Sporting beauty, brains, and buckets of talent, Whip It co-stars Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat are already Hollywood forces to be reckoned with, and they’re not even old enough to rent a car.
by Emily McCombs
Let's just get this out of the way right now: Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat have both kissed Michael Cera (Shawkat in her definitive role as Maeby Fünke on the Emmy-winning TV series Arrested Development, and Page as part of her Oscar-nominated turn in Juno). Like us, you may need to wrap your mind around that factoid before considering anything else about this awesome twosome.
Of course, there’s plenty more to love about this pair of young actresses, who recently wrapped their roles as best friends in the Drew Barrymore–directed comedy Whip It, a cartoonish girl-power confection that takes place in the hard-hitting skates, skirts, and scars world of competitive roller derby. This Hollywood rendition—featuring a fantastic female supporting cast including Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Bell, and Eve—is one of many reinventions for derby. Originally a flashy form of athletic entertainment from the ’30s through the ’70s, it has been revived in recent years as more of a sport by DIY feminists with a grassroots aesthetic and a high tolerance for pain.
It’s the latter version Page and Shawkat are channeling in Whip It, which is based on Shauna Cross’ delightfully frank young-adult novel Derby Girl, about a small-town Texas misfit who finds her place in the local derby league. In real life, both Page and Shawkat seem better adjusted than their teen characters, but their BFF status isn’t just on film; it’s genuine. The pair likes to travel together (they’ve taken trips to Mexico and Amsterdam), and they also enjoy hitting up concerts, catching bands like Peaches, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Amazing Baby.
Hailing from Nova Scotia, Canada, Page, 22, is the older and more reserved of the two, perhaps reflecting her greater experience with the media; she sometimes looks chagrined by the tendency of Shawkat, a 20-year-old California girl, to overshare. But Shawkat’s profile is about to get a whole lot higher, with the Arrested Development movie finally in production, and her role as the bass player in the hotly anticipated Runaways biopic on the horizon. When that happens, she can definitely take lessons from Page in gracefully weathering sudden “It” girl status like the kind bestowed upon the starlet after 2007’s Juno became a smash hit.
Despite their successes, however, when Page and Shawkat get together, they seem truly un-Hollywood as they discuss the derby, what it’s really like for young women making their way in the biz today, and, oh, yeah, a certain lusted-after co-star.
What do you think of the whole rollerderby resurgence?
Ellen: What’s rad about it is that girls who never in a million years thought they’d ever play a sport have become phenomenal at it, all shapes and sizes.
Alia: I met a girl once when I was in Nashville, and she was talking about how when she first joined a roller-derby team, she was with an abusive boyfriend who didn’t let her do much. She was a really timid girl. And she left her boyfriend right away and started doing what she loved, and it made everything more clear to her. She felt like they were a family.
Yeah, roller-derby teams seem to be very close. And there’s also a lot of drama, which is lovely and juicy.
A: I think they start to question the male sex, ’cause they’re like, “These girls are so hot and strong, why the fuck would I want to sleep with a guy?”
Ellen, what kind of physical training did you go through for this film? Had you skated before?
E: I knew the general idea of skating, but I’d never, ever had roller skates on. I learned, though, and I did 99 percent of my own skating in the movie. I was training with the L.A. Derby Dolls, and the trainer’s name was Axles of Evil. Once I got decent, I would scrimmage with the actual Derby Dolls, which was terrifying.
A: They had this thing in the hair and makeup trailer called “the wall of pain” and it was just pictures of these unbelievably grotesque bruises.
E: I had one wound, which was like a burn. There’s a scene where, it’s not like I fell hard, but my ass just went “eeeeeeeeeeeeee” on the ground, and that was nasty.
What were you guys like in high school?
E: I wasn’t a dweeb, but I think I was a bit of a perfectionist. I couldn’t deal with bad grades, which now I’m kind of embarrassed about, because it’s like, what was the big deal?
A: I got a B once in French and I started crying. But then junior year came along and I discovered marijuana and I stopped caring about anything.
E: I played soccer really competitively. But then in high school, I couldn’t do that as much because I was working [as an actor].
