The inspiring drama Soul Surfer tells the true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), who lost her arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again. What could have been a devastating lose for her and her family quickly became a headline-making story. Through determination and faith, Bethany refused to allow the life-changing event that took her arm also take her dream of becoming a professional surfer and, with the love and support of her parents (played by Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid), she discovered that she could make a difference in the lives of others, all over the world.
At the film’s press day, actress AnnaSophia Robb did this exclusive interview with Collider, in which she talked about the pressure of playing someone who actually requested you for the role, overcoming her own fear of sharks, falling in love with surfing and the ocean, and how becoming friends with Bethany has given her a new perspective on life. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
ANNASOPHIA ROBB: I was really young when it happened, but I knew her story. I don’t really think there’s a person in America who doesn’t. But, her poster for The Foundation for a Better Life was in the Denver airport, so anytime I would come in or out of town, I would see her face. It’s so crazy that I’m here, now. I definitely knew her story.
Did they approach you about doing the role?
ROBB: My agent brought me the script and I was so excited about it. I was really fascinated by the character and thought it would be really challenging. I was curious about how you would feel if you lost your arm. Would you be angry at God? How would it affect your relationship with your parents? What kept her on the board? I was curious about all that stuff. Obviously, it’s a beautiful story of faith, determination and family. And then, when I met with Sean [McNamara], our director, he said, “You know, Bethany and her mom recommended you for the role.” I was like, “No way!” So, of course, I said, “Yes, I’m doing this. I’m in!”
Is it more nerve-wracking to find out that the person you’re going to be playing personally wants you in the role, or does it make you want to work that much harder to get it right?
ROBB: It wasn’t nerve-wracking. It made me want to try harder. I was just so excited about it. I didn’t know that she actually knew who I was. That was cool. I put more pressure on myself, just because she’s become one of my good friends and I wanted to tell her story the way she wanted it to be told. I wanted to portray her as honestly as possible.
ROBB: We didn’t really work together. She was like, “You do your acting thing.” But, if I had any questions, she would always answer them honestly and was always so good. I’d text her or call her, if I had a question. The Hamiltons were really involved on set and with the entire project, from the very first draft and the conception of the film to promoting it. The main thing I realized was Bethany’s love for the ocean. That’s her heart. That’s what she’s about. That’s why she still surfs today, and that’s why she got back up on the board. Through my surf training, surfing with her, and just being in that culture and environment, I really fell in love with surfing and fell in love with the ocean. That’s the key to Bethany.
Was there anything that most impressed you or surprised you about her, when you got to know her?
ROBB: She surprises me every day, honestly. Now it seems normal because that’s just Bethany, but I’ve never met anyone like her before. She’s such a strong woman. She’s a do-it-yourself girl, and she doesn’t wait for anybody to make plans for her. Everything is no big deal. She surfs with one arm. Whatever. Down-to-earth sounds so cliche, but she’s just a Hawaii girl. All this stuff doesn’t phase her. She didn’t even know who Johnny Depp was. She’s just like, “All I want to do is surf.”
What physical training did you have to do for this, not just with learning how to surf, but also so that you looked like a surfer?
ROBB: I did two weeks in Colorado. I didn’t surf there, obviously, but I swam a lot, did breath-holding exercises, did core strengthening, worked on balance and pop-ups. And then, once I got to Hawaii, I trained for about six weeks. I’d surf for about two hours every day, and then do on-land training. There was a lot of paddling in the ocean. That was tiring, but so worth it. And then, I changed my diet to eat more protein and gain some muscle.
ROBB: Surfing is so much work. It’s one of those things that I just love, but it’s so hard. I make a fool out of myself, every time I go out there.
Was it difficult to get out in the water, knowing that there are sharks out there?
ROBB: I have a huge fear of sharks, but I had to get over it. My love for surfing outweighs my fear of sharks, and that’s obviously true for Bethany and most surfers. There are more people who get struck by lightning than there are shark attacks. I think it’s just this fear that is ingrained in our culture because of Jaws. It’s also this fear of the unknown. It’s a fantastic metaphor for life, truly. But, Bethany just told me to not look down, so I try not to.
Was it an adjustment to get used to working with the use of only one arm?
ROBB: Well, I had my arm behind my back, so there were a couple times that I was tempted to reach out for something, and then I had to remember [that I couldn’t]. There are a lot of things that you can’t really do, like tying your bathing suit, carrying bags out to the car, or opening a bottle of water, which Bethany does. She just does it all. She does more with her one arm than I do with my two.
What was your first reaction when you saw what you looked like with just one arm?
ROBB: I was so pumped. They did such a good job. I was a little worried about that. I didn’t think about it, but then, when I went to see the film, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, what if it’s super-distracting and awful-looking, and doesn’t look real at all?” But, it looks real. It looks just like Bethany’s stumpy. I don’t even pay attention to it anymore. I forget that she doesn’t have an arm there because I’m just used to seeing her. It didn’t really even phase me, once I saw it. It just looked normal. It was crazy to see me, when they roll me on top of the board without one arm.
ROBB: It was amazing! I would go back there in a heartbeat. It’s so beautiful, and the culture is so different. It’s so much slower and more peaceful. I’m a very A-type personality, and it slowed me down. It was nice.
What was it like to find out that Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid would be playing your parents?
ROBB: It was the best! They made the movie so much better. Their performances just put it a bar above. Doing scenes with them was always such a pleasure and such a learning experience for me.
What was it like to work with Carrie Underwood?
ROBB: She’s so wonderful. She came onto the film, having never acted before, and it was the very first week of shooting, so we weren’t in a routine yet. I was trying to figure everything out and stressing. She just showed up and did her job very well. I was very pleased with her work. She was so wonderful on set, so kind and so gracious. I think she did a fantastic job.
ROBB: What it’s really taught me is to have perspective on things, with challenges or difficulties, or things that don’t necessarily go the way that I plan them. They say, “When man makes plans, God laughs.” It’s that sort of mentality, where there’s a plan for my life and I just have to take life day by day.
What is the beauty of surfing?
ROBB: I didn’t really understand it before, at all. Surfing is something I just crave. I wish I was out there right now, even if I’m just sitting on a board. It’s one thing where you just forget about everything else that’s going on, on land. You’re unreachable. You’re untouched. You’re out in this place made by God. You have to be really in the moment because you have to be aware of the waves that are behind you and in front of you. You have to be aware of where your position is. Your main goal is to catch a wave. You have to look for the perfect wave and, once you catch that, it’s just this exhilarating feeling of freedom. Something bigger than yourself is surging and you’re just pushing through. It’s just a beautiful thing.
Are you working on anything now?
ROBB: I’m in school. I’m a junior.