When the talent behind The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea gathered in a Lower Manhattan hotel, the sense of camaraderie amongst the filmmakers was implicit. While mounting a movie always seems to be both a grand and terrifying adventure for every artist, the creation of this particular film was something of an odyssey that had an impact on its stars Jason Suedikis, Maisie Williams, and Jessica Biel, the latter of whom also produced the film, as well as writer-director Bill Purple. Indeed, Purple and Biel especially extolled a sense of victory since they have been trying to make this picture for the last eight years.
“I found the script on the Black List in like 2008, and I immediately responded to it,” Purple said about the film’s earliest draft by Robbie Pickering. It was so impressive that he quickly took it to Biel and Michelle Purple, Bill’s wife and Biel’s producing partner. At once, all agreed they should make the film… which is only now enjoying its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend.
“I think Maisie was only 10 at the time, so we had to wait eight years and decided to make it then,” Purple quipped.
Sudeikis, showcasing his quick comedic timing, added, “So we didn’t have to pay for a tutor on the set.”
The serendipity of The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea unto itself complements the storybook tone of a film about modern loss. In the movie, Sudeikis plays Henry an unassuming architect who is perfectly content with the nest he is building with his wife Penny (Biel) and their unborn child. But after Penny dies in a car accident, a broken Henry is haunted by her memory—and the sudden desire to help a young, seemingly homeless girl wandering the neighborhood.
Millie (Williams) is trying to escape her own losses when Henry volunteers to aid her idiosyncratic quest: to build a raft durable enough to float across the sea. Where the raft would go seems immaterial beyond the desire to escape, which for a would-be father now displaced is exactly what Henry also wants to do.
In many ways, being able to tap into that paternal instinct, as well as the personal evolution he has found with his fiancée Olivia Wilde, is one thing that Sudeikis considers a benefit for the film’s long pre-production courtship.
“The initial introduction was through the script itself and a letter from Jesse [Biel], and yeah that was June 2009,” Sudeikis told me. “I remember very well getting it. I was in a hotel in LA for a very short gig, and even a gig I would say was primarily there to help pay the bills. And then this little marvel shows up here, and the initial thing was again, you know crying a couple times when reading the script because of the story, and what Henry was going through, and empathizing with that.”
Purple also pointed out the fortuitousness of the circumstances that predated Sudeikis finally starring in the part.
“So part of that process of getting it made is informing the story, and I think vice versa,” Purple said. “Like you having your own child and growing as a person informed all of that stuff.”
Absolutely agreeing, Sudeikis continued, “I would have been basing it on something totally different had it happened in, say, that summer. Like emotionally, I would have been pulling from things that I wasn’t pulling from being with the love of my life and having a child. Again, it all happens for a reason and that’s the perspective I have to take.”
The very nature of the film, and how it evolved over the years, Sudeikis aptly compares to working on live television like Saturday Night Live where there needs to be an organic process of discovery. This creative imperative apparently followed Devil all the way out to the literal deep blue sea where filming proved almost as challenging as crossing the Atlantic in a raft.
After the film’s budget was cut even right before production began, Purple and Biel decided to push ahead, with Purple comparing the experience to them all being inside a foxhole. And while Williams and Sudeikis were able to intellectually compartmentalize such problems, Biel’s first feature-length film as producer appeared to be a trial by fire.
Says Biel, “Because we had so little money, because we had so little time, because we hadn’t worked on—things were sort of getting shoved to the back of the plate, because we were just trying to make sure like these guys were flying in, and we weren’t going to lose all of our cash. We were on the way across the ocean, and we were like ‘Oh my God!’” Biel concluded, “We were sweating it,” along with a laugh that underscored the success and frustration of almost seeing the project swept out to sea.
For her part, Maisie Williams expresses pride on also boarding this voyage and seeing the film finally make port at the festival.
“I wasn’t aware of any of that,” Williams said. “The only thing I got was this [group] of 15 people were here because they wanted to be making this movie, and they were really passionate about it. And I think once the film has gone through so many years of trying to get made, I think the people who stay on and see it through to the end are the people who are really, really passionate about it. And that was all I got from it—that these guys were so into this story, and you can only feed of off that, really.”
Ultimately, what stands now is the film, which the director, actors, and the actor-producer clearly poured heart, energy, and finally now pride into releasing. They even got Justin Timberlake to compose his first film score for the picture. That is always a strong anchor.
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is playing at the Tribeca Film Festival now.