Getting stars like Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor in a roundtable setting is pretty rare these days, with more demands on talent keeping them busier and busier, especially during awards season. The stars of The Impossible did roundtable interviews with small groups to discuss the story of the 2004 tsunami disaster. The sessions were only a brief 10 minutes so I didn’t get my usual aggressive batch of questions in, but there was still some quality interaction with each of the actors to fill in some perspective on our one on ones with the filmmakers. Watts plays Maria, based on survivor Maria Belon and her family’s experience in Thailand when they were separated by the tsunami. McGregor plays her husband Henry.
CraveOnline: You’ve done a number of visual effects films before but that are mainly creating fantasy worlds. Was it very different doing a sequence of visual effects that’s supposed to be very real and a real life tragedy?
Ewan McGregor: Every film’s different from the last, you know? Every film is a unique experience. This wasn’t a visual effects movie, in that other than the actual arrival of the wave, we didn’t do many visual effects really. Everything was shot as realistically as possible. Certainly my story line was all done in [locations]. The designer did an extraordinary job, created these huge areas of devastation that we acted in the middle of. There were no green screens. It was all very realistic. The wave itself, you don’t follow me when the wave comes, you follow Naomi and Tom [Holland]. For them, it was a very tough six weeks in Alicante in the South of Spain in a water tank where they for four weeks shot the sequence moving through the water when they were trying to get to each other, and then when they do get to each other. And then two weeks in an underwater tank with Naomi shooting the underwater stuff. I know it was really, really hard to do, brutal and slow. Shooting in water is very difficult.
That was very realistic. The only real special effects moment, if you like, when we felt special effects, was when the water hits the hotel. That we shot over many days because the weather was very bad. We were cursed with lots of rain so it took us a long time to shoot that, for that reason only. Then they shot for about a month after we’d finished principal photography in a third scale set, which is still quite a big model set, for some weeks, shot that set being hit by water and then putting the two, matting the two images together or maybe slightly more than that, created the actual effect of the wave coming in. So it didn’t feel like a special effects film to me.
CraveOnline: The obligatory Star Wars question. Since they're doing Episode VII, if they have a way for you to come back as the ghost of Obi-Wan, are you interested?
Ewan McGregor: Sure. Yeah.
CraveOnline: There are so many harrowing scenes in the film but one that struck me is when you're holding onto the tree. How long would a take of that run?
Naomi Watts: That one where I'm stuck on the tree, I was there for a long time. I was anchored with a harness but still, the pressure of the water coming, you still had to hang on tight. You just kept reminding yourself, “I'm not going to complain. I'm an actor recreating this. There were people who hung onto trees for 10, 12 hours.” Physically [it was] the most demanding thing I've ever done. Working with water is always going to be tough. It was five or six weeks in those tanks. Tom thought it was the most fun he's ever had. It was like the water park every day, but the scariest possible one. He's not only a trained athlete but he's 14, and I'm neither of those things.
CraveOnline: You've been through awards season before. Does it feel different with this film?
Naomi Watts: Look, I don't know. People keep saying that and I just never know what to say to it other than I'm proud of the film. It seems to be affecting people, but the greatest critique I've had is a letter from Maria that came after she saw the film and she knew I was going to watch the film. Juan Antonio [Bayona] and Belén [Atienza], the producer, brought the letter to me and it was just the nicest letter I think I've ever received. That was so great. I feel like I've done my job. I just hope the movie keeps reaching people and moving people and helps people understand what the tsunami was because I think we're quite removed from it despite the amount of news which we may have watched and read. It would be very nice to be recognized by my peers, always, of course.
Naomi Watts compares playing The Impossible’s Maria Belon to Princess Diana in the upcoming Diana.
Naomi Watts: In Maria's case, I just felt I had this responsibility for her but she feels she has the responsibility for everyone else that suffered or lost lives. So I took that on board and it was such a big thing. Every day we were being reminded of that. Each day we met a new extra or new person on the crew, just so many people would tell us a new version of their story. That was really weighing on me, which is a lot of pressure. But it was very helpful to have all of her information. She wrote endless letters to me throughout. Each time we changed location and went to a new scene she would write very expressive letters.
In the case of Princess Diana, yeah, a huge pressure of a different kind because the most recognizable woman of our lifetime and instantly people are going to jump to comparisons. With Maria, I didn't have to create the walk and talk or the look or anything. She's not in the public so I didn't have to recreate that. With Princess Diana, that's the first thing people are going to talk about.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.