fullsize ImageI recently had the chance to participate in a Q&A with actor Missy Peregrym who is currently promoting her latest film, Touchstone Pictures’ "Stick It," which opens nationwide on April 21st in Canada and April 28th in the US. 

Peregrym stands out in the industry as a talented young actress of uncommon character and substance who has a bright and promising future ahead of her.  She began her career in modeling when she was eighteen.  Her print advertisements soon turned into commercials for Mercedes Benz, Spring Canada and the Olympics.  Peregrym caught the eye of casting directors and quickly transitioned into acting.  Audiences will remember her as "Jackie," the sarcastic beauty with a troubled family life in ABC’s "Life as We Know It."  She won her first television role on the action-drama series "Dark Angel."  Soon after, she followed with a spot on the cleverly eclectic cable series "The Chris Isaak Show."  Peregrym also enjoyed guest starring roles in such films as "Smallville" and "Andromeda."  She has lived most of her life in Vancouver, Canada before heading to Los Angeles where she currently resides.  Outside of acting, she is a dedicated athlete who enjoys playing soccer and snowboarding as well as coaching high school basketball.

In "Stick It," Peregrym plays Haley Graham a former gymnastics prodigy who devoted her life to gymnastics until, at the age of 15 and a nationally ranked Final Championship hopeful, she inexplicably walked out in the middle of the prestigious Championships competition.  It is during this meet that she discovers a secret that rips apart her family life and, out of despair, she quits the sport forever.  "As a kid sometimes, the weight of the world is so difficult to carry, so to be Haley’s age and to find out that the adults in your life aren’t who they say they are – that really messed her up, "Peregrym explains.

Living at home with her newly divorced dad, a Texas real estate developer, and feeling totally despondent, she spends two years bumming around with her two best friends, Poot (John Patrick Amedori) and Frank (Kellan Lutz), touring around on their dirt bikes and frequently getting into trouble.  Now a headstrong 17-year-old, she has turned her back on the world of gymnastics, using her gravity-defying talents instead to challenge authority and earn herself a less than sterling reputation.  While attempting to execute a particularly spectacular dare, Haley and her bike crash through an expensive set of glass patio doors (in a home being built in her father’s development) – which prompts a local judge to step in and order some kind of rehabilitation. 

"At this point, Haley is not interested in anything," Peregrym continues.  "She just doesn’t care.  She goes back to court – for, like the millionth time – and gets sent back into gymnastics as part of her sentence for screwing around."   Indeed, when her latest joyride lands her in juvenile court, the judge sentences Haley to hard time at VGA, an elite gymnastics academy run with military regimentation by the renowned and uncompromising gymnastics coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges).  And once she arrives, the defiant Haley wastes no time using her razor-sharp wit and rebellious attitude to challenge Vickerman and his established rules, influencing the impressionable athletes training at VGA and provoking Vickerman who struggles to maintain peace and order. 

Here is what Peregrym had to say about her latest film at our Q&A:

Q.  I was surprised to learn that you hadn’t done any gymnastics.  You were good.  Did you have a great double?

A.  It’s all of that. 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 and for people to get out of the story to notice the doubling. I thought it was really cool.

