National Post (Latest Edition)
A whale of a tale
Director Ron Howard on his most formidable challenge yet
N-obody defines heroic Amer ican survivalists better than filmmaker Ron Howard. He did it with firefighters in Backdraft and astronauts in Apollo 13. Both were ambitious movie ventures, but In the Heart of the Sea might be his most formidable.
L- oosely based on Nathaniel Phil b-rick’s non-fiction book, the film re counts the 1820s sinking of the New England whaling ship Es-sex by a mam moth whale, which in turn inspired Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick.
Chris Hemsworth, taking a break from his Thor persona, plays the headliner. He’s the Es- sex’s first of ficer, Owen Chase, who tries to help the shipwrecked crew survive in life boats while the mammoth beast stalks them in the open sea. Co--star ring are Cillian Murphy-, Tom Hol land ( the new Spider- Man), Benjamin Walker, Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson.
Not only did the cast cope with the inclement elements of filming on the ocean near the Canary Islands, they had to go on strict diets to mimic the starvation the sailors suffered.
During a recent interview in New York, the 61-year-old director says he thinks the extra effort required for his latest production was worth it.
Q Is it accurate to say Hemsworth offered you the project?
A Yes, Chris brought me In the Heart of the Sea. I had such a great experience with him on Rush, and I had so much confidence in his ability, that I was looking forward to the collaboration. Q Besides that, what hooked you? A First, I had no idea that Moby Dick was inspired by real events. Q What else? A It was the challenge of being able to tell this story that’s extreme and cinematic and so human.
Q The movie also has a mystical quality to it. Do you agree?
A It came out of the journals of the s-urvivors. They felt like it was an al most a supernatural experience.
Q Some of the crew seemed resigned to their fate. True?
A They felt guilty over the way they had made a living and felt this was divine retribution, but they also wondered whether they deserved this ferocious punishment.
Q D-o you think of the story as a cau tionary tale?
A I began to see the film as a classic epic adventure on one hand, and a good, modern, relatable drama on the other.
Q P-erformances seem to be at the fore front. Correct?
A I am always first and foremost an actor’s director. It’s always a priority to me.
Q D-id you forget the unwritten Holly wood rule — never film on water?
A I know the rule but rules are made to be broken.
Q D-id you know what you were get ting into?
A I had just enough experience with water going back to the 1980s on Splash and Cocoon.
Q Did you shoot more in big studio water tanks or out in the ocean?
A For budgetary reasons, it was important we shoot out on the real ocean and not so much with tanks, and I believe it helps the movie. Q Was it a logistical hassle? A I am glad that I’ve had so many experiences behind me that involved complexities like fire ( Backdraft) a-nd weightlessness (Apollo 13). It al lowed me to come to terms with the difficulties. Q Was it still a grind? A I admit it was an ambitious movie but why not — audiences deserve it. Q Was it just too much sometimes? A It was pretty exhausting, and a plate-spinning exercise, because there were several units filming at times and I had to keep track.
Q H-ow did the actors handle the con ditions?
A T-he cast was miserable and emo tions were running high. But they never created a complication for me, and they showed me respect and commitment.
Q You are deep into editing the third Robert Langdon thriller Inferno, but what about your side career as the Arrested Development narrator?
A Fingers crossed, the narrator will speak again. Everybody’s heart is in the right place, so with a little luck I- hope to clear my throat and intro duce the Bluths all over again.