In the second part of my interview with actress, screenwriter and former elite and NCAA gymnast Maddy Curley gets a little more serious. She talks about : Hollywood casting biases regarding women and the difficulties getting roles as a muscular, powerful woman; a wave of former elite women gymnasts hired to top NCAA coaching jobs; the current crisis in USA Gymnastics caused by the Dr. Nasser sex abuse scandal and the wider zeitgeist revolving around the #me too movement and flood of public charges against prominent men; being a Christian actress, screenwriter and producer in the largely non-Christian-friendly culture of Hollywood; and her college experience of two summers in Russia to study and train at the legendary Dinamo Moscow gym (Maddy’s dual major comprised Drama, and International Studies, with a concentration in Russian. Knowing that she had four years of Russian language at UNC and two summers in Russia, I wondered out loud if she got a recruitment pitch from the CIA (and if that’s what gave her the idea for the roommate character’s aspirations of a career in the CIA) played by Nikki SooHoo in “Chalk It Up”), but Maddy says, “Haha, no.”). Interview conducted by Jim Bierbaum. Here are my questions (G2D) and her (MC) answers:
G2D: Maddy, I’m a packrat and I still have the programs and media guides from the gymnastics meets I attended starting in the early 2000’s. Getting ready for this, I came across a 2003 UNC media guide and read your bio, which talks about spending the previous summer in Moscow. What is the story behind your study in Russia, what were your most vivid memories and what was it like to train at such a legendary gym as Dinamo? Did you train with anyone whose name would be familiar to gymnastics fans?
MC: I had Russian coaches growing up, so I think that’s what sparked my taking Russian in the first place. And then my career counselor advised me that I should focus my International Studies major in Eastern Europe and Russia. I knew I wanted to study abroad again after having an amazing time in Florence, and Russian was my favorite class, so it seemed Moscow was the obvious answer.
My first memory of MGIMO [and Dinamo Moscow, one of the most prestigious gyms in Russia since before the breakup of the USSR—JB] was the owner greeting me and saying with a thick Russian accent: “How do you like my very big and very famous gym?” Classic Russia. Everything is the biggest and thus the best.
Training at Dynamo was ironically the time when I practiced the Russian language the most. At the school I studied at, called MGIMO, which they ALL call “the Harvard of Russia” everyone could speak English and loved practicing English with us, so we got very little practice at speaking Russian. At Dynamo, the little girls couldn’t speak English yet so we’d play charades as they spoke to me in Russian and I figured out what they were saying. I still remember some of the phrases and words I learned there better than anything I learned in my four years of classes in the US.
I don’t remember any of the girls names that I trained with, but I do remember them being insanely good at a very young age. There were also a lot of rhythmic gymnasts training. I thought our flexibility training was rigorous, I hadn’t seen anything compared to these ladies!
G2D: Regarding current gymnastics, NCAA has recently seen quite a few former elites and US national team members from the ’90s and ‘00s rising to head coach or assistant coach roles at major programs, including Tabitha Yim (head coach, Stanford), Elise Ray (head coach, U of Washington), Erin Dooley (Asst. Coach at Maryland), Courtney Kupets (head coach at powerhouse Georgia) and Kristen Maloney (Asst. at Iowa State). What do you think of this trend, which is increasing the number of not merely women in top coaching jobs, but former top international elites?
MC: I think it’s incredible. These girls know the sport backwards and forwards and I love that they are continuing their journey with a career in the sport. I think it shows just how much love there is even when you’re done competing.
G2D: You mentioned in another interview that once you started strength training and doing CrossFit and became more muscular, you found some people in Hollywood (including your own agent, or, rather, former agent) have a hard time accepting physically strong, powerful women in roles outside of super-hero and action movies, cast in normal dramatic roles. Is that still something you find? What did you think of the recent“Wonder Woman” film, and do you think it can help to change those old attitudes about strength and femininity, or does it instead reinforce the divide between action roles and regular dramatic/comedic roles, the latter where women are “supposed” to be soft and girly?
