Writer-director Neasa Hardiman and actress Hermione Corfield sat down with Solzy at the Movies to discuss Sea Fever following the world premiere in Toronto.
Gunpowder & Sky will release Sea Fever on VOD on April 10, 2020. Sea Fever was originally planned to be released in theaters, too, but none of them are open.
How honored are you to have Sea Fever hold its world premiere during TIFF?
Neasa Hardiman: I would say the answer to that is very.
Hermione Corfield: Very, very, very, excited.
Neasa Hardiman: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s amazing to be here. What a fantastic festival. What an amazing array of films. And also, we were just saying to (inaudible). It’s a really nice festival because it’s so unified and everywhere is within walking distance. It really feels like a little village of cinema lovers.
Hermione Corfield: Yeah.
Neasa Hardiman: It’s just super excited to be here. I’ve never been to Toronto before.
Hermione Corfield: Nor have I. Yeah, I jumped my bed when I heard. I literally jumped up and down my bed.
Neasa Hardiman: It’s terrific
Sea Fever was selected for the Discovery program but I think it could very well have been playing in Midnight Madness given the Alien-esque vibe. How did you come up with the idea for the film?
Neasa Hardiman: I think there were a couple of things that I was interested in exploring. I was interested in exploring the idea of the scientist that Hermione breathes such subtlety and emotional truth into and how the scientist gets treated in cinema often as a kind of dislikeable figure or is quite emotional or amoral. I wanted to kind of honor the truth about that and tell a story with a scientist hero because I feel like that’s what we need. That’s what I want to see. And look at the value of the scientific method and the value of people who think differently. Not that all scientists think differently the way your character thinks differently but I did want to explore that. I did want to explore the value and the importance of including the voices of people who think differently. I think that was sort of the starting point for me for the story.
One of your goals is to better represent the scientists, is that correct?
Neasa Hardiman: Yeah, I think that’s true.
Hermione, what attracted you to the script for Sea Fever?
Hermione Corfield: I think it was incredibly original. It was something that had barely been explored. I didn’t think there are many, many films that on a trawler and on the West Coast of Ireland exploring a cruise with such rich characters and such an original kind of mix of truth and fiction. Well, we don’t know if it’s true or not in terms of the creature and that sort of thing. It felt so fantastical but also so truthful and raw. The character itself, Siobhán—she was something I’ve never played before. I love that she thought differently. I love that she functioned independently whether that was forced upon her because she was different or because she likes functioning independently. She’s a scientist so she probably spends a lot of time solo in a lab anyway. I think it was it was the originality and the strength of her—she was independent and strong-boned in a very different way. She had vulnerabilities in that she was different. It was basically use a multi-faceted, multi-layered character.
Is there anything in particular that you look for while reading a screenplay?
Hermione Corfield: What do I look for? Something I haven’t done before. Something that feels like a stretch. Something that I’m not gonna roll out of bed and just be able to do. I really like working on it sort of academically at the beginning and then I have to go, right, okay, this is not actually an academic project, you have to step away and think on a more kind of physical and that sort of level. But yeah, I’d say something that’s original. Something where the woman is not an accessory to the man—where she has her own story or her way of thinking. Preferably an exciting job like a scientist. All of the above, really. And a brilliant director. That is number one.
Neasa Hardiman: I think what’s amazing about Hermione—and she’s far too modest to say this—and what’s incredibly excited about working with you—and I think all the other actors will also say this—is it’s really unusual to find somebody in any walk of life, actually, who has such a broadly based intelligence. It just struck me there as you were talking that Hermione did so much reading around this and so much thinking and so much reflecting about what it might mean to think differently, how it might feel, finding your way both intellectually and emotionally as that character, and then also, aside from that, the physical stamina and courage that you brought that role. She did all her own stunts. They were really scary stunts. They were really scary things to do. I remember—it was couple days after you arrived in Ireland and I had drawn all these storyboards for the action sequences. I sat down with the first AD and you and went through them because I thought, I need this actor to know that you don’t have to do this—that we’ll bring somebody in because they’re quite scary, this stuff underwater where you don’t have a breathing apparatus where you have to do give her performance underwater without a breathing apparatus. Me and the AD were really blown away because Hermione went, “Yeah, that’s fine.” (Laughs) I never deviated from that and the physical stamina demanded in that role—quite apart from the intellectual and emotional challenge of playing somebody who is both churning on the inside and really struggling to express anything on the outside. It’s just very unusual to find somebody who’s capable of doing all that. I feel just unbelievably lucky that you agreed to take the role.
