The Impossible is a powerful story based on one family’s survival of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Based on a true story, Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor)and their three sons begin their winter vacation in Thailand. But on the morning of December 26th a terrifying roar rises up from the center of the earth. As Maria freezes in fear, a huge wall of black water races across the hotel grounds towards her. Both epic and intimate, devastating and uplifting, The Impossible is a journey to the core of the human heart.
Naomi this must have been a tough shoot for you, what where you thinking?
Naomi Watts: I knew it was going to be a tough one physically, water always is and it lived up to it’s reputation. This story about this disaster that took the lives of so many and effected the lives of so many was a beautiful piece of intimate story telling about a family. So you forget and push all that out about it being a hard day of work for six months. I remember when I finished King Kong and it was so physically taxing on my body and I remember swearing off anything active or action driven but I guess you forget. It’s like child birth I guess.
Ewan how was it working with Naomi Watts a second time around?
Ewan McGregor: It was lovely, it’s always nice to work with actors again especially if you had a good experience with them before. I also think it was really instrumental to us creating the family in which we had a short set of time to set up. If we hadn’t created a family that people wanted to follow then the film wouldn’t work. Because we’re both parents and because we worked together before and we like each other it was very important to creating that feeling. A lot of the earlier scenes were improvised like the christmas morning scene with the boys and A.J. Bayona told them to just go to sleep and we left them in their beds for about twenty minutes and they didn’t know that there was going to be christmas presents outside. He had us improvise the whole christmas morning and had us wake up them up. So that came naturally to us because we’re both used to speaking to kids and it worked.
Naomi to sit down as a Mom and read this story how did it hit you?
Naomi Watts: When my agent called and said there is this script about a tsunami, at first I thought no that doesn’t sound like a good idea. I just thought it was going to be a disaster movie and lots of screaming and is it going to become spectacular. It didn’t feel right, it actually felt wrong given how many lives were taken. Then I heard it was Juan Antonio, a director who is a proper film maker, it peaked my interest, then I read the script. Right from the four or five pages I knew I was going to do it. It just felt incredibly truthful and I soon learned later that it was. Then I meet the director Juan Antonio and Belen the producer and I remember feeling how invested they were. They were telling me the story and showing me the images and I was sure I just wanted to work with these people, they were going to stick to the truth and not make it that other kind of disaster film.
Naomi how was it meeting the real Maria and what kind of questions were you asking her?
Naomi Watts: I was really, really dying to meet her and I was quite nervous. When it finally came about I walked into the room and we shook hands. I was given a half hour time slot and I didn’t know where to begin. I’m just an actor and I want to ask you a silly question. Look what you lived through and what you went through, so I just sort of sat there and waited until she talked. Then she started to well up as did I. It’s as if her whole story was told in one look. Then we held each other, I know it sounds really corny, but that’s who she is. It’s as she’s living on a different level. If I met her today without knowing she’d gone through the tsunami I’d probably be intimidated by her because she has a different view on life. She thinks life is extraordinary and living every moment and without fear.
Ewan did you have a lot of prep with the boys before shooting?
Ewan McGregor: No not as much because I was filming Salmon Fishing in the Yemen right about a week before we started in Thailand. So I think we had about a week or ten days of rehearsal but mainly it was just playing table tennis with them getting them used to me. I think it’s possible that they might have seen Star Wars and the boys had no acting experience, so it’s possible that their parents might have talked me up a little bit. So when I first came into the room they stiffened up and we had to get over that but they were so lovely to work with. It’s tricky working with kids because people can black mail children into doing what they want them to do, or frightening them for a reaction and I said right off the back that I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be involved in that. I knew that it was a tall order to ask five or seven year olds to go through something like that. Slowly we became pretty close, on set they would call me dad, that was a game we used to play and they were never confused to what was real and what wasn’t real.
Naomi did you find yourself imagining what if this sort of thing happened to me?
