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Interview: Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin are Adrift

May 29, 2018

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By: Lynn Barker

Actors Shailene Woodley (Divergent series, The Fault in Our Stars), now sporting long, very dark hair for her role on TV’s “Big Little Lies” and Sam Claflin (The Hunger GamesThe Huntsman), had to learn to sail practically overnight for their disaster at sea adventure Adrift. Shai and Sam play Tami and Richard, a real-life young couple longing for adventure at sea who are hired to sail a yacht from Fiji to San Diego, California. All is fine until they sail straight into a huge hurricane.

The sailing couple sees the big storm comingThe sailing couple sees the big storm comingCourtesy of STXfilms

Filming near Fiji, the actors said they were both total sailing virgins with only a couple of boat trips between them when taking on the roles of a couple in the 1980’s who were in love with each other and the sea. How did Shai and Sam survive seasickness, close quarters, hoping Mother Nature would cooperate and more? Check out the interview that reveals the deets on a once-in-a-lifetime filming adventure.

Q: How much did you know about sailing?

  • Sam: I’d been on a boat before. That’s about as much as I knew, really.
  • Shailene: Same with me so…nothing. (laughter)

Q: What kind of research did you do to play the roles?

  • Shailene: We learned to sail. You kind of hope that when sailors see this movie they’ll be like “Oh, Sam and Shai know how to sail” but I don’t know that they’ll do that. But I think that was the great desire, to make this movie for sailors and for Tami (Oldham Ashcraft upon whom Shailene’s character is based). There were a lot of hours on the sea learning how to tie different ropes and learn a new language. So much of sailing is cerebral more than physical, learning a completely new rolodex of words.
  • Sam: Yeah, a brand new terminology for living basically but what I think was great was that Shai and I were willing to jump into the deep end, excuse the pun and we were also fortunate to have a great marine team supporting us, showing us the ropes. I think when you’re with a crew and a small cast willing to get your hands dirty and get physical, I think we were onto something good.

Tami (Shailene) uses a sextant to find her locationTami (Shailene) uses a sextant to find her locationCourtesy of STXfilms

Q: Shailene, have you ever experienced the same thing your character did; you’ve done all you can and you can’t do anything?

  • Shailene: I think we were all were teenagers once, right? I think every day or every challenge is an opportunity to grow from that challenge or be consumed by it. I can’t give you a specific moment because that would be very personal but absolutely I can relate to the feeling of complete surrender and the ability to trust whatever it is that you choose to trust within or outside of yourself to allow you to keep going because you don’t physically have the energy to go on.

Q: You filmed a lot of this on an actual boat at sea. Did you deal with sea sickness? I’m sure everything wasn’t pleasant.

  • Shailene: Sailing is actually very hard.
  • Sam: It’s really hard.
  • Shailene: Even though it looks romantic.
  • Sam: I think the problem is real sailors make it look really easy. I think the first day I went out in a boat in Fiji, me and Shai were taken out on this yacht, we were sitting just in the harbor and I was sick so a part of me was really worried about this film because we spent most of it on the ocean but what I quickly realized is that not eating much and having lots of coffee is a really bad thing for a sailor.

Tami (Shailene) and Richard (Sam) after the hurricaneTami (Shailene) and Richard (Sam) after the hurricaneCourtesy of STXfilms

Q: That’s for sure.

  • Sam: But also, we managed to capture quite a lot of the early storm sequence with the waters getting choppy and us tying everything down we were surrounded by a key fifteen to twenty man crew on that boat. It became claustrophobic at times especially with the stench of sick rising up from the hull of the boat crept to your nostrils. It got quite difficult and it was a very choppy day, I think the worst day for swells and that was our introduction so we were forced to get our sea legs early.

Q: Shailene, you have a tank top on a lot of the movie, wasn’t it cold?

  • Shailene: A couple of days were quite cold because we were filming in New Zealand in the middle of winter with ice cold water being dumped on us. Those days were cold but, for the most part, we were filming in Fiji under the hot sun day in and day out. Not a lot of chill.
  • Sam: (to Shailene) I think some days, you spent more time in the ocean than out. If you’re treading water for that length of time and not able to get warm in between, I imagine it did get very cold. The stunt team and marine team were wearing dry suits and all sorts of layers but they were in the water for 12 or 13 hour days.

Are there enough supplies to last us?Are there enough supplies to last us?Courtesy of STXfilms

Q: Do you consider yourself adventurous? Was making this movie an adventure?

  • Shailene: Filming this movie was up there in the list of the biggest adventures I’ve ever been on. A day felt like an adventure. But I can relate to (my character’s) vagabond nature and desire to see the world and immerse herself in different cultures and understand cultures from a local’s perspective.

Q: I know it was hard but was there something you really loved doing in making the film?

  • Shailene: Everything.
  • Sam: Really?  I loved it. I got to lay on the back of a boat most of the time so I was really happy.
  • Shailene: A lot of it was challenging but when you get to see the sunrise and sunset from a boat on the ocean every single day, it’s hard to complain about anything and it’s hard not to find deep appreciation and gratitude for the once in a lifetime experience that you are witnessing alongside a group of really incredible individuals. So much of this movie was possible because of our crew.

Q: Were they all good sailors?

  • Shailene: We had people who disregarded sea sickness, who chose humor instead of complaints, who chose endurance instead of victimhood and that really made the experience fruitful for everyone. I think there was a time for all of us when one of us would get tired or sunburned or there would be a moment of discomfort and someone would remind us that we were filming a movie based on a story that was real and, at the end of the day, we got to go back to our hotels and got food delivered to us.  