A: I went to a very private school in Palm Springs with only 12 other kids, and I was acting, so I’d leave for 6 months and come back and they’d all talk shit about me. I literally was the girl who, at recess, would just futz around in her locker, doing nothing. I was just, like, moving my books around, trying to look busy. Then I’d have lunch in the bathroom by myself. I was doing Arrested Development at the time, and nobody had ever heard of the show, so they were always saying, “What are you doing all the time when you’re leaving?” And I was like, “I’m doing this show. Actually, its really good, you should try to watch it.”
Do you have any advice for all the misfit high school girls out there?
A: That you’re cool. High school has nothing to do with real life.
E: I know it sounds cheesy, but be yourself. If you don’t like French new wave movies, you don’t have to pretend that you do.
Do you make conscious decisions to play more realistic female characters? It doesn’t seem like either of you ever play the girlfriend.
E: I just try to play roles that are honest and well rounded and well written and three-dimensional. It’s a drag that [roles like this are] a rarity. I wish that it wasn’t a special thing.
A: I can’t act well if the role is bad. I have done bad stuff, and when you see it, you can obviously tell that I’m not acting. You can see through my eyes that I’m like, “Help me.”
E: It’s soul-destroying. It eats away at you.
Do you still get some of those scripts with awful parts for women?
E: My agents and my manager obviously know what I want, but sometimes I’ll read something and I just can’t do it.
A: We’re in slightly different positions. Not to make [Ellen] uncomfortable, but Ellen’s gotten to a point where she gets to pick, whereas I still have to take a chance with something horrible sometimes.
So what comes across your desk?
A: Some bad shit. A lot of horror movies. Like, there was this one where they described the character as “very frail,” which, first of all, is not going to work, ’cause I’m a little too voluptuous. And then it was like, “This is the first scene in the movie—why is she crying?” And then she runs around in an apron, and then of course the apron comes off pretty soon after that. Another thing that’s great about the characters you two tend to play is that they’re really realistically sexual.
E: It’s nice to have that being spoken about, especially now that there’s this weird new Palin abstinence [campaign]. The harm that [teaching abstinence-only sex ed] can cause is obvious and, I think, proven. And it just doesn’t make any sense. That was one amazing thing about the school I went to: our health class was unbelievable. And I’m sure teachers would be fired for talking about it in public schools, but is it really that big a deal to talk about female orgasm? And for kids to be excited about it? What an awesome part of our lives!
A: I think girls need to focus more on their own orgasms, ’cause there are so many girls I’ve met who never orgasm.
There’s a crazy percentage of women who don’t.
A: It’s unbelievable. And they just accept it. I’m like, “No, lady, you gotta work on that shit. It will change your life.” Girls gotta focus on themselves. It’s about time.
E: I think there’s an idea that teenage girls aren’t interested in sex like teenage boys are.
A: And that’s not true! I was masturbating all the time in high school! I remember I discovered it straddling a couch and my friend wanted us to leave the room and I was like, “I’m gonna wait here for a little while.” She was like, “Ali, let’s go!” But once you discover it, you want to do it all the time, ’cause it’s an amazing feeling.
E: And it’s a drag if you’re made to feel like its wrong or that it needs to be suppressed. It’s just this weird religious and moralistic intrusion that is so detrimental. If girls don’t think that they’re in control of their own sexuality, that’s when 11-year-olds start giving blow jobs and shit.
A: Exactly, to be liked by boys.
E: Young girls are just totally sexualized. You’ve got people on blogs calling Miley Cyrus a slut, and it’s like, “She’s 17 years old, for chrissakes!”
A: She is kind of a slut.
E: Come on….
A: Kidding! I’m just kidding.
Speaking of boys, how do you feel about the fact that you’ve both kissed Michael Cera?
A: Oh! I didn’t even realize that.
E: I never thought of that.
A: Yeah, we kissed, but we were so uncomfortable with each other that we wouldn’t talk the whole day.
E: I had a sex scene.
