Look, they told me I couldn’t ask about Spider-Man.
I hope you’ll find this chat with Tom Holland and Cillian Murphy, about their new movie In The Heart Of The Sea, interesting and fulfilling. Just, there’s nothing about Spider-Man, okay?
Doing the press rounds to promote Ron Howard’s new movie based on the story that inspired the classic novel Moby Dick, the two actors were kind enough to spare Den of Geek some time to have a chat with us about the film.
Here’s how it went.
What I noticed about your performances, and perhaps naively this wasn’t something I’d expected going in to In The Heart Of The Sea, was that they were so physical. When you come onto a film like this are you conscious of how physically demanding it’s gonna be?
Cillian Murphy: I think we both had a sense of it from the script, but when we spoke to Ron, when everyone spoke to Ron, he warned them in advance; “This is gonna be challenging for everybody and we want to do as much of it as ‘for real’ as possible. So, just be forewarned.” Which is great. I love to hear that.
Tom Holland: I was in the same boat as Cillian, really. The script obviously depicted an incredibly tough event, but Ron spoke to me and told me he wanted to make an authentic piece, a realistic film, and it was gonna have to be done for real. Like Cillian said, I love that, because it’s always nice to be challenged.
Was there any particular preparation you went through to make sure you didn’t batter yourselves unconscious and you were still going at the end of the day?
TH: Yeah, we had to go through a huge physical preparation. We went to a sailing school and we learned to sail. That doesn’t mean we could actually sail a ship like that, but we learned how to tie a few knots and learnt a few names of sails and stuff. We read a lot of books and got into shape before we started shooting. There was a large amount of prep.
Now, I’m not very bright, so I saw all of these big sweeping shots of the boat in clear ocean for as far as the eye can see, and so I just assumed you spent months out at sea. But I then I remembered modern filmmaking. So when you’re doing these big action sequences set in the middle of the ocean, where are you, and what’s a day like?
CM: We did spend months out in the middle of the ocean. The vast majority of the stuff on The Essex was shot off the coast of the Canary Islands. Some of the other sequences, like the storm sequence and leaving Nantucket, that was filmed in a tank. But the majority of it was out in the ocean.
Okay, so I am definitely thick, just thick for a different reason. So, how does a day go when you’re shooting out there?
TH: It’s very long. It’s a very long day. When we were on The Essex, we would get there on land, then get aboard and go out for 6 hours and then turn around and come back. But when we were on the row boats, once you were on them that was kind of it for the day, really. Even when they weren’t filming on you you’d just drift off and then when they needed you they’d go out and get you and you’d do your stuff. It was relentless really, there were no breaks and it was constant throughout the day.
Was there any discomfort from the shoot? Because anything where you’re working hard and there’s water, that sucks.
CM: Yeah, any time you do anything on the ocean, as you said, it gets way more complicated, for everybody. And you’re constantly damp. Anytime you’re trying to do make-up checks, or get in focus, it just becomes very, very difficult. Then, the unpredictability of the sea. It can change in an instant, so it’s very tricky. I think the amount of filming that we did was very limited, the amount of minutes that you get is very, very limited, which is frustrating.
For a film that is effects heavy like this, what’s the effect of finally seeing the finished film? Is there a sense of detachment from what it will be, or do you have a solid idea of what it will look like?
TH: I think, it’s one of the great things about Ron, is I feel like he knew exactly what the finished product was gonna look like. Whenever you had a question about the whale or about the sea, he knew what you were going to be seeing so he’d be able to go into a huge amount of detail. So we had an idea of what it would look like, we had renderings of the whale we could look at before the day’s work.
So we knew what it was gonna look like but we didn’t know what the experience of watching the film would feel like. And it was pretty overwhelming. For me, it felt like I wasn’t in this film, because it looked so different to how I remembered. It was nice as an actor to just disconnect and enjoy it.
Let me ask you (to Tom), you were in a whale. How was… was it bad?
TH: Oh, it was awful. It was really awful. It was obviously a huge prosthetic whale and it was very realistic and it didn’t smell particularly well and I was covered in lube. It was not my most heroic moment on set. But there was very little acting required.
(To Cillian) And on a day like that, you’re presumably glad you don’t have to get in the whale.
CM: Yes. Yes, definitely. But everyone went through stages of discomfort for this.
What was the hardest thing you had to do?
CM: I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to pick out one thing in particular scene or incident, but it was just the cumulative effect of being hungry, out on the ocean, away from home for prolonged periods. And trying to make that physical transformation, that was an ongoing battle with yourself.
I did have a question about that. Did you all do the Christian Bale Machinist diet, or was there CG involved? How did you do it?
CM: No, we did it for real, yeah. We just didn’t eat, really. We just ate very little, very infrequently.
TH: It was the lost at sea diet, is what we called it.
So you spent a long time out at sea, constantly wet, climbing into whale, not eating. That sounds rough.
CM: Yeah, but when you’re doing it for Ron Howard, for you Ron, we’ll do it.
CM: You have to really trust in your director and believe in your director’s vision to go to those lengths.
