Drew Barrymore in Whip It
Photo: Fox Searchlight
We first met Drew Barrymore when she was just a 7-year-old kissing an extraterrestrial. Twenty-seven years later, she's stepped behind the camera to direct her first feature film, the roller derby flick Whip It. She also stars as the hilarious walking contradiction Smashley Simpson—a peace-and-love hippie who can't resist a good fight in the rink. Oprah.com caught up with Barrymore about loving derby, directing and the future of women in film.
RB: What attracted you to this film?

DB: For me, it was very personal. I feel like I have a lot to share emotionally about the nature of a mother-daughter relationship, and even though mine has different results than the film, I felt that I could sort of convey some of the things women go through. I'm also at a point in my life where I really see both sides, so for me it was fun to try to have empathy and an understanding for what the mom is going through as well as the daughter. Plus, I believe in achieving your goals in life and finding your dreams. Women need to find a support system out there—a group of friends who keep you very real and inspire you to do better and laugh with you along the way. And I love seeing women do physically capable things. I'm not that physically capable, so it's so fun to go attempt it and celebrate that.
Photo: Fox Searchlight  
RB: We did an episode of The Oprah Show about stepping out of your box, in which four women who felt like they had lost themselves, for various reasons, went out and tried different things to empower them. The first challenge, which was intended to help them become strong women and show themselves what they achieve, was roller derby. What is it about the sport that empowers women so much?

DB: It's a couple of things. I think that you find yourself in a group of women who have a common goal, so there's your sort of tribe aspect, your pack. And then when you go out and do something that's physically challenging and you face those fears, it is empowering. It's a very rough, scary sport, so if you go out there and face it, you just feel a bit more like a badass. It just makes you feel tough and strong and fun. And there's also a bit of an alter ego aspect to it with the names and the expressiveness and the makeup—this feeling of "I'm one thing by day and another thing by night.” It says, "You can't really define me as the one thing; I'm also this." Anything that has that is pretty cool, especially if it's in a healthy, productive way like roller derby. It's a safe, fun, demanding venue that's a blast. It's a really, really unique arena.

RB: Did you spend a lot of time infiltrating that world?

DB: Yeah, we did a very intensive derby camp for everybody so that we could learn the skills and build confidence. And the bonding that happens over that kind of training, you just can't buy that chemistry. It has to be earned by getting hurt together and rooting each other on. So when everybody got out there, they were friends and it was real.
RB: It does look like so much fun! There aren't many places where you can just hit someone and be that tough and let that side of you out, so it certainly looks appealing.

DB: That's exactly how we felt doing it. We'd pump the music or we'd face the fear and everyone would be like, "Way to go!" And if something weird happened in your life it was like, "This is so perfect to get out my aggression." So if you're thinking, "I'm not a really physical person and I'm a little bit awkward and sort of uncoordinated," and then get out there and jump over a girl on roller skates, it's like, "Uh, okay, I feel good!" Or, like with my character, I always wanted to be a hippie with anger issues and be the one who would go and sucker punch somebody if they made me mad. I don't get to do that in real life, but I did here and it was fun. It's not healthy, but I like it.

RB: Well, maybe not healthy for every day, but if you harness it in that environment..

DB: Exactly. It's an alter ego. It's not necessarily who you are in your everyday life, but it's someone you have inside of you waiting to come out and that's great.

RB: So why did you want to play Smashley Simpson?

DB: For just that reason. I'm always really nice, and if people step on my foot I tend to be like, "Oh I'm sorry!" as if I was in their way, and I just felt like, you know: "Gosh, I'm so tired of apologizing. I want to be this tough, fun girl who's a total oxymoron." She's all peace and mellow, a hippie, and then gets in that derby rink and goes ballistic on these people. The comedy of that was really funny to me as well, as I have completely wanted to be that girl. It's like Simon on American Idol. Sometimes I just want to say that crazy thing, but I hold back, and then when I watch him I'm like: "Thank you! I love that!" Sometimes he's just mean but sometimes it's funny, and I'm not like that, I'm too nice. Also, though, I didn't want to be that director who was just like: "Go do it: I know its really hard and scary and terrifying and defies every logic in your brain, but do it and I'll just stand here and watch." People respect you more or as a leader if you throw yourself into the difficult stuff too. You trust each other more and it's a "We're all in this together" kind of feeling.
RB: Oscar® nominations just came out, and Kathryn Bigelow, who was nominated for Best Director for The Hurt Locker, is only the fourth woman in Academy Award® history to get that nomination. Why do you think it has taken so long for women to get recognized as directors, and what do you think the future is for women in the field?

DB: Well, I did see The Hurt Locker, and I'm just in awe of what Kathryn Bigelow did with it. You know, it's funny, I think I have always purposefully tried to believe that women fought so hard for rights and opportunity that I should sort of take that ball and run with it and not complain about what we don't have. Instead, we should surge forward on the opportunities that we have created for ourselves. So I tend to get awkward and shy when women are like: "It's not balanced! It's not equal!" I know what they mean and I totally understand it and there is a strange dichotomy there, but it has been changing and it continues to change, so I think about looking forward. I mean I'm talking to Oprah.com. Oprah is one of the most empowered people on our planet, and she's a woman. So I just feel like, let's look forward and accomplish things. Nothing comes from stomping our heels, we have to just do the work. I think Kathryn Bigelow did the work and she's being recognized for it. So I just want to encourage women to not feel disempowered but to create their empowerment. Look out for each other. I celebrate every woman who's done that so far, and opened doors for everybody else, so I say just walk through it. Carry the torch so to speak.

RB: Any more plans for directing?

DB: Yes. I cannot wait. I want it to be something that I feel the way I did about Whip It. Which is to say, "Yes, I am willing to spend 16 to 20 hours a day, six or seven days a week for three years." It was exhausting and I never lost that passion to see it through on every level, and I just want to feel that way again about whatever I do next. So nothing specific yet. I'm waiting to fall in love again.


Next Story