A: Yeah you had to straddle him on an awkward couch. We once kissed so badly in the episode where we’re getting married that the director grabbed the script supervisor and kissed her and was like, “This is how it needs to look.” It was so embarrassing. When you watch it today, our mouths, like, miss. We were so uncomfortable for some reason.
E: How old were you?
A: The first kiss I ever had in my whole life was with him on the pilot. I was 14, and then it seemed like we kissed every other week after that.
E: I think the first boy I kissed was in a photo booth at the mall.
A: It was your dad, but….
E: That’s not funny at all. So we both kissed Michael.
A: Yeah, but yours was with tongue.
E: I’m sure he really preferred mine.
A: Well, we’re getting married.
The ladies are really into him.
E: Maybe it’s like a nonthreatening thing, like, “Whew, I’m not gonna get raped.”
So there was no chemistry there at all?
E: I think he’s a sweetheart. He’s an awesome guy, and I love hanging out with him. I’ve done a lot of movies where I’ve been sexual, and it’s a different thing. There are tons of people around; you have a camera right in your face….
Do you ever feel pressure as young actresses to be sexualized and do Maxim- type photo shoots?
E: I just don’t remotely feel like I’m one of those girls who’s sexy like that.
A: I don’t either.
E: It’s about openness and being honest and feeling good in your skin. To me that’s sexy. I don’t feel pressure to look that way. But sometimes I feel weird pressure, because if you’re not that kind of sexy, then that means you don’t want the boy to kiss you because you’re not wearing the thing for the boy. But then, I know a lot of guys who don’t find that sexy.
Drew Barrymore directed Whip It. Is there a different vibe working with a female director rather than a male one?
E: I find there is. I do notice they get treated a little bit differently.
A: There’s a little more pressure on them, for sure.
E: It seems like there are more supervisors around. Three of the women that I did movies with, it was their first feature, and it’s kind of blamed on the fact that it’s their first feature. But I’ve worked with guys doing their first film and they’re not treated that way.
A: I definitely notice that too. This woman I did the film Amreeka with [Cherien Dabis], it was her first film, and she’s unbelievable. She’s winning all these awards and doing so well, but when we were on set… people question female directors more.
E: Or they feel threatened.
Which of the amazing women in Whip It was most fun on set?
E: Kristen Wiig, oh, my God, are you kidding me? Do you remember when that unidentified beast washed up on the shore of Montauk? We started creating a whole musical about it.
Do you think that was a real monster?
A: I think it was the government messing with animals trying to make clones or something.
E: The thing is, if it wasn’t, then they immediately would have been, like, “Look, it’s not real!” But the fact that there’s, like, one picture online, that’s what makes me more suspicious. It’s just like UFOs— they’re totally fucking real, you know?
Ellen, I read that you also enjoy the work of Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. Are you into all the 2012 stuff?
E: I am, and I just did an interview for his documentary coming out about 2012. It’s not like I’m one of those people who thinks the world is gonna end in 2012. That’s not the point. [But there may be] some kind of cosmic transition. We’re very quickly running out of water, and the world is completely overpopulated, and we’re running out of oil, and most of the food that’s eaten is imported from other areas of the world. We’re not growing food. There’s no diversity in our crop culture. Eighty percent of seeds are owned by four companies. That’s insane!
Getting back to your own life, how did you weather the huge hype that came with Juno?
E: I don’t know if I did it well or not. If anything, it made me more self-deprecating. You just feel like, obviously you don’t deserve all the stuff people are saying, so in a weird way it makes you feel a little bit shitty about yourself.
A: It’s like that [Groucho Marx] thing, not wanting to be a part of a club that would have me as a member. Any time I get a job, I’m like, “Yes!” And then 10 seconds later I’m like, “They must be losers.”
Alia, what are the Arrested Development fans like?
A: They’re really nice. Not to bring Michael into this again, but he was saying how after Superbad, all these people would hassle him and yell, “McLovin!” and that’s not even his name in the movie. But the Arrested fans are always honest fans.
E: We were in Mexico, and we were sitting somewhere, and this woman was like [whispers] “Um, Maeby?” It was really sincere and gorgeous. It was really nice to watch. Sometimes, though, you see it and you’re like, “Come on, my friend’s just trying to eat.”
