Interview: Ellen Page Talks Whip It

You probably know Ellen Page best as the confused teenage mom-to-be from Juno (for which she was nominated for an Oscar), but she’s built up an impressive resume in the past couple years that includes the terrifying Hard Candy, the debacle but box office smash that was X-Men: The Last Stand, Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Inception, and, this weekend’s new release, Whip It. The pint-sized acting dynamo plays Bliss Cavendar, a teen beauty pageant contestant who discovers roller derby and, amidst the rough-and-tumble sisterhood that makes the world up, the identity she’s been searching for. I got to sit down with Ellen this week to discuss the movie and working with first-time director Drew Barrymore on the production.

Cole Haddon: So did you knew how to skate before you got the part of Bliss?

Ellen Page: A little. I wasn't always a good skater, but I could skate.

CH: Then how brutal was the training that you guys went through?

EP: It was just fun, to be honest with you. I trained for three months. I worked with a really awesome derby trainer and simultaneously worked with a physical trainer just to get stronger. I just worked hard, ate well. Went to bed early.

CH: And who had the worst bruises at the end of it all?

EP: I'd say Drew, but she just cheats because she bruises easily.

CH: Speaking of Drew, what was it like working on a female-centric movie with a female director?

EP: I find those gender questions weird, but working with Drew was amazing. That's all I know. She was just tireless, in a way that was inspiring. Here was someone who was in pre-production for their first feature film while also training to be a roller derby star. And she was just always there, always available, and always emotionally present with the material. She just really guided me through everything.

CH: And is it true that she calls you “Small Newman?”

EP: She really does. She calls me Small way more than she calls me Ellen. I don't know if I've been called Ellen since we shot the film. I love it. I have a nickname from Drew Barrymore. I'll live. I love nicknames. It makes me feel loved. It makes me feel less alone in this world.

CH: And was it the role of Bliss Cavendar or the chance to work with Drew that made you want to be a part of Whip It?

EP: First of all, I read the script and loved it, and was really fascinated and excited about this resurgence of roller derby and what that represented for women. And the fact the Drew Barrymore was attached to direct was really thrilling. When I finally met Drew, I was like, "Oh, wow, I definitely want to do this." I was so lucky. This was before Juno, so she saw something in me that she liked. And, I'm honored to be a part of her first film.

CH: Whip It tackles both the pageant and the derby worlds, which couldn’t be more different. Did you enjoy both aspects of the project?

EP: Yeah. What I liked about it is that Bliss was by no means evilly forced into the pageant world. She loved that that allowed her a connection with her mother, and she liked to make her mother happy. It just obviously wasn't what was igniting a passionate fire within her. Then when she discovers derby, that's the thing she connects with, and that's the thing that allows her to come out of her shell, establish a sense of confidence, develop a sense of sexuality and really be in touch with herself, in a way she'd never felt before. That was a really nice transition to explore.

What I really loved about how Drew handled the pageant aspect of it was that she didn't do that overly tacky, judgmental way of approaching it because a lot of people probably feel about pageants the way Bliss feels about derby. I didn't want it to seem like we were being really judgey about it. I wanted to show respect towards that.

CH: Last question. When Bliss discovers roller derby, she finds her place, her tribe. When you found acting, was it anything like that for you?

EP: Yeah, it was something I fell in love with, and I'm still very, very in love with it. But I don't attach myself with it so much. I adore it, and I'm so grateful to do it as my job, but there are other things that I really love. I don't want to become unhealthily attached to what I do. I'm grateful for what I do, but I also want to be able to be OK when I'm not doing it.