“This film grabs you on a primal level,” says Blake Lively, who plays a young woman stranded just a short distance from shore when she is attacked by a great white shark, in Columbia Pictures’ suspense thriller “The Shallows.” “It’s about the power to survive, the power of will.”
In the taut thriller, Lively plays Nancy Adams who is surfing on a secluded beach when she finds herself in the feeding ground of a great white shark. Though she is stranded only two hundred yards from shore, survival proves to be the ultimate test of wills, requiring all of Nancy’s ingenuity, resourcefulness, and fortitude.
“Nancy is a medical student, which comes in handy when she’s bleeding out on a rock in the middle of the ocean!” says Lively with a laugh. “She’s very practical, she’s type A, she likes things a certain way. Imagine this woman thrown into the most chaotic circumstance you could fathom. Not a great fit. That’s what’s so interesting – her experience tests her character on every front. You see both the strengthening and disassembling of this woman as she fights to survive. It’s a neat examination. As responsible as she is though, she must have a thrill-seeking desire in her heart, or she wouldn’t be such a bad a-double-s surfer!
“I had to train – not only to learn how to surf as best as I could, but there was a lot of endurance training for my body to keep up with the physicality of the role,” explains Lively. “I didn’t even have a stunt double until the last two weeks on the film – I did all the heavy stunts myself leading up to that. Except for the surfing, of course! I was lucky to have the incredible Isabella Nichols, the #1 junior surfer in the world, as my surfing hero. As for the other heavy stunts, I had my share of ‘battle wounds,’ but it made me proud to be able to do that work.”
Making a movie usually means you’re surrounded by many people, but there were times when Lively had to put herself into her character’s shoes. For one, a wide helicopter shot of Lively alone on the rock, it naturally meant that no one else could be around. “I got to our set – our rock and buoy – out in the middle of the ocean, and everybody left me there and went back to the shore. I’m sitting there, three or four hundred yards from shore, waiting, alone, in aggressive, rising tide for the helicopter with the camera to crest over the mountain. After a few minutes of pure solitude, the chopper came in, did the shot, and left me alone again. There was a good thirty minutes total where it was just me, and I really felt the enormity of the situation. It was so beautiful, and also so terrifying. It was a moving experience.”
Collet-Serra says that Blake Lively was much more than an actor for hire. Because she is in nearly every shot of the movie, he says, “She was really a partner in the storytelling. We tailored it for her – everything is filtered through her. We all agreed on the movie we were making, and she was very interested in collaborating with us on that process.”
Part of that is Lively’s view that the shark is not a demon at all, but another being – like Nancy – trying to survive. “Sharks are villainized – people think of them as scary, as cruel, as monsters, but they’re not that at all. The shark is a wild animal in its habitat,” Lively continues. “Nancy has a lot of sympathy for the shark, even as she’s fighting to survive. I think that’s pretty remarkable to find empathy and connection in such painful times. Nancy has this revelation when she sees that mankind has hurt the shark first. He has been hunted. Brutally. And not for means of man’s survival. For pleasure. You then understand the shark’s motive, his determination, his will, his desperation to conquer as his survival also depends on it. So it becomes a test of two wills. Both victims. But only one can live while the other remains. It’s a tragedy. It’s at that point in the story: nature.”
Opening across the Philippines on August 10, “The Shallows” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. #FearTheShallows