MC: I think NOTHING has changed. I still don’t even see woman with real muscles playing FBI agents, action roles, cops, or super heroes. It was nice in Wonder Woman that they did have some women with real muscles. I loved it. I would love to see it as just regular life; like a random character on This is Us or Modern Family. We aren’t afraid now to show fat people as regular people, can’t we show girls with muscles as regular people too?
G2D: Getting more serious, gymnastics in the US is experiencing the Dr. Nasser case and so many gymnasts stepping forward, and then there is the wider #MeToo movement, and so many prominent men being accused of illicit behavior. With Jamie Dantzscher & Anette Antolin (among others) now speaking out publicly and calling for a house cleaning at USAG, there is increasing pressure for major changes to be made. What do you think of that. [Please note that Maddy’s answer was in late October, 2017 and there have been a great many developments in all of this since then].
MC: Well, I’m very lucky as I was never molested by any of my coaches. I can see how it happens in a sport where you’re so used to being spotted and prodded that you might not even know at first that it’s happening, but I can’t imagine being such a horrible human being to take advantage of a girl just because you can. I’m sad it’s so pervasive in our culture. It’s the same out in Hollywood, as we’ve obviously seen in the news the last month.
I think part of the problem is that many men don’t understand our fears of saying no. Because no matter how strong women get, we are not as strong as men. I have more muscles than the average woman, but I have no idea how to fight, nor do I want to.
The only time I’ve ever felt like #metoo was when I was 26. I was in a situation where I was actually afraid to say no again for fear of him turning violent. Should I have tried to continue to say “no” after the first time and fought a little harder, perhaps, but the fear on my face and saying I didn’t want to should’ve been enough.
He later apologized to me via Facebook, almost four years after the incident, which was shockingly comforting because then I knew that he knew he was in the wrong. For a long time I just felt guilty that I had put myself in that situation. My thought at the time was that it seemed safer just to go along with what he wanted then chance him hurting me or even killing me.
That’s the fear we harbor, that’s the reality of the situation, and I think everyone wants to joke it off because SOOO MANY WOMEN are coming out and “jumping on the bandwagon” as I hear people obnoxiously say, but that’s not what it is. It’s the one time we’ve felt safe enough to talk about it and now it’s apparent it’s happened to almost every woman out there. It’s an important shift in our culture. We have to make it safe for girls and I’m glad people are talking about it.
G2D: You have been a devoted Christian your entire life, whereas Hollywood and show business are not known for being a terribly supportive environment for Christian values, both on and off the screen. Have there been times in your career that the demands of Hollywood clashed with your beliefs and values?
MC: Yes, all the time. Mostly I’m sad that the portrayal of Christians is always negative. It’s always extreme; the Christian (or any religious personality for that matter) is usually a horrible person and a complete hypocrite. I miss the days of Sound of Music, where a person like Maria could be a Christian and still a flawed character, which is why we relate to them. No Christian is perfect, just as humans we aren’t perfect. But we also aren’t all running around condemning everyone and wishing them to Hell. Most of us are compassionate, hoping to be better people that put others first and want God to be the center of our life. One thing I do like that most people in the biz relate to is at least believing there is something bigger than themselves.
The other end of the spectrum is that once their is a religious person than it immediately has to be a “faith based” production. No, it doesn’t. Most people have faith in their daily life and it shouldn’t be a completely separate entity if a character happens to believe in Jesus.
My great thanks to Maddy for taking the time to answer my questions, and being so frank. If you’ve never seen the excellent “Stick It” (2006) starring Jeff Bridges and Missy Peregrime and featuring Maddy in her first major role, I recommend it, even if you are not a gymnastics fan (if you can disregard the Busby Berkeley CGI sequence, and the fart jokes). I loaned my DVD to a friend/neighbor, who has zero interest in gymnastics, nor does her husband, and they really liked it. “Chalk It Up” co-written and co-produced by Maddy (who stars) is a romantic comedy revolving around gymnastics, set on a college campus. It is available on Netflix and I hope you will watch it.