From the icy waters of Alaska came a real-life story of human and animal scale that inspired the latest film from director Ken Kwapis and his ensemble cast of Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Dermot Mulroney, and Vinessa Shaw. Buzzine’s Emmanuel Itier sat down with the cast to discuss the challenge of shooting in such extreme conditions, of portraying real-life characters, and the environmental message carried in The Big Miracle.
Drew Barrymore & John Krasinski
Emmanuel Itier: How daunting was it to play into a story based on a real event? Did you meet the real people? Tell me about that, and the challenge also to shoot in Alaska.
Drew Barrymore: I did meet the woman I play, Cindy Lowry, and I spent a lot of time with her. She’s just an extraordinary woman and really like a cool customer, and incredibly intelligent about the things that she cares about, but very funny and feisty. And she just has a wicked personality, and I really respected her and got along with her so well. So it was great to have that familiarity and be able to ask so many questions to her about exactly how it really was in 1988.
John Krasinski: Yeah, and I think doing a movie that is based in reality is daunting, but at the same time incredibly exciting, because nowadays I don’t think you can write a script that’s as moving as this one can be, as far as something that’s so sweet and uplifting, but at the same time has a real message. And I think a lot of people try to make movies like that, and the fact that this is real is sort of incredible and unbelievable a lot of the time. I remember saying to the director, “We might have to pull back on some of these plotlines because people aren’t gonna believe that it’s true,” and to find out that they are all true is so incredibly inspiring because I think that level of communication and that coming together for one purpose is something that we could use a lot more of today.
DB: Yeah, when you see all the news footage, just to see the beginning and middle and escalation of everything, just the world’s attention being on it, and it’s all that real news footage – it’s just kind of an amazing connective thread to all these extraordinary things that happened.
EI: What is the message of this movie for you, and what can we learn from the whales?
JK: For me, I think it’s just such a truly awesome thing that something seemingly insignificant thing, like three whales being trapped in the ice, became such a representation of so much more, which is the ability to come together and make a huge difference, and that when you focus the media attention and our country’s attention on one thing, or the world’s attention on one thing, truly anything can get done, including just the physical aspect of it – building all those holes to go to the ocean is…I think almost technically impossible [laughs], so the fact that all these people got together and did it is such an inspiring thing of how much can get done when you have a group of people believing in one thing.
DB: And yet people who didn’t agree with each other, who fundamentally opposed each other’s beliefs and lifestyles and agendas, and yet they were able to put it aside for something, to work together. So how wonderful is that?
EI: Is there a scene that’s going to stay with you? Especially maybe shooting in Alaska in these conditions with these real people on top of that?
JK: Absolutely. I think a lot of scenes will stick with me. Weirdly, you going into the hole will stick with me. That was really tough to watch because it was so cold, and no matter how many preparations they took for you, it was terrifying to see you go underwater and come back out.
DB: [Laughs] I just liked being on the ice flow. When it would snow, it really felt like we were working inside of a snow globe.
Dermot Mulroney & Vinessa Shaw
Emmanuel Itier: From the wolf to the whale, what’s next? Women?
Dermot Mulroney: I don’t know. Probably walrus, I guess. A northern mammal that starts with a W… We’re running out. I had this movie The Grey come out today, and it also takes place in Alaska. I went from this to that, so that’s what he’s referring to.
Vinessa Shaw: Oh, I remember now.
DM: Coincidentally, I have two films being released around the same time – both of which are really good, though, so I’m happy about that.
EI: How was it shooting over there in Alaska?
VS: It was great. The Alaskan people are so caring and nurturing and really want you to enjoy yourselves, and always asking how you enjoy it, because this was the first time that anyone had shot a film there, and actually, most of the extras were people that were from Alaska and would share their stories about what it’s like to live there, and they took a day off work to be in the movie, so we got to experience mostly Alaskan culture just by being on set, so I thought it was an amazing, interesting, enlightening experience.
EI: Was it daunting to portray real people? Did you meet them?
DM: Sadly, the guy that I played died a couple years after the events in this film, so our one resource to flesh out these roles was the part that Vinessa played.
VS: Yes, and her name is Bonnie (Carroll), and she was incredible. She shared her whole life story about what it was like working in the White House, and all the way up to meeting Tom (Carroll), who is played by Dermot. And actually, what she did subsequently after his death, and turning all her darkness into creating a foundation for others who have lost someone in the military. So she’s an incredible woman and was a technical advisor on the set, and brought her little trinkets from the White House. She had a jellybean jar to put on Reagan’s desk. There’s just a lot of things she contributed to the little moments in the movie, including my fur hat and Prada jacket. [Laughs]
EI: What is this movie truly about for you, and what can we learn from the whales, as human beings?
DM: One of the things I like about this movie is how you get a sense, after watching it, that you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it. And in our story, what happens is all these different groups or these people from different points of view – a Greenpeace person facing off with the guy who wants to drill for oil, and all these people who wouldn’t ordinarily be in the same room, all put their differences aside and succeed. So I know what’s intended for the audience to take away from this is that any difficulty, you can have hope and you can pull it through.
VS: And I think Drew’s speech when she’s in that scene with John Krasinski where she’s being filmed to really speak to the public, to the world, and he tells her to be real about it, and she starts describing what it’s like to help the whales, and perhaps what’s awakened in her and others is the vulnerability. And what I think is in a moment when you’re trapped and you have nowhere to go, and you maybe just have this one breathing hole in life, will people come and save you? That kind of sincere moment is what I think the whales bring to the magic of this movie. So I think that’s what we all could gather from it.
Universal Pictures' 'Big Miracle' is released in theaters on February 3, 2012.