Dreams of gold
Locally shot TV movie tells inspirational story of Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — In 2011, she was a promising young American gymnast. In 2012, she was an Olympic gold medallist. In 2013, she is the subject of a TV movie, The Gabby Douglas Story. In 2014, her inspirational story will be broadcast on the U.S. cable network Lifetime. She is Gabrielle Douglas and she is 17. The movie, which wrapped its tight fourweek production schedule on Friday, has mostly been shooting in Winnipeg with its last few days shot in Portage la Prairie’s PCU Centre, where Douglas herself was making her own movie debut in the film’s last scenes. “I never could have imagined a movie about my life story,” Douglas says upon emerging from the hair/makeup trailer in the PCU’s parking lot. “It’s so amazing and I’m really excited,” she says of her eventful life after winning gold medals in the team competition and the individual all-around last year in London. “After the Olympics, I thought I was going to go home and have dinner. I didn’t know. I had no idea.” “I never dreamed of having a movie,” she says. “But there was so much false information on the Internet about my life story.” “The movie is basically about me and my family, and what we had to go through.” Indeed, hers is the kind of story that needs no melodramatic additives. When young Douglas (portrayed by Sydney Mikayla from age 7 to 12) demonstrated gifts as a gymnast, her mother Natalie and her three siblings scraped and sacrificed to enable her to come within reach of the ultimate athletic achievement at the Olympics. That meant at one point moving her to Iowa, where the older Douglas (played by Imani Hakim) could study under famed coach Liang Chow (played in the movie by Brian Tee of The Wolverine). “Even before she won, we were joking about the idea of making a movie,” says Gabby’s mom, Natalie Hawkins. “It took so much for her to even make the Olympic team and we thought that would be such a good movie, because so many people could draw inspiration from what we went through.” The family got to engage in the game of guessing who would play them in the movie version of their lives. Natalie’s dream choice: “Halle Berry,” she says with a smile. But Natalie is more than happy with the actress who eventually assumed the role — Regina King, a versatile American actress best known for roles in Ray (as tempestuous singer Margie Hendricks) and Jerry Maguire, in which she played Cuba Gooding’s force-ofnature missus. “What I like about it is it’s a story of perseverance,” King says. “It’s a motivator for young girls, and we always need more content on television that is positive that allows the audience see how much work goes into making your dreams a reality.” In the film, Winnipeg substitutes for Virginia, Douglas’s home state, and Iowa, where the young gymnast was sent to live and train when it became apparent she was destined for gymnastics greatness. The Gabby Douglas Story is the second movie shot in Manitoba in recent years to utilize a local pool of gymnastic talent and facilities, after the American Girl movie McKenna Shoots for the Stars in 2011. And for producer David Rosemont, it is his second sports-themed movie to be shot in Winnipeg. Rosemont produced the 2004 baseball movie The Winning Season, which starred Matthew Modine. “When I landed here for a pre-scout, I immediately went to the local gyms to see if there was a gymnastic community here,” Rosemont says. “Because as much as the (tax) incentives are important, I needed that.” Rosemont found what he needed at Panthers Gymnastics. The facility’s owners, Robert Persechino and Helene Desmarai, had worked behind the scenes on McKenna, which starred Nia Vardalos. “They had experience and understood what a movie set is all about and how we needed to prepare,” Rosemont says. “When I saw the gymnasts here, I knew I could fill the screen and I didn’t bring in any gymnasts from outside, except for the main double (for Gabby Douglas). They’ve been just great.” At the end of the four-week shoot, Rosemont is grateful the cast and crew were able to work so quickly and efficiently.
“It’s fast because it’s timely,” he says. “(Gabby) is so well known and she’s a role model for so many people because of what she accomplished.” The Gabby Douglas Story does not have a specific air date on Lifetime, but is expected to air as early as February 2014.
The real Gabby Douglas competes (top) and celebrates her victory at the London Olympics.
Above, Imani Hakim as Douglas
and right,with Regina King.