By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD— “Cutthroat Island” is widely regarded as one of the biggest box office flops of all time. But it also could have had a more sinister reputation had a flying prop killed star Matthew Modine.
The actor sustained a head injury while making Renny Harlin’s 1995 swashbuckler with actress Geena Davis. After recovering from slicing open the back of his head during one scene, he got hit in the same spot by a flying whiskey barrel later during the film’s production. The second accident nearly convinced the actor to walk off the set. (He remained, though he wasn’t too happy about the stunts gone wrong.) Modine, 58, recalled his brush with death while promoting another high seas adventure, “47 Meters Down,” in which he didn’t get injured.
The Southern California native, who’s been diving since he was a teenager, helped keep everything safe for the actors on the set of adventure drama, which tells the story of two twentysomething sisters who go on a Mexican holiday together and wind up on a deadly shark diving excursion. Modine plays the boat’s captain, who does what he can to rescue the women who get trapped at the bottom of the ocean floor in a shark cage (47 meters is approximately 150 feet). The action-packed movie swims into theaters just as the summer moviegoing season shifts into high gear. Unlike “Jaws” and previous shark-as-predator films, the real villain in the tense, action-packed underwater adventure is the series of bad decisions made by the human characters. The film stars Mandy Moore (star of the hit NBC drama “This is Us”) and Claire Holt (who stars on the CW supernatural series “The Originals”). British filmmaker Johannes Roberts (“The Other Side of the Door”) directs the film which he co-wrote with Ernest Riera.
A noted environmental activist, Modine says the movie isn’t meant to demonize sharks, explaining that human error not the creatures of the deep create the crisis presented in “47 Meters Down.”
Q: You play a maverick boat captain who agrees to take these young women on a shark sighting expedition. What was your research in playing Captain Taylor?
Modine: I started scuba diving when I was 14 or 15 years old in San Diego. I wanted to be an oceanographer. I studied oceanography. I wanted to be like Jacques Cousteau. I’m really excited to be working on a collaboration with a woman named Sylvia Earle who is probably the preeminent marine biologists in the world today. She’s doing something really wonderful creating Hope Spots. There was an article on the front page of the New York Times a few weeks ago that talked about how 90 percent of the world’s fish stocks are gone. What they say is happening today is the equivalent and going into people’s homes and taking their children. We’re killing future generations of fish. There are not going to be fish to reproduce to fill those fish stocks. There are over 100 million sharks killed every year for their fins to make soup. The shark is an incredibly important part of the ecosystem of the ocean. To be killing fish at the rate that we are, we’re inevitably going to kill ourselves.
You could take all the fish out of the ocean and, to us, the ocean would appear to be exactly the same because we look at the surface. We don’t think about what’s going on deep below the surface of the ocean. So we have to become conscious of those creatures that we share this world with. What Sylvia Earl is doing by creating Hope Spots around the world in different places, she’s giving fish a fighting chance to be able to reproduce. There’s a Chinese proverb: we don’t plant trees for ourselves, we plant them for our grandchildren.
Q: One of your co-stars said you really helped out on set in terms of safety because you’re familiar with diving.
Modine: I’ve been knocked out twice on film sets. I’ve probably had 100 stitches from things happening on film sets. I wish they had been good movies where I could say it was worth it.
Q: Did you get injured while making this film?
Modine: No, but movie sets can be dangerous places. On “Cutthroat Island” I got hit by a nail. It was attached to a board and I’m on camera screaming to (co-star) Geena Davis, “Morgan!” There had these water guns that were shooting and it caught one of these boards that had a 16-penny nail. It was coming right at my temple, but at the last minute I turned and it scraped across the back of my head. It opened up the back of my head and I had to get stitches. And the day I got my stitches out, we were filming a scene where we were jumping from a balcony into the back of a wagon and there was this funnel-like device that had an explosive attached that was filled with cork. When Geena and I jumped out of the wagon, the wagon exploded. But when we jumped from the balcony what happened is one of the whiskey barrels that was on it rolled on top of this explosive and it became a projectile. So when the explosive detonated, the whiskey barrel went flying and it’s like chasing me, and it came down and hit me right in the back of my head where I had just had the stitches taken out. I was barefoot in my shitty costume. I knew I had to get out of the frame and as soon as I was out of the frame, I threw my sword down and screamed, “I don’t want to play anymore! I want to go home!” There I am with no shoes on, running through flames.
Q: What was it about “47 Meters Down” that attracted you to it?
Modine: It was a terrific horror movie without supernatural elements. I was speaking with someone from China who told me they don’t make horror films there because if there are supernatural elements then it is forbidden. Culturally, it’s forbidden because of spiritual aspects. So this was a horror movie without that supernatural aspects. It’s a horror film about something that could happen, that might happen, that does happen.
Q: Have you ever been in a situation where you were reluctant to do something risky, but a close friend or family member persuaded you to do it?
Modine: My wife (Caridad Rivera) talked me into jumping out of an airplane for a television program. It was something she wanted to do. I said, “I don’t have any interest in jumping out of an airplane. We did a tandem jump. I did four tandems and then my solo. On my solo jump my parachute did not open.
When I was getting ready to do my solo jump, the guy that was coaching me talked about all the things that could go wrong. He said, “if the parachute doesn’t open, you reach up and grab those handles and you pump and you pump and you pump!” This guy was looking at me so hard that I feel like he packed my parachute badly because he knew it was going to happen. I was thinking, “That guy tried to kill me!”
I was falling 122 feet a second and the earth was racing toward me and so I pumped and pumped and pumped. Finally, it opened and when I got on the ground I kissed the ground. I can’t watch any kind of program now where someone’s jumping out of a plane without feeling a lump in my throat. It makes me physically sick. I get dizzy. It’s horrible.
Q: You didn’t blame your wife, right?
Modine: (laughing) Yeah, I did.
Q: The sharks aren’t the real predators in this. It’s the mistakes made by the people on the boat that leads to their predicament.
Modine: What do you expect to happen when you dump a bunch of blood in the water (chum) and then put humans in the water? This is what David Letterman used to call “Stupid Human Tricks.”
Q: What’s next for you?
Modine: “Soldado,” the sequel to (the acclaimed 2015 crime thriller) “Sicario.” It will be equally as good and probably better. I saw about 15 minutes of it when we were filming. They cut together a piece as we were breaking for Christmas. And it’s just beautiful and terrifying. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin and Catherine Keener are at the top of their game. I was really excited to participate in the film.
I’m leaving next week to go do a film with John Travolta, where I’m going to play George Herbert Walker Bush. It’s a movie about the making of the cigarette boats. Don Aranow invented these really fast boats. They became boats that were used by drug smugglers. Bush bought a bunch of them for the U.S. government to combat the drug runners. So I’m working on my George H.W. Bush imitation without sounding like Dana Carvey.
Q: “47 Meters Down” could be the “Jaws” of 2017.
Modine: From your mouth to God’s ear. But this is different from “Jaws.” Peter Benchley’s book is the first big, thick book that I read when I was little. The shark seemed to be something more than simply a shark. It was a different kind of monster than Frankenstein or Dracula. It was something deeply primordial—the fear that the shark provided in the book. In the film, the shark almost has a consciousness. It wants “that boat” and the people on “that boat,” to get them. It wants to get Robert Shaw and swallow him. This film doesn’t have that. The real predator in the movie is man. It’s the stupidity of humans going out and behaving stupidly out in the open sea.