Devery Jacobs on Empowering Young Cheerleaders in Backspot

Devery Jacobs shows extraordinary range in a physically grueling and emotionally intense performance. Backspot follows a pair of queer Canadian high school cheerleaders as they earn a coveted place on a champion squad. Their relationship becomes threatened when Riley (Jacobs) disagrees with Amanda (Kudakwashe Rutendo) over the harsh tactics of their coach. Eileen (Evan Rachel Wood) pushes the girls to their breaking point in a ruthless quest for glory.

Jacobs produced Backspot with director D.W. Waterson, her filmmaking partner, while also starring and doing her own stunts as a former gymnast. They (and executive producer Elliott Page) wanted to tell a story that incorporated multi-generational queer dynamics with “a badass sport” that doesn’t get enough respect for being so demanding and competitive. Please watch above or read on for our complete interview with Devery Jacobs, where she also discusses her future projects and the possibility of portraying a live-action Kahhori in the MCU.

You can also check out a new exclusive clip from the film below:

A Wider Perspective

Backspot (2024)

The plot follows two cheerleaders named Riley (Jacobs) and Amanda (Rutendo) as they navigate the world of professional cheerleading.OVERRIDE

Release Date
May 31, 2024

D.W. Waterson

93 Minutes

Joanne Sarazen , D.W. Waterson

Production Company
Page Boy Productions, Night is Y, Prospero Pictures

XYZ Films

MovieWeb: When audiences see this movie, what do you want them to take from cheerleading? Is it something worth doing? Is competitive cheerleading healthy for these girls?

Devery Jacobs: What I hope audiences take away from the end of Backspot is that they see Riley form a healthier relationship with the sport that she loves. Cheerleading is brutal. Cheerleading is no joke. I think people often underestimate it. They think of pom poms. They think of cheering on the main event, which is usually a male-dominated sport like football or basketball. But cheerleading, specifically All-Star cheer, is its own badass sport in its own right. I think Riley loves it. Riley is obsessed with cheer. She becomes obsessed to a point where it becomes unhealthy for her.

Devery Jacobs: Towards the end, being able to see Eileen [Evan Rachel Wood] for who she really is, by being able to have a bit of a wider perspective on the world, get a job, make sure she’s caring for her partner, who doesn’t think that cheer is high on her priority list as much as Riley does, she’s able to have more of a 360 degree scope on cheerleading, on life, on who she is. But yeah, I think cheer is worth it for people who love it. We also need to make sure that we’re being tender with each other. We need to make sure we’re protecting ourselves and having a bit of perspective in the process.

MW: Let’s follow up on Evan Rachel Wood. Coach Eileen, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes, basically tells [Riley], no one’s going to like you for who you are. You’re going to have to be a brick sh*thouse. As a parent, it would really piss me off if the coach was doing that to my kid. But the flip side is, would Riley be as good without Eileen pushing her? Did she need that really aggressive coaching to reach her potential?

Devery Jacobs: I don’t know if she needed that coach, or I don’t know if Riley needed that specific intensity. I think for Riley, it was actually something that was quite damaging. And it’s true, I completely empathize with Eileen in this situation. She is a queer woman. She’s likely faced homophobia. It’s a very white, and very Christian sport, and was trying to toughen Riley up so that she could brave this world. So that she will have some of that tough love. So she’s able to survive it. But I don’t know if that’s necessarily what Riley needs.

Devery Jacobs: I think what Riley actually needs is provided by the assistant coach Devin [Thomas Antony Olajide], who reaches out and is able to really bridge that generational gap between queer folks. And say yes, you can be this way. It’s going to be okay, and to realize that Eileen is just a person that she doesn’t need to idolize her in this way. And so I think it’s all through the film. We didn’t want to be extreme in choosing anything. If Riley quit cheer, then she would be giving up on something she loves. If Riley left Amanda, then she would also be giving up something she loved. And so I think it’s by finding that balance is what Riley really needs.