Q.  What were you really able to do by the end of the training?  Hand stands?

A.  Yeah.  I kind of went in there thinking I could do everything.  I went in there and was like ‘Okay, cool.  I can do a handstand,’ -- yeah for like a second.  Then I thought I could do a cartwheel and a front handspring and I was like ‘See?’  And they were like ‘No.’  ‘What do you mean, "No"? I just did it and I landed on my feet.’  That was good, but it’s all about form, and it really took four months to learn the basics of gymnastics plus the strength required to do any of those trick. It took all that time just to get the strength to even try some of the difficult stuff. Obviously, it’s such a dangerous sport and they are not going to be like ‘Okay, guys, we’re going to do three back flips right now and we want to see you land on your feet.’  I’d break my neck.  So really it was about getting our body to look like a gymnast’s.  But the biggest part that was the most productive of the training period was really seeing what it’s like to be in the gymnast’s world. 
We trained for four months, five days a week for six hours a day. That’s a really long time.  I was like ‘Yeah, this is going to be so much fun I can’t wait to get into this.’ And it was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I was sore every day. Me and Vanessa Lengies, thank God she was in the training with me because we just really bonded through that experience.  It’s so hard to get up every day and be that sore.  Because you are so sore, you feel like you’re getting worse and worse.  You want to go in there and be like ‘Yeah, I can do all this and all that’ but even in gymnastics you train and one day you can do every trick and nail everything -- and by the way, my trick is a spin -- but the next day you go in and can’t do anything. ‘Why can’t I turn?’ but that’s just the way it is.  It’s a mental game.  It’s very emotional and, as our bodies were changing it was demanding eating properly and being able to support how much we were working out.  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, ‘How does my ass look and is it going to be fine in a leo[tard]?’  It’s like ‘Missy, re-group.  Not important.’ I don’t think this movie would have turned out as well as it did, but we have so much respect for all the gymnasts and what they do. It’s such a difficult sport. I didn’t know anything about it before I went in there. I was very athletic when I was growing up.  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. Every gymnast is crazy for doing what they do.

Q.  This movie has a lot of strong female role models.  Do you think there is a lack of that?

A.  Definitely, in Hollywood, I don’t think there are a lot of those roles.  That’s why I was attracted to this role so much.  I’m really passionate about the way that Haley is because she had an arc, and I think a lot of teenage girls are going through the same thing.  And I can’t speak on behalf of guys -- because I not a guy and I don’t know what their process is -- but I know that, even for myself, I didn’t have the same family life or the same issues exactly. But every girl has this process of defending herself.  I have kind of the same defense mechanisms as Haley.  I make sarcastic jokes.  I try to bounce everything off me like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, it doesn’t matter,’ but you try to mask your disappointment or the hurt and everything. It’s funny because I’m kind of going through now what I was trying to portray as Haley: You really look at those things and what you thought were strengths are now weaknesses.  You can’t go through like the whole time deflecting everything, and Haley really gets to a point where she really deals with what is going on, the real issues and she uses them in a positive way to make a difference instead of just being this wall to absolutely everything.  She opens up and lets things in and really excels and gets the people around her to excel. 
She was a great influence, and I love that the story is not about getting the guy.  It’s not about looking good, getting a makeover, acting cooler, having a cute short skirt. It’s about her really seeing who she is and evaluating that and coming to terms with that --  which I would love to see every girl be able to do because I want girls to respect themselves.  I want girls to be who they are and what they have to offer and it’s not based on what other people think about you. I mean, you really become your worst critic in that area when you’re used to people putting that pressure on you.  It’s not just gymnastics, because gymnastics is a very pressure-filled world at such a young age and that’s why it’s such a great parallel to this.  It’s really about seeing it for what it is and loving who you are now so that you can make a difference later on in a really positive way.  I love to see women do that.

Q.  What were you like in high school?

A.  A boy. (laughs) I was a tomboy growing up, totally, playing in the dirt.  I was never allowed to wear white jeans. This is like amazing that I’m wearing them right now but it’s only because I’m not outside playing in dirt.  But, I hung out with guys all the time.  I was very active in sports.  I didn’t watch a lot of TV or go to movies very much. 

Q.  Were you popular?  Did you date?

A.  I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 16, and they had to meet my father so that was kind of intimidating for anybody.

Q.  Your father is a minister, right?

A.  Yep, and nobody wanted to come around. (laughs) It really wasn’t that bad.  I’m so happy that my dad raised me that way because, more than ever, I care that my dad accepts the person I date and who I’m seeing because I respect my father so much, and I would like to date somebody who he accepts because I know I’m gettin’ a good guy.  I dated my best friend for a very long time, and it was really cool.  I felt not like a lady.  I really don’t feel like a lady now.  I’m still trying to find where the woman is in me.

