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'Adrift' director Baltasar Kormakur: 'Why I picked Shailene Woodley'

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'Adrift' director Baltasar Kormakur: 'Why I picked Shailene Woodley'
Baltasar Kormakur talks about why he chose Shailene Woodley for the lead role in “Adrift.” Photo Credit: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

In an age when men are predominantly cast as the heroes on the big screen, it’s rare to see a female lead in a story of survival. But in the new movie “Adrift, starring Shailene Woodley (and hitting theaters June 1), the plot involves just that — a woman who beats the odds while lost at sea for a total of 41 days and lives to tell the harrowing tale.

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LIVESTRONG.COM sat down with “Adrift” director Baltasar Kormakur, who revealed the importance of sharing the remarkable story of Tami Oldham, a California native who went missing in 1983.

“When I saw the project for the first time, I was just thinking about the character Tami and the strength she had,” he reveals. “But later on when I had thought about it, I realized that there aren’t many women-against-nature films. There are so many with men and wolves fighting or crawling in the snow, but very little with a female lead.”

While films like “Gravity” with Sandra Bullock and “Wild” starring Reese Witherspoon have featured women beating the odds in the face of danger, Kormakur says that stories like these are certainly few and far between. “I think in this day and age, especially, it’s important to tell the stories of both genders,” he says. “Women have been on earth just as long as men, and therefore they have endured the same elements as men. There should be more stories about them — and this one happens to be true.”

Shailene Woodley and Baltasar Kormakur work on a scene while filming “Adrift.”
Shailene Woodley and Baltasar Kormakur work on a scene while filming “Adrift.” Photo Credit: STX

In the film, viewers are taken on an unexpected journey with Tami and her fiance Richard Sharp (played by actor Sam Claflin) as the two embark on an adventure that goes terribly wrong. And to relay just how intense getting lost in the Pacific Ocean must have been for the real-life pair, shooting realistic scenes for the movie was no easy task.

“All of the underwater scenes were filmed in the open water,” Kormakur says. “There was not one shot filmed in a tank, so Shailene was basically diving for a full day under a 55-foot boat in the middle of the sea, constantly being banged around by the current. There were also quite a few sharks out there — they didn’t visit the set, but we knew they were there.”

Because filming took place in the middle of the ocean for roughly 12 hours a day for a total of six weeks, many on set experienced some pretty rough bouts of seasickness. “We started shooting in sunny Fiji in a sailboat. We’re all taking selfies together and are thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we’re actually getting paid to do this!’” Kormakur recounts of the first day of filming. “And then two hours later, we’re basically carrying buckets of puke from the galley. The whole crew is throwing up, Shailene is lying down and Sam is throwing up as I’m saying, ‘Action!’ But we just got through it, and it paid off because it stripped the actors and helped get them in the right mindset. It certainly wasn’t easy, but that’s why I choose to do things in real elements as much as I can.”

Shailene Woodley survives on the set of “Adrift.”
Shailene Woodley survives on the set of “Adrift.” Photo Credit: STX

So what was it about Woodley that got her the lead part in the movie? Kormakur reveals that the actress had been on his radar since seeing her star alongside George Clooney in “The Descendants.” “There was something about her emotional authenticity that I loved,” he explains. “I was looking for a girl that had a West Coast feel to her because Tami is from San Diego. Not the L.A. type, but more of this West Coast free-spirit, nature-loving type. It was a very specific quality and something you can’t really act — you have to just be. And Shailene certainly is.”

As for what the director wants viewers to take away from this film — it’s simple. “Strength is not always in muscles,” he says. “It’s inside the character. It’s inside your head and in your heart.”

What Do YOU Think?

Would you like to see more survival stories with female leads? Do you think you could survive getting lost at sea for 41 days? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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