Josie Loren stands on the winner’s podium at the Gymnastics World Championships. Music blares, bouquets are handed out, and medals are awarded. All eyes are on her and her teammates. It’s a moment elite gymnasts dream of.
But it’s not real.
It’s another day on the set of the ABC Family series “Make It or Break It,” a fictional drama that follows a group of elite gymnasts with Olympic dreams. The spring premiere is Monday night at 9 (EST).
Loren, who went to high school at New World School of the Arts in Miami, stars as Kaylie Cruz, a teen who has seen a lot of triumph and a lot of struggles in the past two seasons.
Negotiating the space between actress and athlete is a constant challenge for the 25-year-old Loren. While on set, moments like the awards ceremony make the experience feel very real.
“I remember being so overwhelmed,” she said of shooting the scene. “I did feel like a world-class athlete.”
Loren’s high school years were focused on the arts, but there were years of gymnastics and cheerleading when she was younger. While the high-flying acrobatics for the show are done by doubles, much of the choreography falls to the actresses. Always a strong tumbler, Loren uses her experience to pull off the role.
“The most they’ll let me do is the roundoff,” she said. “But we do the choreography.”
And a lot more.
“Scenes where it’s us working out in the gym,” she said, “that’s us working out.”
Those days get real in the physical sense. Loren recalls shooting a running scene that took the first five hours of the morning. She spent the rest of the day icing her shins between takes.
Serious training is a must. In addition to attending boot-camp style training balanced with yoga, Loren trains with the cast.
Developing lower-body strength is especially crucial for the speed she needs to convince the audience she’s about to launch her body on tumbling passes and vault approaches.
“It helps us run faster and have more endurance,” she said. “We have to do multiple takes when we’re shooting.”
Her most hated but most effective exercise? Burpees. To do them, you squat to the floor, jump your feet behind you and into a full push-up, jump your feet back to your hands, and do a full vertical jump with as much height as possible.
She doesn’t exactly love the cardio portion of her workout, either.
“I do it because it’s good for me,” she says, “but I hate suicides.”
After experiencing elite gymnastics culture, Loren marvels at the depth of passion the real-life athletes have. Two of the most memorable people she has worked with are 2008 Olympic all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin and coach Bela Karolyi.
“We have incredible gymnasts on the show all the time, and I have the utmost respect for these girls,” Loren said. “Talking to them, I’ve realized that they’ve sacrificed their whole lives, and they do it for the love of it.”
To connect to the areas of Kaylie’s life that differ from her own, Loren created a journal.
“I gave her a past and moments that I could recreate in my mind and live in my mind,” she said. “Then when I talked about something, I had those memories to pull from.”
One area of the show that received significant attention last season was Kaylie’s struggle with anorexia. Grateful to have never dealt with an eating disorder herself, Loren still relates to the root of Kaylie’s struggle.
“She became a huge perfectionist, wanting to be the best,” she said. “For her it’s a gold medal; for me it may have been an ‘A.’ ”
Like the characters on the show, Loren experiences constant pressure to maintain a certain look and athletic standard. She’s learned that it’s about how you respond to that pressure that really matters.
“There are times in my life when I haven’t been happy,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not even physical, it’s something else. The key is identifying why you’re unhappy and doing whatever you can to fix it in a healthy way.”
“It’s not about being the skinniest; it’s about your well-being.”
When all eyes are on you, whether you’re an athlete or an actor, there are way more important things than your exterior, she said.
“Well-being is how I feel in my skin, not about how other people are looking at me and what they see … it’s what I feel like.”
Remembering that allows for the confidence it takes to grab gold or air in primetime.