Hermione Corfield: I feel lucky. I didn’t see myself as being. I mean, this is all stuff that I’ve done. But so many roles, you can just see why someone immediately knows you could do it. I didn’t know why you thought I could immediately do it (laughs). That’s probably what pushed me to work so, so hard so that I would have been like, I can and I will do you proud as much as I can. It was such an honor to be cast in something so different because every girl would want to do role like this. They’re very rare. And to work with somebody who has written and directed it as well.
What did you do to prep for the role aside from all that reading?
Hermione Corfield: Reading, just lots and lots and lots of reading. We talked quite a bit as well. I read about marine biology. I read about Asperger’s and different cognitive forms of thinking. I didn’t do huge amount fishing research because luckily, I didn’t have to know a huge amount about fishing because I was going on as a student. I went to university so I had an idea of what it was to be a student although not a doctor. So yeah, just a huge amount of reading and then stepping away from it because I think that’s really important. You can read and read and read and read and then suddenly it becomes an academic thing and you really need to step away for a second.
Neasa Hardiman: Just let it be kind of a bedrock that you build on.
Hermione Corfield: Yeah. And then you let it sit. And you’re going to have one read-through, one rehearsal where you’re going to go, do I know what I’m doing? And then you let it sit for a minute. And then you just go on set and just be and trust everyone else around you and trust the whole process.
I have to ask. How does it feel to be a part of the Star Wars universe?
Hermione Corfield: (Laughs) Great. I went to Chicago for my first Star Wars Celebration.
I was there.
Hermione Corfield: Were you?
Overwhelmed, but I was here. I live in Chicago—formerly from Kentucky.
Hermione Corfield: Right. I shot Rust Creek in Kentucky. I love Chicago. It’s a great city. I really enjoyed that as well. It’s unbelievable—the fan base. I mean, it’s mad.
Neasa Hardiman: I can imagine it. Really passionate people.
Hermione Corfield: Yeah, exactly.
Neasa Hardiman: That is kind of terrific—to be a part of history.
Water-based shoots tend to come with challenges.
Neasa Hardiman: I don’t know why you say that.
What was the most challenging aspect of the shoot?
Neasa Hardiman: Well, I think definitely filming on the trawler was very challenging. It was very challenging for a number of reasons. First of all, being on a trawler is unbelievably dangerous. It’s just a really dangerous place to be regardless of the weather, regardless of anything else is happening. Of all the professional jobs in the UK and Ireland, it has the highest death rate. That’s because it’s just really, really dangerous. The first time I went on the trawler, I think I was saying this to you, when I went to (inaudible) the trawler that we used. It was off the coast of Galway so I drove with the producers to Galway. I arrived there and walk down the jetty. There’s like a meter gap between the jetty and the trawler. The people are on the trawler are standing there going, “Come on.” There’s no gang plank. It’s just churning water underneath you a meter long. You have to jump. I’ve never felt so urban in my life. I was like, Oh G-d! I’m so afraid.
They had to hold my hand. I jumped onto the trawler. And then once I was on the trawler I was taking photographs. I was going, This is so amazing. It’s so cinematic and it’s so beautiful. I felt slightly better about it because the two quite mature blokes who are producing both stayed on the jetty going, “It’s fine. We don’t need to go on. It’s fine.” (Laughs) They were too afraid to actually step on.
Hermione Corfield: That sounds terrifying though.
Neasa Hardiman: It was actually really scary the first time. But that day—when I was looking around the trawler going, this is amazing and it’s going to be really beautiful on camera—I also thought this is the most dangerous place I’ve ever chosen to film because not only are you on water and have to jump on, and the deck is either wood or iron. In the wet, it’s so slippy. But also, you’re walking along the deck and there’s a massive great big hole that falls 20 feet down to the deck below. No guardrails, no nothing, no yellow tape, it’s just there. And I’m thinking, me and the DP and the actors are going to be so into it that we’re going to be like (inaudible). I could really see something terrible happening. I was really concerned about that. We were blessed on the days that we were filming because the weather was really calm, which isn’t always the case in Ireland. Even at that, there was one night we were filming and we had to cut filming short and send the actors home because they couldn’t get onto the boat. There’s the jetty and the boat’s doing this on water and it was raining. We had built a gangplank to get the equipment on and off and get the actors on and off. The gangplank was doing this and it was wet and slippy. I was like, someone’s going to die if we do this—someone is going to get hurt. We had to cut filming. It was really dangerous. That was the most challenging thing—to get that material in a way that that was safe for everybody. That was tricky.