TH: And, you know, this is a film about real people. This actually happened to real men. So we had a duty as actors to do justice to them. So whenever something was uncomfortable it felt like it was the right way to do it. I’m not saying I was looking for more ways to be uncomfortable, but we had a duty to do justice to those guys.
Was there anything in the script in particular that pulled you towards this project?
CM: It seemed to me like one of those old fashioned movies I would watch on a Sunday afternoon with my Dad. I remember watching Mutiny On The Bounty and being just blown away by it. I think reading the script, it had a similar appeal to me. It felt like it was old fashioned in the best way possible.
TH: It’s not just the script. When Ron Howard rings you up and says “I’d like you to do my film”, you do it. I mean, he’s Ron Howard. But for me, I was very interested in Thomas Nickerson and very interested to learn about what it is these men went through. I just knew it was going to be an amazing adventure, I knew it was something I was gonna be very proud of and I knew it was gonna be a challenge. I personally think if something’s not a challenge there’s no point doing it because you’re not gonna learn much. I knew this film was gonna teach me a lot.
So, we’ve talked about Ron Howard a little, and I’d like to come back to him. Was there anything unique he did, or something you hadn’t anticipated about working with him?
CM: I think every director has a different methodology. Ron is just a terrifically human person. He… that doesn’t make any sense. *laughs* He’s terrifically human. Like, he’s so warm and approachable. You’d do anything for him. He was an actor so he understands actors very very well. He can kind of predict what you’re gonna say and how you’re feeling. Not all directors have that. He enjoys the company of actors. Not all directors have that. So that was one thing that was unique about him.
He never lost it. All the way through these very difficult set ups, he was always together, calm and focused, and that percolates down to the cast and to the crew.
TH: I think, as a 16 year old boy, the privilege of working with him was just overwhelming. He brings such a great enthusiasm to set and his love of filmmaking is so apparent while he’s there. There’s never a moment where he doesn’t want to be there. No matter how hard the day is, he’s always happy or he’s always working. And you just trust him, because he’s learned so much throughout his career and has made so many brilliant movies that as an actor, you know you’re gonna be in a good one.
He’s had one of those careers where everyone knows him from something different. My mum knows him from Happy Days, all of my friends know him from The Simpsons and Arrested Development, and then he has this other bigger career directing all these films we’ve all seen.
CM: Yeah. I always think it’s a sign of a truly gifted director when they can move so seamlessly between genres. And he’s done that effortlessly over the years.
Another director I wanted to ask you about was Wes Craven. I was so gutted when he died this year. Cillian, you worked with him on Red Eye. How was that?
CM: It was great. It was a long time ago. He was amazing. What I thought was interesting about that film is it took all his set of peculiar skills, creating tension, and applied them to a dramatic thriller. He took what he learned in horror and I thought he applied it really well. He was a great loss.
And you’ve also both worked with Steven Knight. He’s terrific.
TH: He’s a brilliant guy. I love him.
You (Tom) had your voice in Locke, which is a brilliant film. How strange was that, because it was just your voice?
TH: Yeah, but it was all live, though. Basically, Tom (Hardy) would just drive around the M25, and you would be given a cue and you would have to ring him up and do the scene down then phone, and then hang up and go wait in this hotel room until your next scene came up. So it was kind of weird for us, but they would say action, and by the time they said cut we would have run the whole film. So it was kind of like doing a play.
So it was quite high pressure, then?
TH: Yeah, but you could always do it again, it wasn’t a one take thing. We did it three times a night over the course of five nights. So we would get our notes after every take and then apply them in the next take. It was a really amazing experience and I love the film. I think Tom’s brilliant in it and working with Steven was really cool.
And of course, you’re (Cillian) in Peaky Blinders, which is kind of a sensation at this point, right?
CM: People seem to like it, yeah. Steve’s writing at the moment is, he’s unstoppable I think. Not just the work he is doing with Peaky Blinders, but other material he has on the go. He’s just hit this, I think some writers hit this purple patch in their career where everything they do is just amazing, and he’s kind of in that at the moment.
But he’s been in it for a while, though. The first thing I remember seeing of his was Eastern Promises, and that’s terrific, and his Jason Statham film, Hummingbird, is really good, too.
TH: Hummingbird, yeah. That was a good film.
CM: Yeah, he’s definitely in it. I’ve not been directed by him. I’ve hung out with him a lot, obviously on Peaky Blinders. I’d love to be directed by him, actually, so maybe he’ll do an episode or two.
Maybe lean on him for one of his other projects.
CM: Haha. You can’t ever do that.
Finally, what is your favourite Jason Statham film?
TH: (straight in) Homefront.
Homefront is an awesome film.
TH: I watched it with my dad about six months ago and I thought ‘This is a pretty badass film’.
Yeah. Stallone wrote that one.
CM: Who wrote it?
CM: Oh, did he?
Yeah. It’s the one with the biker gang, the crystal meth dealers and James Franco, right?
Yeah. Stallone wrote it for himself, and then couldn’t do it so he gave it to Statham.
TH: Yeah, that’s a very good film. I enjoyed it a lot.
CM: I would say Hummingbird actually.
Thank you, Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland.
In The Heart Of The Sea is in UK cinemas now.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.