Q.  Poot and Frank in the movie, were those the kinds of guys you hung out with?

A.  Yeah, definitely. Just go dirt biking and guy stuff. It’s funny because I still thought that I was one of the guys, but I didn’t hear all the guy jokes about the girls.  I’m around guys now and I’m like, ‘What did you just say?’  It’s so normal, but I guess I didn’t see everything so it wasn’t truly like a guy/guy situation.

Q.  On the set, did you hang out with the guys or the girls more?

A.  I hung out with my lines and my food.  There weren’t actually a lot of guys on set.  It was mostly women.  There were a lot of female gymnasts that were around.  There wasn’t too much time to really hang out to tell you the truth. I’m against women any means, I just think it was so busy all the time.  We had to be training or we had to be learning stuff.  I had to be practicing my floor routine, beam routines, all that kind of stuff that was required in a week or so that I had to be filming so you’re never really resting.  There was always something to do.

Q.  Can you talk a bit about working with Jeff Bridges?

A.  I was very nervous to work with Jeff in the beginning.  I was like ‘Ah … 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.’ I remember when he first came into the gym, he was so friendly and so open.  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.  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 a gymnast and a coach.  There’s a lot of stuff that happens in the real world of gymnastics and we just didn’t want to go there.  We wanted it to be caring but not, creepy/caring if you know what I mean, so the audience isn’t like, ‘What? Is something else going on?’ So, it’s a fine line.  He was wonderful to work with. I remember that he wanted to rehearse.  He loves to rehearse, and 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.  I remember 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. It was very cool.

Q.  What’s next for you?

A.  I’m still looking for the next project that I find has that same amount of heart and a message that I would love to portray.  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 and not an easy sell of a movie, not really 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.

Q.  You’re 23 now.  Are you looking for something that takes you out of high school?

A.  I’m tempted to do that. I’m not opposed to it if I find something that’s really amazing and I love the script, I’ll play younger again.  I don’t want to play too old because then I can never go back, but I would like to play something that is kind of out of high school.

Q.  Would you do TV again?

A.  I’m not opposed to TV at all. 

Q.  Was it a good experience when you did "Life As We Know It?"

A.  Yeah. I’ve been really blessed with all my projects. I’ve just worked with phenomenal people and really genuine people.  I’ve never had really terrible things happen on set at all.  Television is different though.  The one thing that I love about film is that you know the story from beginning to end.
There’s a character development and you get to see the arc and, in television, you are waiting script by script. ‘What’s happening with my character?,’ and it’s scary kind of because you don’t know what you’re going to be up against or what you’re going to have to do.  And I’m so picky about that stuff that it’s like ‘I hope I’m not going to be having to pick a fight with the producers.’  But, I did like television.  I’m not against it.  I just wanted to take a break and find the next film that I wanted to do.

Q.  Do you feel like your show got a fair shake?  You were moved around on the schedule.

A.  It did, and we were up against ‘The Apprentice’ and then ‘The O.C.’ so we just kind of didn’t get a break there.  We were on Thursday night which is like the hardest time slot, and we knew that but we were like, ‘Okay.’  I’m not happy that it got canceled. 
I thought it was a great show for the reason that it really portrayed a reality of what was going on in teenagers’ lives and it wasn’t really a feel-good show.  They had humor to lighten it up, but I really appreciated what it stood for but if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be a part of this film either so it’s a double-edged sword.

