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Skate Away: The Training
Drew Barrymore put together a talented, gung-ho cast but, naturally, few had any roller derby experience, and some had never even been on four wheels. So the first order of business was getting down to training. Everyone had to prepare themselves for what was ahead. "It's a challenge on your nerves having your actresses involved in such a rough sport right at the beginning of production,” confesses Barry Mendel. "It was super intense. But it was also exhilarating to see Ellen Page jump over one of the girls or to see Juliette Lewis whizzing full speed ahead around the track or Drew checking someone and beating them up. I was really proud because all the training they did paid off.”

To oversee that training, Barrymore recruited Alex Cohen, who by day works as a reporter for NPR, but by night skates as Axels of Evil with the L.A. Derby Dolls. Cohen worked most intensively with Ellen Page, since Bliss's journey from newbie to fledgling star had to be completely believable. "Ellen trained the longest and the hardest,” says Barrymore. "By the end, she was really able to open up and fly. There's a moment where Bliss has to jump other girls that have crashed onto the track. At first, we talked about using wires but she trained for that jump month after month after month. When it came down to it, she did it herself, and cleared those girls by two feet. It was insane.”

Page recalls of her first meeting with the trainer: "I asked Axels how in the world I was going to be able to do this and she assured me that we would get there. She was so good at breaking it down and explaining every little detail that it all started to come together.” Says Cohen of Page: "When she skates, Ellen always has a look of complete confidence and strength. She's a scrappy little skater—and I'm hoping we can persuade her that she needs a new career as a member of the L.A. Derby Dolls.”

Soon, the roller boot camp was expanded to include the rest of the cast, which involved a month of multiple track sessions daily and a whole regimen of yoga, stretching and plyometrics. "We trained six days a week,” notes Barrymore, "which made us good enough skaters that we could do our own stunts. It's all the real cast in the mess jamming or being tossed. Plus, it bonded everyone so the friendships you see on the screen are real. That experience is so crucial to a film like this.”

The training pushed everyone to places they didn't know they could go. "It's terrifying when you're skating at full speed,” confesses Barrymore, "not to mention that you also have blisters, bruises and your bones and hips are so sore that you can barely move. I mean, we had cartoon stars and birds flying around our heads we hit so hard. But you discover that you can just get up and go at it again. You go from ‘whoa, I'm not sure if I want to do this' to ‘you bet I'm going to do this.'”

Alex Cohen was impressed with how the entire cast drove themselves harder and harder. "Skating on a banked track is really hard, even if you're a good skater. You're skating at an angle while you're looking out for people who are trying to knock you on your butt. It's like a three-ring circus going on in your head,” she says. "Yet every one of our actresses was completely determined and found a skill she could do really well. Each of them has taken serious spills but rather then saying ‘I'm out of here,' they have gotten right back up and kept skating. And that makes me really, really proud.”

She adds: "Drew was always dedicated to making sure that all the roller derby stuff you see in the film is genuine. She's made sure that everything, even her own skating, was exactly right. I loved watching her direct on her skates. She would literally jump over the rail and roll around in between the extras and camera crew. The skates became an extension of her feet, which wa

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