Drew Barrymore promotes 'Whip It,' talks Ypsilanti

With all of the flashing lights, limousines and red velvet ropes dividing the press from the stars, Friday night seemed like it should’ve been a scene straight from the streets of Hollywood.

Instead, Michigan was the location for the pandemonium outside of Bonaventure Skating Center in Farmington Hills.

Starlet Drew Barrymore, 34, was the cause for the ruckus when she rolled into Michigan to host a free skating party to promote her new film “Whip It,” which will open Oct. 2. Close to 900 people, some who slept outside overnight, got to rock out derby girl style at the event.

“Whip It,” Barrymore’s directorial debut, stars Ellen Page as Bliss, a rebellious Texas teen who trades in her small-town beauty pageant crown for the rowdy world of roller derby.

Marcia Gay Harden plays Bliss’ disapproving mother, while Barrymore, Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis play roller derby stars.

Although the movie is based in Austin, Texas, the movie was shot in Michigan, with a lot of the footage shot right in Eastern Michigan’s backyard in Ypsilanti.

Although Barrymore had some trouble remembering how to properly pronounce Ypsilanti (sounding out the “Y”), she talked about how shooting here was the perfect location.

“I love Ypsi and I love the town and the family neighborhood that it provided for Ellen [Page’s] family in the movie,” Barrymore said.

“It was just perfect. It provided this timely, beautiful backdrop. I couldn’t have dreamed of finding a better location to cinematically tell the story and give the vibe of where the family lived in this perfect cul-de-sac in Ypsilanti.”

One of Ypsilanti’s hot spots also claimed fame in the movie, keeping its original name when Barrymore decided to shoot scenes of the cast hanging out in the movie.

“I love the Elbow Room,” Barrymore said. “It was awesome, and we kept the sign up and everything.”

The movie, which is based on Shauna Cross’ book, “Derby Girl,” called for some roller derby girls who, in Barrymore’s eyes, were the best in the sport. In her quest for stars she chose players who were drawn from four Detroit teams.

By Charnika Jett / The Eastern Echo
Drew Barrymore laughs with reporters outside of the Bonaventure Skating Rink in Farmington Hills.
By Charnika Jett / The Eastern Echo
The Detroit Derby Girls pose for a photo outside of the Bonaventure Skating Rink during a promotion the new movie "Whip It".

Laura Hinojosa, from the Derby girl team Pistoffs, was one of the players chosen to be a part of the movie.

“The movie was great,” Hinojosa said. “I have a couple good shots in it.”

Known as Vega Vendetta in the rink, Hinojosa said she didn’t get into any fights on the rink with the celebrities but loved every minute of filming with big-name stars.

“It was great to see a big name like Drew [contact] the (Detroit) Derby Girls and make a Derby Girl movie, it was like a dream,” she said. “I would do it again in a heart beat.”

Barrymore was surprised to learn so much from the girls who taught her and Page how to skate through grueling four-hour skating lessons.

“The extras are total bad asses,” Barrymore said.

“It’s because I think they have that human quality because they do what we do in life. They’re nurses and librarians. I met one who is a pharmaceutical technician and an NPR correspondent. It makes you believe that if you really want to do this then you can.”

People might be surprised that a star like Drew Barrymore would come to Michigan to film her first movie. But it makes sense considering all the financial incentives that Michigan is giving stars to film here.

“They get 40 percent back on what they spend in Michigan,” Michigan Film Commissioner Janet Lockwood said.

“It’s a pretty good deal and we help them with everything else like permits and locations. Whatever they ask for we help them with if we can. If it’s legal we try,” she said laughing.

At the end of the event, the Detroit Derby Girls officially named Barrymore a Detroit Derby Girl and presented her with a custom-made Detroit Derby Girl jacket, and Barrymore thanked all of her fans for their support.

“I love this state. It was a miracle that I was able to film here,” Barrymore said. “I hope this film makes you laugh, and I hope that you are inspired by this sport.”

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