Q.  Did you coach high school basketball?

A.  I used to coach high school basketball, yes. I loved it.  It was so cool to be a part of it.  I was always a part of the team. I remember the significance of having a coach that I was comfortable with. I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about everything but when you spend that much time and are that passionate about a sport, you’re in the gym all the time and around them. 
I really wanted to be there, not to just be the coach for basketball but be there for the girls and encourage them to be smart about the decisions they’re making in life. I don’t think, by any means, that I’ve got it together but I loved being around them and I have a passion for that.  That’s what I was going to be.  I was going to go to school to be a PE teacher, a gym teacher.  I’m going to, hopefully, start coaching again very soon at The Dream Center in L.A. They have this program.  They have a lot of kids off of the streets and they have programs for them so I’m probably going to go and coach there which would be really amazing and give you a perspective in a place like Hollywood which is hard sometimes.

Q.  Did you and your director talk about the fact that you both started as models?

A.  Not really.  It’s not something we really discussed.  She went a lot further than I did.  She was very successful in that area.  I just didn’t like it at all. That side of things, I understand it and I’m grateful for that experience because it helps with what I do now, but it’s still difficult for me to get in front of the camera.  It can feel so shallow sometimes.
 It’s definitely not something I would consider again but yeah, me and Jess kind of had a lot of things in common and I really appreciate her, what she stands for and who she is. I think we kind of have the same vision sometimes.  I love her strength and passion that she has for Hollywood and really creating these heartfelt projects.  And, she’s hilarious and likes to talk about poo. 

Q.  Was it a culture shock moving here from Canada?

A.  Yeah, definitely. I waited a long time.  I didn’t want to come here.  I was like, ‘No, no, no.  If I can stay in Vancouver, I’m gonna stay here.’  I loved it.  My family and friends were there and I could work from home and it was awesome, but I knew that it was time for me to come here.  I always said that I was going to wait until I got a job so I could adjust to the new places and everything here while working.  I didn’t want to get caught in the game so I stayed here after this movie.
Seven months was Haley’s life in L.A. and then the next six months was my life with me adjusting here and it was hard.  It was really tough.  I was scary and a lot of personal growth happened, just, one, being away from home and being away from my family and friends and having to like readjust from there and second, for the first time, reevaluating myself, what I stand for, what I want to do, what I want to say, away from what my parents do. It’s not that I disagree, it’s just ‘What is me?’  Really, it takes moving away to do that, getting away from that environment and you’re challenged all the time and it was difficult but I’ve had great friends and just my family and friends at home are so supportive that I’ve been blessed.  I think I’ve had a fairly easy transition compared to some of the people who can get caught up in what’s important here and what’s good.

Q.  How do you feel coming from a background of morals and ethics to suddenly being in Hollywood.  How do you balance that?

A.  I was raised that it wasn’t about religion.  It was about a personal relationship with God, and I really use that as my strength.  That’s what I call on when I’m having a really hard time.  I want to stand for morals and ethics and have integrity within this position and stand for what I’m going to do and not sell out how I was raised.  I think it’s possible.  It’s difficult, yeah, because guess what, the easy movies that are made are not that ethical and there’s not a lot of strong roles for women or a lot of stuff that I feel comfortable being a part of but I’ve really got to believe that, if I stick with it, it’s going to be rewarding and it already has.  I’m not going to work all the time and I’m okay with that. I don’t have to.  I always say that I’ll go back to McDonalds. 
I’ll serve you some fries if you want ‘em, but I’m not gonna get naked.  I’m not going to be a part of something I don’t believe in.  That’s really what I have to do.  I can’t separate myself from the work that I do.  Some people are actors in the sense that they’re this person but when they go home they are this, and they’re fine being the two different things.  I can’t do that.  Even for this movie, Missy is Haley and you mesh together and that’s what we created so the stuff that I do effects me and who I am portraying at the time.  I went home and was totally sarcastic after a days’ work, and I’m like ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.’  But it happens so I have to be wise with the roles that I’m willing to dive into.

I thanked Ms. Peregrym for taking time out of her busy schedule to discuss  her exciting new film, "Stick It," which opens in theaters later this month. She delivers a wonderful performance in this fun and entertaining family film that you will not want to miss. 


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