'Stick It' Cast Tumbles Into Gymnastics — Neon Leotards And All

Actresses trained for months to land tricky stunts like pros.

They're trying to make a living at something that destroys lives as easily as it makes dreams come true. They're looking for friendships in a cutthroat world where betrayal is commonplace. They're putting themselves out there to be judged on tiny details beyond their control.

It's no surprise that actresses and gymnasts deal with the same high-pressure challenges. On the set of "Stick It," the two groups came together.

"They trained for months prior to starting the movie to get up to a certain level of skill to pull off some of the gymnastics," writer/director Jessica Bendinger, a former model and gymnast who wrote 2000's "Bring It On," said of her young cast. "The same could be said for the young gymnasts who are acting in it. They had to take acting lessons and learn what that was all about. ... A lot of the real gymnasts who were also acting in the show would help the actresses, and they both would help each other with their talents and skills."

"It was really hard," said 23-year-old actress Missy Peregrym, cast as delinquent-turned-superstar athlete Haley Graham. "I was very cocky when I first got into this, and I was just like, 'Yeah I can do this. I played basketball, I played soccer, I did everything else. Of course I can learn gymnastics.' ... I had no idea how difficult it actually was.

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"I mean, my pinky had to be strong to do things," she laughed. "Every part of your body needs to be strong. It's the most insane sport ever. It was so painful. We trained for four months, five days a week, six hours a day, and you just never get comfortable doing it. ... Every day we woke up and we were just in so much pain."

The pain is there for audiences to see in Peregrym's face every time Haley "sticks" a move, takes a spill or immerses her aches into a tub of ice water. As with the "Bring It On" world of cheerleading, Bendinger was determined to show how difficult the sport really is.

"We would do cardio, weight training, gymnastics training, flexibility training and sometimes we would do dance class or hip-hop classes," said Vanessa Lengies, the 20-year-old actress who plays backstabbing diva Joanne, Haley's archenemy. "Missy and I did the first two weeks together crying every day. My mom wanted to pull me out of the movie. She was like, 'I don't know what's wrong with you.' I was crying on the phone with her almost every day. It was awful."

As they told Haley's story — whose last chance comes via a low-rent gymnastics school run by Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges) — the actresses found themselves swapping tips with co-stars and world-class gymnasts Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin and Mohini Bhardwaj. The actresses quickly discovered the gymnasts were just as nervous and just as eager to learn. At the end of the day, "Stick It" became a crash course for both groups.

"I couldn't understand how the gymnasts do this every day," Peregrym said of her mindset at the time. "I kept going in the gym and going, 'Are you guys sore today?' to all the gymnasts, and they were like 'Yeah,' and I'm like, 'Then why are you here? Why do you keep doing this?' "

"After going from almost no muscle to, three weeks into it, having muscle, everything started to get really easy," Lengies said. "It was almost just like that jump-start was so hard, my body hated me so much for three weeks straight. And then after that, it was just really fun. And it's a great party topic to be like, 'Hey, look, I'm a tiny little girl, but look at how much muscle I have.' "

"I'm not going to miss it," Peregrym said. "I'm not going to be taking gymnastic courses or training. After this movie, I think I'll be done with leotards for life."

Which brings up another bonding point for the actresses and gymnasts: jokes about those uncomfortable, unflattering, one-piece workout garments.

"I was like, 'Please, can Haley wear black? I don't want to wear anything else,' " Peregrym said. "I'm like, 'Yes, it's for the character.' ... The rest of [the leotards are] crazy. People have, like, neon leos at the end of the movie. You never get comfortable in these, and you never are like, 'Wow, I feel really great today! I can't wait to put on my leo!' "

"We liked to moon people a lot, because it's really easy to do when you are wearing a leo," Lengies said. "It's really hard as a girl — and a teenager — to be put in a leo every day and think about how you look."

And when the wardrobe was stressing the cast out, it was time to turn to a few of the behind-the-scenes boys. "A lot of our production assistants liked to come out in leotards," Lengies laughed. "The guys would put leotards on over their clothes and start dancing around."

For more gymnastic goofiness from the cast of "Stick It," check out our visit to the set last November.

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