Former U gymnast heads to Hollywood

Alicia (Opsahl) Saari has graduated to the big screen in a new gymnastics movie.

David McCoy

Minnesota women’s gymnastics fans knew her when she was Alicia Opsahl. For the last year, she’s been Alicia Saari.

And, with fingers crossed, she’s hoping you’ll soon get to know her as “Lacey.”

Already a part of the cast for the new Disney movie “Stick It,” Saari is working her way toward a speaking role: one line, as a character named Lacey. She said she’s pretty sure she’s got the part but won’t know for sure until the scene is filmed in early August.

“I just asked for it, and I’ve been working with my acting coach,” Saari said. “He says that he thinks I got it.”

The movie, which has a $30 million budget and will debut in March or April, focuses on the story of a talented girl named Hailie who quit gymnastics because of a personal issue. But is then ordered back into it by the court as punishment for doing something wrong, and she gets her teammates to rebel against corrupt gymnastics judges.

If she doesn’t get the speaking role, Saari will at least be one of the eight elite gymnasts for Burt Vickerman’s (Jeff Bridges) team.

Saari is living in a “gorgeous” apartment with fellow cast member Jessica Miyagi, who was quickly impressed by Saari.

“She’s such a good person,” Miyagi said. “She’s so much fun. She makes everyone happy on the set.”

Saari said she heard about the role from former Gophers teammate Carrie Hortsch. Saari then found the casting call online, made a video with some old routines, new tumbling and acting a short scene and then sent it out.

“They called me back about two months later, and I heard the message, and I just dropped the phone, and in the middle of the road, because I was so shocked,” Saari said. “And then my phone shattered. But luckily I was able to put my phone back together and call them back.”

Saari said she wanted to do the movie because she missed participating in gymnastics. She trained with Gophers assistant Doug Day before heading to Hollywood in early May.

And she’s certainly gotten what she wished for. Saari said she wakes up every day at 7:15 a.m. and has breakfast before heading to the gym at 8 a.m. for a five-hour workout. Then she heads over to Gold’s Gym for 45 more minutes of cardio.

But that doesn’t come without sacrifice. Her husband, Nick Saari, is still a student at the University, meaning they have spent most of the summer apart.

“We had a blast the first nine months of our marriage,” Nick Saari said. “Sure, I feel like we’re missing out on our first summer living together. But she had to take the opportunity, and it hasn’t been too strenuous.”

Alicia Saari said performing for the camera is much like performing for the Gophers was. There’s just as much pressure to stick it, she said, because of all the takes they have to do for the camera.

But it’s not just herself on camera that Alicia Saari enjoys. She said she likes the way that the film portrays gymnastics.

“So many times, gymnasts are portrayed with eating disorders and other problems,” she said. “But it shows what life is really like for gymnasts, in a sport that combines strength and beauty.”

Alicia Saari also said she thinks some of the moves performed in the movie could “revolutionize” gymnastics in the future.

As for her future, she said Hollywood doesn’t figure to be a part of it. She wants to either start a photography business or go to graduate school to become a high school counselor.

For now, her time in the spotlight is just for fun.

“I never dreamed I’d be in the movies,” Saari said. “But it’s not a move I’m going to make. I think I’d miss Minnesota, I guess.”