A: It’s never the case with [Arrested Development fans]. They’re really nice.
E: But that show’s one of the greatest things that’s ever been on TV.
A: Once Tony Hale, who played Buster on the show, was approached by a guy who told him he dressed up like him at home. So that’s kind of creepy. But at the same time, it’s all very genuine. And it’s usually brief.
What’s up with the Arrested Development movie?
A: It’s one of those things where I won’t know till we’re on set. But it looks good. Hopefully [I’ll be working on it] by the end of this year some time.
E: I definitely will go see it.
Alia, tell me more about making Amreeka. I don’t think I’ve seen you do anything before this that acknowledges your ethnicity. [she’s half Iraqi]
A: I’m playing a Palestinian in that movie, which is a little different, but us Arabs are trying to stick together at the moment. The director, Cherien Dabis, is a Palestinian- American woman who experienced a lot of racism in Nebraska, where she grew up. I experienced some of that. My little brother got threatened a lot, and people are just so stupid and called him a terrorist and shit like that. The thing I love about Amreeka is, it doesn’t choose sides. It’s a nice family story. It’s not heavy or preachy. But people try and pretend like [Americans] don’t look at Middle Easterners differently, but we do. So it was nice to connect to it. And after this film, I want to do more to speak about Arabs and what they really stand for.
Do you consider yourselves feminists?
E: Yeah, sure, of course, definitely. Wouldn’t you think everybody would be a feminist?
A: Do you get nos?
You’d be surprised.
E: It’s annoying there has to be a label for something like that. Ultimately, I’m a humanist. But if someone asks it as a yesor- no question, I’d have to say obviously. I hope that everyone would be.
What’s the biggest issue you see young women dealing with today?
E: I think absolute media saturation is just horrifying. Making young girls feel like they’re not good enough to propel them to consume more is so sad. You see girls who just don’t like themselves or feel like they need to be prettier or skinnier. Being in such an image-focused profession, do you have to struggle with those same kinds of issues?
E: To be completely honest, yeah. I’d like to think that I’m on top of it and I don’t have to worry about stuff like that, but it’s just amazing how powerful that is and how it can totally, pardon the pun, penetrate you.
A: I think it’s hard because films, especially comedies, have been so male-driven lately. They’re all about guys and the plots are always, “We’re the underdogs who are coming to get laid!” And the girls are not even funny.
E: Alia’s the funniest person I know. Alia and Kristen Wiig.
A: Girls are really funny. Although a lot of female comedians are just like, “I said cock and that’s funny.” That’s not funny!
Ellen, what is your favorite thing about Alia?
E: From the moment we met, I’ve felt so lucky to have her in my life. I consider her one of my best friends. She just has this energy that selfishly gives me more life. I’m crazy about her.
And Alia, what’s your favorite thing about Ellen?
A: She smells good. She smells real good.
E: Aw, come on.
A: She’s introduced me to so many things. She’s probably the smartest person I know. Literally, every day I’m like, “What’s that? Who’s that? What about that?” And she’s not protective with her information. She’s just so open and she doesn’t judge, and I want to discover the world with her. We traveled together to Amsterdam, and it was one of the best times ever.
Did you guys get hookers?
E: We went to the red light district ’cause that’s what you do, and I think legalized prostitution is fantastic, but at the same time, it’s not something I want to go look at. It doesn’t make me feel very good.
A: The girls were very pretty, too, which is almost more upsetting.
E: I do think these women should be safe and it should be regulated….
A: They should have nice lotions by their bedsides, and good lighting. Actually, the rooms looked kind of cozy.
Last thing. If you guys were really in the roller derby, what would your derby names be?
E: Mine would be Hurt Vonnegut. But Drew [Barrymore] always calls me Small Newman.
A: There’s so much pressure because everyone on the set had one, and I just never thought of one.
E: You could be Hate Winslet.
Photographed by Michael Lavinez; Styled By Priscilla Polley; Hair By Peter Butler; Makeup By Tina Turnbow; Prop Styling By Stephanie Hanes
This article originally appeared in BUST Magazine. Subscribe now!