By RUBEN DIAZ
Things go haywire for two couples on a sightseeing trip in GREAT WHITE, the new character-driven shark film from director Martin Wilson. Kaz Fellows (Katrina Bowden) is a nurse who also works with her boyfriend, Charlie (Aaron Jakubenko), in their tourist business, flying people around in a seaplane offering unmatched views of the tropical paradise. When another couple, Joji “Joe” Minase Kimie (Tim Kano) and his wife Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi), show up looking to put the past to rest by visiting the site of a tragedy, history repeats itself as the group is attacked by a vicious great white shark. As chaos and panic grip the foursome, they must work together to survive or risk becoming shark food. Rue Morgue checked in with Bowden, Jakubenko, and director Martin Wilson to discuss the film.
How early on did the showbiz bug bite?
KB: I started modeling when I was a teenager and taking acting classes at the same time. I lived in New Jersey, so I’d go into New York City for acting classes and modeling jobs. After that, I started booking TV commercials. One thing lead to another, but I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a performer. I’ve always been a little bit of a ham in front of the camera. I was booking small jobs, [but] when 30 Rock came around when I was 17, that opened a lot of doors for me.
MW: You get bitten by the bug, and it keeps gnawing away. You can’t refuse the call to adventure. I loved movies as a kid; The Thing, Alien, Aliens, and Jaws. Jaws is an unbeatable classic. Everything Spielberg did or John Carpenter. You start thinking, “Maybe I should do accounting,” but filmmaking just pulls you away. You make stuff with friends, then more things, and I ultimately got into making TV commercials.
AJ: I love building and construction. I’m in the process of renovating a house as we speak. But I fractured my back when I was 18, so I had to rest for a while. So, I got into background work, and that’s sort of where it started. I was interested in film, but I still didn’t want to be an actor. But I started falling in love with the craft.
How did you get involved with GREAT WHITE?
AJ: It was an audition like any other project. I was in Rhode Island, it was freezing cold, so the idea of this summer beach film was enticing. I spoke to Marty, and he had a very clear vision of what he wanted. He’s very passionate about storytelling and filmmaking. He wanted GREAT WHITE to be a character piece. As an actor, running from a killer shark is fun, but getting to play that human in this situation is what got me on board.
MW: I’ve always been chipping away at getting a feature done. I got close several times and produced shorts. Finally, the planets aligned, and we got GREAT WHITE. It started with a phone call from producers Neal Kingston and Michael Robertson, who’d known me for years. GREAT WHITE resonated with them. Michael Boughen wrote a great script. The pieces came together!
KB: I was sent the script for it. I love genre films, horror, and thrillers. I’ve never done a shark movie, and I’ve always been equal parts fascinated and terrified by sharks. So I read the script and knew I had to do it. It’s a thrilling shark movie but also so character-driven and has great tense, quiet moments.
What’s it like filming in and around the water?
KB: We would hold our breath underwater and use oxygen tanks, but of course, when you’re holding your breath, you tend to float up, so we had weights tied to our feet in some of the shots so we wouldn’t float to the top.
MW: The saying goes, “Don’t work with children or animals,” but no one ever says “Don’t work on the water.” It’s tough. When you’re out in the elements, you can’t control the weather. You’ve got tides, crazy winds, the brutal sun in Australia, plus the stingers and jellyfish in the water. You’ve got actors in the water and all these other elements. Those things can suck time away. But just when you thought you were safe by going into a tank, now you’re in more claustrophobic environments where people are holding their breaths, and it’s still difficult to communicate.
AJ: We had an incredible prop team and an animatronic shark. It was on a trolley, and it would shoot six or seven feet forward. Its jaw would project. I may have taken too many selfies with the shark. But it was fun having that to work with. It made our jobs a lot easier, that’s for sure.
KB: We did a lot of physical training, scuba training, breath-hold training, and we worked closely with our stunt team. We did a lot of our stunts when we could. It was a physically taxing kind of shoot, especially with all the work underwater. We had an incredible stunt team that had a lot of fun on set. We had mechanical sharks, and the one we used the most was named Brenda. Aaron had the most fun on the shark, having to ride it and get thrashed around.
Who is Kaz Fellows?
KB: When Marty and I first chatted about Kaz, I was so impressed by the work he’d done on these characters. He had these character books with their backstory, which some directors do, but I hadn’t seen one do it quite as he did. But it stood out just how important the characters were in this film. We wanted Kaz to be super-strong and very classically feminine at the same time, soft yet strong. That was an essential part of the character. Kaz was also a triage nurse, so I wanted to know what that whole world was like. How would someone react in this situation, having seen what they see in that sort of job?
Who is Charlie Brody?
AJ: Marty loves classic leading men. We’re both big Paul Newman fans. There’s something about these classic men trapped in this idea of masculinity where they’re not good at communicating. So now they’ve got to survive on this raft without ripping people’s heads off. It makes it interesting; Charlie’s this person who’s totally out of his depth, who’s usually this carefree, salt of the earth type guy who has to either step up or crumble. This story shows this in each person. First, the character of Joji “Joe” Minase, the things he’s arguing about, he’s genuine in making those arguments. Then you’ve got Kaz; she leads it in so many heroic moments, but then she’s got these feminine communication skills where she’s become this fantastic figure on that ship.
GREAT WHITE is available In Theaters, On Demand, and Digital on July 16th, 2021.