“There is something about survival stories that we are drawn to,” says director Baltasar Kormákur, known for his dramatic epics like Everest and The Deep, and now with the new film, Adrift, starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin. “I think the more that we are safe and isolated in civilization, the more we wanted to reminded our connection to Mother Earth and her power over us.”
Over the course of his career, Kormákur has become known for pulling his shoots into actual environments rather than relying on green screen effects, like when he hiked the star-studded cast of Everest up the actual mountain in Nepal. “I wanted to tell a love story after Everest, but I’m never going to be the kind of director who makes a romantic comedy,” admits Kormákur. “I wanted something that would bring me back out into the world.”
The answer came in the script for Adrift, based on the harrowing true tale of Tami Oldham, who found herself and her fiancé Richard Sharp in the center of a deadly hurricane during a 4,000-mile sail from Tahiti to San Diego. In order to capture the scenes in an authentic light, Kormákur spent over a month on ocean waters around Fiji with his crew and his leads, Woodley and Claflin. Men’s Journal sat down with Kormákur and Claflin to discuss the challenges and benefits to shooting out in the elements.
How did you find this story?
Baltasar Kormákur: I found the script on my desk, amongst a lot of massive projects that were being slipped my way. I wanted to do something more personal. That is where this hit home. I grew up sailing, and I sailed competitively when I was younger. I won a few sailing championships. I had a boat as a kid, and I love the sea. I knew that that this would be a great opportunity to go deeper into a world that I already knew. On the other side, I understood the romantic elements of this script, because I have been in love with my wife for 20 years. I also loved that in the middle of all of this, we have a female hero.
Sam Claflin: I was coming off a project where I was playing someone very different from myself. I found that there were a lot of personality similarities I felt between Richard Sharp and myself. I was excited about the opportunity to get out there with Shailene. I have done films that are physically demanding before, but there was something very special about this particular job. I knew that going in, as we were going to be shooting out in the water in Fiji with a very small crew, it was going to be challenging. I have always tried to find jobs that were challenging in a new way. This definitely was that.
How did you prepare to play a sailor, Sam?
SC: I was very lucky that we had great sailors around us and I felt even better since Balt had been a sailor himself. I had never really sailed before, and only had ten days before we started to shoot, so I learned what I could. We first put in the harbor of Suva, which is the capital of Fiji. Eventually we were sailing out to places where you couldn’t see the island anymore. I knew there was no possibility of learning how to sail for real in that short amount of time. It was just about showing up ready to work and work hard. Sailing can be very difficult, yet a real sailor makes it look easy.
What was it like actually filming in the ocean?
BK: Shooting out on the water was challenging from the beginning, but I told the producers early on that it was the only way I was going to do it. Safety is not necessarily your friend when you are trying to make something exciting. Of course there are risks involved. You can storyboard all you want, you can come with your script. You have to bow to nature. But in the end, you have to let nature dictate, and usually it pays off. We spent around five weeks shooting on a 55-foot boat for 14 hours a day. There were 30-knot winds. People got seasick. People earned their sea legs.
SC: I was throwing up between reading my scenes. That was one of the ways that Shailene and I bonded actually, by holding each other’s hair and rubbing each other’s backs when we were getting sick. I remember the entire boat was filled with sick. It probably ended up helping a bit, because I was trying to lose weight to play a stranded sailor.
How much weight did you have to take off?
SC: I showed up to set weighing over 200 pounds, probably the heaviest that I have ever been, because of the role I had done before. I remember showing up and Balt gave me this look. He was worried, but I have done crash diets before though, and I knew what I had to do. I was drinking juice for pretty much my entire time shooting. Shailene and I were eating these flavorless snack packs. There is a scene that we get to eat peanut butter, and the joy that we show there is not acting.
Would you say it was worth it?
BK: I don’t want to just make movies about people living their lives. I want to live mine as well. As someone who is seeking to bring the audience truth in my work, my theory is to be as real as possible. I want to make it as real as possible. There is no comparison to being immersed in a physical space. I want to be there as well in those elements. I am not sitting in a cozy corner with my monitor. We are all out there together. There is a lot you can do without risking people’s health. You can fall off a boat on a green screen set, too. Why not be out in the real thing?
SC: There were days that we were jumping off cliffs. I remember one day we were on the boat by a small island and Balt just dove right off the deck into the sea and swam there. I remember being like, “Can we do that?” The hair and make-up people tried to tell us not to, but we had to go for it. That was pretty amazing.
Did you get to enjoy Fiji at all?
BK: Before working on this project, I went shark diving and was swimming with 40 bull sharks around me. I didn’t really tell everyone this but I realized that there were sharks all around that area, but nothing was going to happen, we had divers all around the area. At the end of the shoot, we rewarded everyone for making it through with a few days at this resort Castaways Resort.
SC: There were a few trips out when we were in the capitol. But, I have to say, this whole experience didn’t really feel like work.
Adrift is currently showing in theaters.