Having played sports all her life, Missy Peregrym thought learning gymnastics for writer/director Jessica Bendinger's "Stick It" would be no sweat. Instead, she found that blood, sweat and tears were all part of the mental and physical experience the sport requires.
"I kind of went in there thinking I could do everything," says the actress. "I 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. That was good but it's all about form. It really took four months to learn the basics of gymnastics plus the strength required to do any of those tricks."
Like other casual observers, Peregrym was fooled by the sport's pretty facade. While other sports are punctuated by grimaces and grunts, gymnastics hides the effort behind flourishes, pointed toes and perfect alignment. In the film, however, Bendinger focuses on the ugly, backbreaking side of the training, reminiscent of a boot camp: the girls run, climb ropes, do sit-ups, fall constantly and hold impossible strength poses.
"Every gymnast is crazy for doing what they do," Peregrym observes, whose character endured full-body ice baths to treat sore muscles. "It was the most painful thing I've ever done. I was sore every day. It's so hard to get up every day and because you are so sore, you feel like you're getting worse, and worse.
"Even in gymnastics you train and one day you can do every trick and nail everything ... but the next day you go in and can't do anything," she adds. "That's just the way it is. It's a mental game. It's very emotional. It was so weird to be in a gym for that long. You lose your perspective for what's really important in the world."
For Peregrym, doing the tricks was equally as important as playing a strong, positive role model for young women. At the beginning, her character Haley Graham is a rebellious delinquent, whose latest run-in with the law earns her a mandatory sentence attending the elite Vickerman Gymnastics Academy where discipline is paramount.
"A lot of teenage girls are going through the same thing," Peregrym says. "I have kind of the same defense mechanisms: I make sarcastic jokes, I try to bounce everything off me ... to try to mask disappointment or hurt. But you can't go through like the whole time deflecting everything, and Haley really gets to a point of where she deals with what is going on, the real issues."
Peregrym, who credits her religious upbringing for her self-respect and her acting choices, hopes that girls walking away from "Stick It" will learn the same sense of self-worth.
"I love that the story is not about getting the guy, looking good, getting a makeover, acting cooler or having a cute short skirt," she says. "It's about Haley really seeing who she is and coming to terms with that, loving who you are now so that you can make a difference later on in a really positive way."
"Stick It" vaults into theaters nationwide on Friday, April 28.