Backspot’s Generational Gap

MW: Talk about the beginning process. Working with your filmmaking partner, [director] D. W. Waterson, and the screenwriter, Joanne Sarazen. How’d you find the story? Why make a movie about these queer cheerleaders?

Devery Jacobs: Six and a half years ago is when we started working on Backspot and trying to bring it into the world. It’s been a very long labor of love. D.W. originally had the idea. They wanted to focus on female athletics. I think in some world back, it was originally a hockey movie. But they came across cheerleading, and saw how brutal and intense of a sport it was. D.W. would also perform as a DJ and drummer in a cheerleading uniform. It’s almost like a superhero costume that you put on. People feel really powerful in it, and it’s really commanding. They were like, I think I want to do a cheer movie. And they wanted me to be a part of it. I said, that’s so funny, because I used to be a provincial champion gymnast. If I’m able to get back in the gym, I’ll be able to do my own stunts. That’s how the original idea came about.

Devery Jacobs: I think the main conversation and spark was exploring this relationship between Riley and her coach Eileen. Sometimes there’s friction between generations of queer folks that I don’t know is usually explored. Usually, when having conversations in the queer community in cinema, it’s about romantic relationships. And that’s it. But we are in a community with each other. We are always coming up against other queer folks and our friends and different generations. In the case of Riley and Eileen, we wanted to showcase some of that.

Devery Jacobs: Eileen had to endure a lot as a queer person and wants to instill that tough love, but also has a bit of resentment for the freedom that Riley might have now. Riley is looking for a mentor and is looking for an idol to look up to, but then she might take for granted some of the plight that somebody like Eileen might have had to go through. That was like the original spark of our story that we wanted to explore. Then from there, it really deepened, and we were able to flush out a lot of the relationships from that point on.

Months of Training

XYZ Films

MW: That opening scene is shot out of a cannon. You’re tumbling. I guess you must have been wearing a GoPro to get that flipping motion. I didn’t know you were a gymnast. This role is so extremely physical. The scenes of you pushing yourself. I assume you probably had a limited budget and time to film. How quickly did you have to get in shape and learn these skills again?

Devery Jacobs: It took me about three months to really get them back. I went to personal training, to physiotherapy, to open cheer, open gymnastics, yoga, and was stretching every day. And leading up to the shoot, I was training about five days or five times, excuse me five times a week, and stretching for six to to seven days a week, making sure that my body would be able to handle it. Because I did all of my own stunts, except for one, in the film. And so if I went down, the whole film would go down. We couldn’t have that. I had to be really diligent on making sure I was never over exerting myself to the point where I might get injured, and making sure that I was also able to be flexible enough and build up the strength enough that my joints were protected. Because let me tell you, I have some old-ass gymnast knees (laughs).

MW: You voiced Kahhori for What If…? in the MCU. Is there any chance that you could play that character in live action?

Devery Jacobs: I would love the chance to. I’ll leave that decision up to the Marvel execs to do what they want with Kahhori. But that’s a character that I really love and feel grateful that I got to voice.

A Storyteller, Above All

XYZ Films

MW: I love Reservation Dogs, but this role was out of the blue. It really surprised me. You’re a writer, producer, and have directed episodes as well. What’s the ideal career path for you? Do you see yourself more as a filmmaker or as an actress?

Devery Jacobs: I see myself as both. I think I will be acting in films and I will also be creating them forever. Whether that’s as a writer or as a director. As a producer, I think I shift between roles depending on what I feel called to do in that given time. In this case, with Backspot, I really wanted to produce it and work with our writer Joanne Sarazen because I thought she was such a perfect fit for this project. I’m a storyteller, above all else. So whatever medium that comes out through, that’s what it’s going to be. But I started a production company [Night is Y] with D.W. Waterson. We’re currently working on another feature film that we’re hoping to get off the ground. And we’re writing a graphic novel together.

Backspot will have a concurrent theatrical and VOD release on May 31st from XYZ Films.