Tami and Richard (Shai and Sam) consider making the long tripTami and Richard (Shai and Sam) consider making the long tripCourtesy of STXfilms

Q: When you were in the water, how did they protect you from the natural habitat..sharks and the like?

  • Sam: I had a knife.
  • Shailene: I had a spear. We had an amazing stunt team who took the utmost care and precaution when it came to protecting, not only us, but the whole crew. But, at the end of the day you are filming on the ocean and no matter how professional you are, or good at your job you are, you are on the open sea and there are elements that can’t be guessed and weather patterns that shift quite drastically very quickly. So, everyone learned very quickly that we had to trust one another and take someone’s word for caution seriously. If there was a small chance at a threat, everyone really had to pay attention.
  • Sam: I think shooting on the ocean is obviously dangerous. Being on the ocean is dangerous and you are not only trusting everyone around you, you are putting your trust in Mother Nature and I think there were definitely moments where, in reflection, you would think “Well, I probably shouldn’t have done that”. We were moving around a boat while it was cutting through water on a ridiculous keel and at times, feeling a little seasick. I think what was amazing is that (Director Baltasar Kormákur) would allow us to push ourselves to our limits and make it feel as authentic as possible.

Shailene with her director Balthazar KormakurShailene with her director Balthazar KormakurCourtesy of STXfilms

Q: Sam, some of the movie is different than the actual happenings, like how your character got swept off the boat, right?

  • Sam: Nobody really knows what happened there. What is apparent and we did artistically, is use what she experienced and what Tami said she experienced through hallucinations and being on her own. She had a voice to help her survive. His spirit helped her through.
  • Shailene: Our movie is based on the book that Tami wrote and her format of it was past and present woven together in and out. Also the voice that Sam mentioned was the over arcing theme of the book so there wasn’t much artistic license used to make the film. It was mostly honoring how Tami herself chose to share her story.

Q: How was your experience meeting Tami?

  • Shailene: She was in Fiji for about two weeks and I only saw her a couple of times. We all went to lunch but I had spoken and Skyped with her for many months prior to that so I was comfortable around her but meeting her in person everything hits you on a new level of “I’ve got to do everything I can to honor her story”. She’s given me her trust and now I have to treat that simple gesture with the utmost reverence and respect. After everything that happened, when she met Sam she became speechless.
  • Sam: Yeah. It was difficult. For me my interpretation of Richard is I didn’t want to mimic what he was. I supposed I tried to be true to Tami’s viewpoint of him and remembrance of him but, I needed to bring qualities of me into the role. What really struck me and gave me some confidence is, when we met her I remember I was telling sort of a jokey story and she went silent and said “I can’t believe it. You are him”.
  • Shailene: You sound like him, you look like him, move like him and talk like him.
  • Sam: So, without trying, obviously I possessed qualities of this man so it was quite rewarding knowing that you’ve touched a part of that person.

Shai and Sam shooting in close quarters with crewShai and Sam shooting in close quarters with crewCourtesy of STXfilms

Q: What did you both discover about working with Mother Nature on this film?

  • Shailene: The art of sailing taught me so much about how I don’t pay attention to the elements on the level that I wish I did. To be a sailor, it sounds simple to say but know which direction the wind is coming from and when it shifts. You are forced to constantly be in communication with nature, with the wind and the current. It’s just that language that I wish I had more of a connection to.
  • Sam: I think my experience of this journey is knowing that I’m not a sailor and don’t think I ever will be but I really fell in love with the water…as long as I could see land. I think just seeing how drastically different the ocean was on any given day was amazing. Like one day it would be as choppy as anything, the next day it would be like glass and you wouldn’t see a wave all day. For me it was incredibly eye-opening.

Shailene as Tami sailing alone with a broken wheelShailene as Tami sailing alone with a broken wheelCourtesy of STXfilms

Q: And you really have no control.

  • Sam: Well,  we have no control over Mother Nature but, in a way we do. We’ve got a warming going on that is partly due to us as humanity. But, there are many elements to Mother Nature that we don’t fully understand. We are a slave to it. I think I really appreciated it, partly because of where we were filming. Fiji is a beautiful place so when you’re surrounded by beautiful sunsets, the beauty was perfectly captured in the film. To live through that was amazing.

Q: How are your real survival skills? Would you survive?

  • Sam: I think I’d be okay. I’m much more resilient than I once thought I was. I was a Cub Scout. I know how to survive in the woods to an extent. I’ve never been put in that situation though. It’s hard to know you would deal with any given circumstance. I’m sure that Tami, for example, wouldn’t know that she could survive forty-one days at sea on her own before she was put in that circumstance. It’s difficult to know what your body can be pushed to but I’d like to think that I could. (To Shailene) You would be okay. You would be one hundred percent fine. You are probably more resilient than I am.
  • Shailene: I’d like to think that I would be too. I think the biggest key to survival is your mental ability but when you are in that situation who knows? I wouldn’t be able to survive at sea like Tami because I can’t use a sextant. So much of our lives now are dependent on technology that we’re not taking the time to utilize the tools that ancient navigators or mountaineers and sea men or people who live in the woods utilized and when accident happened and all the electronics went down, if she hadn’t known how to use the took that cross-references the sun with the horizon or the stars to the horizon then she wouldn’t have made it. So, as strong as she was mentally and as much endurance as she had she also had the skillset that wasn’t dependent on technology.

Courtesy of STXfilms

See Adrift in theaters now!

Have Your Say

Do you sail with your family? Are you afraid of the water or at home in it? Could you survive a hurricane at sea? Talk all thing nautical below. Leave a comment.