Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Former competitive diver Jason Statham leapt into a new career—acting—20 years ago when he was spotted by filmmaker Guy Ritchie who cast him in his action-packed crime caper “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” Statham had a scrappy, rough-and-tumble charisma that propelled him into becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars (the “Transporter” movies, “Spy,” and some of the “Fast and Furious” films). The 51-year-old Brit now stars alongside rising female action star Ruby Rose (xXx: Return of Xander Cage”) in the summer science-fiction action thriller “The Meg.”
Statham plays expert deep sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor who is recruited by a Chinese oceanographer to save the crew of a stranded sub that has been lodged on one of the deepest trenches of the Pacific after being attacked by a giant shark known as a Megalodon. This isn’t your average Great White, but a 75-foot long monster considered the biggest and most dangerous underwater predator in the world. This also isn’t Taylor’s first encounter with the terrifying creature and he is initially reluctant to return. With a limited amount of time to enter the depths of the dangerous waters to rescue the submersible’s crew before they drown or are destroyed by the sea creature, he must face his fears and risk his life to save those trapped below. Later, with the monster on the loose near a beach crowded with swimmers, Taylor must do what he can to stop it permanently. The action-packed thriller also stars Chinese actress Li Bingbing, Cliff Curtis (“Fear the Walking Dead”), Rainn Wilson (“The Office”), Winston Chao (“Skiptrace”), Page Kelly and Jessica McNamee. Jon Turteltaub directs from a script by Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber, based on the Steven Alten novel “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror.”
They recently spoke about making the action-packed film which was shot on and off the coast of New Zealand.
Q: Jason, you were an experienced diver before you signed on to this. Did you have to undergo additional training?
Statham: We had a couple of free divers that were there on set that were helping us with the technique of being able to relax and retain your breath.
Q: What’s the longest you’ve held your breath under water?
Statham: Three minutes. It’s not that hard. Pretty much anyone can do it. Some people do seven or eight minutes, very easily. You can actually hold your breath longer underwater than you can on the surface. There’s a reflex that takes you back to being in the womb. There’s a certain thing that happens to you physiologically when you go under the water. You become more relaxed, obviously, if your brain can be channeled in that direction. People go 600 or 700 feet down on one breath of air. The sport of free diving is a phenomenal sport. If you look into it with any sort of interest you’ll be shocked and awed by these people who can do things with just a single breath of air. There are different techniques, like getting dragged down by a sledge. They go 600 feet (down), plus. There was one guy called Herbert Nitsch who went 210 meters on a single breath of air. It’s phenomenal. It’s over 600 feet.
Q: Ruby, what were some of the special techniques you had to learn for the film?
Rose: We had an obstacle course. There was all this stuff in the pool. We had to maneuver around cans.
Q: How was it wearing boots in the water? Did they kind of weigh you down?
Rose: I loved those boots! They had little holes in them which was kind of cool but not because they actually fill up with water. So, every time I took my boots off, there was like a whole liter of water in there. I was like, “That’s why this is so hard.” I’m already a fairly strong-ish swimmer but it does make difference when you have clothes on and a wetsuit underneath and shoes full of water.
For me, the diving training was the trickiest because I have a mild fear of heights. We started on the smaller dives. I don’t remember what the height was, but we had to get up to the highest one and that one was kind of terrifying. I liked it in the ocean, but in the pool (during training) I felt like I was going to hit the bottom.
Q: Why are you afraid of heights?
Rose: It was just because of the pool and knowing it had a bottom, even though I knew I wasn’t going to hit the bottom of the pool. In the ocean both Jason and I would say to John, “We want to do it in the ocean, not in the tank,” and John was like (makes growling sound), “Because New Zealand has such unpredictable weather. We could go out in the boats and have terrible weather and not be able to shoot the scene. But we felt that in the ocean, we could run and jump at any speed and know that nothing’s going to happen. And, of course, one of the days we insisted on going in the ocean there was this family of dolphins that just would not go away. They were doing this amazing display of jumping out of the water and being just so beautiful, which is great. And I said to John, “Isn’t this amazing?” and he said, “No! We can’t have dolphins in the shot because if there were dolphins, we couldn’t have a Megalodon,” and I was like, “Oh yeah. Good point.”
Q: In real life, which character in this film would you actually be?
Rose: I felt like it was cast really well. The casting choices were pretty spot on. (My character) is so nurturing, especially with the kid. I loved that kid.
Q: Jason, your character at the outset is in the Philippines, just hiding out and doing nothing— just drinking, yet you have those amazing abs, so what beer are you drinking?
Statham: It’s protein beer! (He laughs.) A beer belly is in the eye of the beholder. I’m partial to a pint of beer being from the UK. We just can’t bring them out on set. We bring them out in these shark-shaped cups.
Q: Of all the scenes you filmed, what took the longest?
Statham: The shark cage took a while.
Q: Have you ever gone shark diving and have you ever been afraid in the ocean for any reason?
Statham: Anybody who’s been in the open water and fallen off a boat, the immediate thing that comes to mind is “am I going to get eaten by a shark?” I would say that most people that fall out in the ocean—if they fall off a boat or a catamaran or something—there’s a quick scuttling to get back on the boat in case their feet get bitten or something. I think there’s a big fear of sharks. They get a bad rep for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong reasons. They are the biggest apex predator in the ocean—the Great White, particularly. There is a fear because you don’t know what’s down there. The fear comes from not knowing what’s underneath you. That is where people get frightened. The potential Great White is always looming. That puts the fear of God on anyone who’s in the massive open sea.
And I have been shark-diving. I went diving with 30 bull sharks in Fiji, which was a couple of hours away by plane from New Zealand, where we were filming at the time. They hand-feed these bull sharks and they hand-chum the water. They pull out these big tuna heads. It’s one of the most fascinating places I’ve taken myself to. It was mind-blowing and exhilarating at the same time. All the fear took place on the boat before we went down. Once we were down in the water with the sharks, there was this amazing sort of peacefulness you get. I was just in awe of the whole experience. It’s just amazing to do. If anyone gets the chance to do it, I highly recommend it. It’s just beyond your imagination.
Rose: My first thought if I fall off or jump off a boat isn’t “could it be an octopus or a shark.” My thought is if the human (at the wheel)—and I’m more scared of humans—drives off without me I’m going to be in a lot of trouble. I’m more concerned that the other person in the boat isn’t going to realize I’m in the water than a shark. I guess I have trust issues.
Statham: That’s survival instinct: you’re either going to drown or get eaten. You can toy with both of those things.
Q: Ruby, do you have a legitimate fear of the ocean?
Rose: No. I’m from Australia.I love sharks and I love the ocean. I’ve swum with sharks many times.