Naomi Watts: Oh yeah. I think that’s what a movie like this does to you. You constantly put yourself in that position and think who would I be and how would I deal with this. I couldn’t imagine having that scented powerful instinct that she said came over her. I consider myself someone who is full of self doubt and second guessing, I’ve been in little crisis here and there and think of myself as a disaster. Maybe when it has to do with your children then maybe that’s when it happens. I think we crave to understand that, how do we get to that place. You’re connected to your instinct when you’re born and you’re like that for a few years then you get more and more removed from it and care too much about what other people think and do.
Naomi would you consider this one of your hardest films to shoot because you had to focus emotionally as well as physical aspects?
Naomi Watts: The first part of the film is all physical and then it’s lying down. I was worried about this because it was one position and she’s loosing blood, she’s loosing energy and closer and closer to death. When you’re forced in one position how do you do a bunch of scenes and make them different beats. Then again talking to Maria she was never going to allow herself to face death until it was done. Basically she wasn’t dying until she was dead, she was still continuing to fight and wether that manifested in humor or telling her son to focus on other people.
Ewan how much of a burden does it put on you as an actor to play a real person in this tragic event?
Ewan McGregor: Well the playing of a real person is the responsibility to him but the only difference in this is that the actual family is a Spanish family and we have them as a British family. So already there’s a distance between him and who I play. I wanted to get his essence and get him right, I found out a lot about his character and what he’s like and I spoke to him on the phone since I didn’t have a chance to get to know him before we started shooting. I also knew the writer had met him and knew him and Sergio (Writer) wrote with Maria. I really didn’t try to look like him, I have glasses like him but I didn’t try to become him physically, he’s much taller then I am. I felt I had more freedom with the character. When he came to Thailand after a month of shooting, I suddenly panicked and thought what is he going to think, maybe I should have tried to be more like him. Then he told me that he had seen a photograph of us while on the plane at the opening of the film while we’re on the airplane. So with this photograph he was showing his friends and saying look he’s got me but how did he do it because he doesn’t know me, I was relieved that he was happy. But the much greater responsibility is to the tsunami and to the people that were there and the people who died there and the people who lost their loved ones there and to the thai people. You always have to remember to come back to the reality of what we are doing. There were moments where we would set shots up and it would feel like a big movie. There’s one shot where the camera swept over the devastation and there was a staircase that no longer lead anywhere and I climbed the stair case and I shouted Maria and as we did it I felt it didn’t feel right. I looked into the monitor and saw and thought it just looked too heroic. It was too much like a movie shot and they didn’t end up using it.
Naomi in this film you had to look as bad as possible was that a bit harder then looking good?
Naomi Watts: No it’s actually easier, I’m telling a story and it had to be truthful so there is no vanity. It’s much harder the pressure of having to look good. I remember when we were shooting a scene in the hospital and I had the mask on and it was creating a double chin and someone said we should move that. I then said don’t touch it because then I suddenly became reminded of my vanity and it aggravated me.
Tom Holland is an amazing young actor, Naomi did you have an preparation time to establish that mother and son relationship?
Naomi Watts: We had prepped for about a month and Juan Antonio really set a great tone for us by creating this space and room for each other and for us to get to know each other. We basically did all these weird acting exercises, some of them were goofy and had us in fits of laughter some of them were very emotional and had us wiping the tears and snot from each other faces. We would improvise scene and do the real scenes. The first scene he had us sit in front of each other and draw each other and I was like what is this? Then it didn’t matter what it was, it was to just sit and look at each other and be comfortable with one another.
Was there anything scary that happened while filming?
Naomi Watts: The underwater scene, yeah. When you throw away the oxygen tube, you’re on your own and you release yourself from the chair that’s spinning you below. So I got to my limit where I held my breath as much as I could and I started to undo the buckle and I couldn’t get out of the chair. Then the chair started to spin in the other direction and I thought oh gosh is the director trying to get extra fearful emotion out of me. Finally the chair stopped and I came to the surface and full of panic and I got the smallest glimpse of what it’s like to be holding your breath beyond you’re capable of. It filled me with panic and kind of rage but anyways it turned out that it was just a technical problem.
Ewan could we see you revisit Star Wars again?
Ewan McGregor: I guess, I don’t know. I have no idea what the stories are but I would be happy to do it if they need me.
“The Impossible” is in theaters December 21st.