Sharks are the ultimate predators, who have inspired terror and fascination in humans for centuries, even inspiring the Discovery Channel to launch Shark Week programming. The new horror thriller Shark Night 3D plays on those fears with a suspense-filled story about a group of college students hunted by various varieties of the hungry, flesh-eaters. When their boat malfunctions and they are stranded in the middle of the lake, with no way to call for help, they struggle to fend off the sharks and stay alive long enough to reach the safety of dry land.
At the film’s press day, actor Chris Zylka did this exclusive interview with Collider, in which he talked about playing the cocky jokester of the group, making sure his character was likeable enough so that audiences will route for him to survive, how humans can sometimes be just as terrifying as sharks, that his favorite type of shark is the hammerhead, what a pleasure it was to work with director David Ellis, and the difference between working with animatronic sharks versus CG piranhas for Piranha 3DD (due out in November). He also talked about the experience of playing Flash Thompson in The Amazing Spider-Man, and what it was like to work with director Marc Webb. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did this come about for you?
CHRIS ZYLKA: It was an audition situation. I read the script and really enjoyed the character. He has a lot of comedy and a lot of sex appeal, and then he has a lot of redeeming qualities about him, with what happens.
What type of guy is your character?
ZYLKA: I’m more of the jokester/ass. I’m the cocky kid. I’m “that guy.” You want the sharks to eat me.
Was it challenging to make him a character that audiences could root for?
ZYLKA: You have to always try to find that redeeming quality. What was really wonderful was that (producer) Chris Briggs, who helped write the film, really put that on the page, which made it easier for backstory and performance, to make him a likeable guy. I think it had to do with all of the actors being so prepared and knowing their characters. They’re all likeable characters, and completely different.
What gets all of these kids stranded in the water with no way to get out?
ZYLKA: The sharks swim faster than you would think. Also, all that we have is a boat, and something happens to the boat, so we have no way of getting across the lake.
Since these sharks obviously don’t end up in this lake by chance, would you say the humans are more the villains of this film and they just happen to be using sharks as their weapons?
ZYLKA: Yes, absolutely. I believe so. There’s a nice twist and turn, in one of the last acts of the film, that really shows that humans can be just as terrifying as sharks.
What do you think it is about sharks that is both terrifying and fascinating to people?
ZYLKA: I think because they’re such an anomaly. How often do you ever get to see a shark up close? I’ve never seen a real shark. You watch videos of them. That’s what makes it such a huge fan favorite. You get to see these things up close and on the big screen.
sDid you know there were so many different types of sharks?
ZYLKA: I honestly didn’t. After I got the great news of getting the project, I did a lot of research on different species of sharks because the script had different species, and never really realized how many different types of sharks there are. It’s really quite remarkable how many different species there are.
Is there one that you have to deal most directly with?
ZYLKA: I’m in very close contact with a hammerhead, which was always my favorite growing up. I loved hammerheads because they’re so different looking.
How does the PG-13 rating affect this?
ZYLKA: With a movie about sharks and kids on a lake, and a lot of the attacks happening in water, it has a lot to do with the element of surprise. That’s going to make it scary. It’s not so much about the gore or the blood. There’s no Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees. It’s these terrifying creatures that people aren’t as well educated about, as they are a human person. It’s more the element of surprise that makes this pop.
Did the 3D cameras affect your performance at all?
ZYLKA: The difference between a regular camera and a 3D camera, for an actor, is really no different except that the turn-arounds are longer. It takes a lot longer to set up a shot because the cinematographer is really trying to set up a whole world, so it can’t be more intricate and more beautiful to the viewers, in 3D.
Is it weird for you, as an actor, to see yourself in 3D?
ZYLKA: It is weird. My first time being in video village and watching Sara [Paxton] and Dustin [Milligan] do a scene, the world they created was actually intimate, in itself. It really makes everything pop out. I love it.
What were the biggest challenges of shooting so much of this in water?
ZYLKA: We did about a week and a half of water training, so that we weren’t nervous. Who doesn’t jump in water and play like a 10-year-old again? It was more fun than stressful or physically demanding. The first day of water training and being underwater and using the little breathing machines that they use was a little claustrophobic, but once you get used to it, it’s okay.
What does a director like David Ellis bring to a film like this, especially with the passion that he has?
ZYLKA: First of all, it was such a pleasure to work with him. He’s always in a great mood on set. He obviously knows action, and he knows how to set up explosions and surprises. He brought something to the table that no other director could have brought. He really did a great job of being aware that we were trying to create something, as well as what he was trying to create. He was trying to create the action and the surprises and the scary part of the movie, but he gave us complete freedom in creating what we wanted to create, as our characters. That was really nice.
Once this ensemble was put together, did you guys just all click immediately?
ZYLKA: We had such a strong bond, from day one. It was a really wonderful two months, and we’ve all stayed dear friends. A lot of the time, while shooting, if we were doing buddy scenes, we would just act like we did in our hotel rooms. It was a big plus, having such a great ensemble.
What was it like to go from animatronic sharks to CGI piranhas for Piranha 3DD?
ZYLKA: Going from Shark Night to Piranha, a guy holding a fish on a stick in front of you that they’re going to replace in post-production, it’s a lot different than seeing this animatronic shark that, if you get caught up in the moment, looks, acts and you sometimes think could be real.
What scares you?
ZYLKA: Michael Meyers.
What was it like to play Flash Thompson and have the experience of making a film on the scale of The Amazing Spider-Man?
ZYLKA: You just try to focus. As an artist or as an actor, you just try to focus and stay in that world and block it all out. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Marc Webb. And, Andrew [Garfield] and Emma [Stone] are brilliant. Obviously, Sally [Field] and Martin [Sheen] are not bad at their craft.
How was Marc Webb to work with?
ZYLKA: He is bringing something completely different, that people are going to love so much. It’s very character-driven. It’s a wonderful franchise that is already successful, but I think it’s going to live up to the expectations, completely. One of the nice things about Marc is that he’s an actor’s director. He doesn’t demand. He helps, or plants ideas in your head that work. He’s very calm. One of the most important things while filming is being comfortable and calm, and his warmth and his whole aura that he has about him is really comforting and calms you down a lot.
What do you look for, when deciding what roles and projects you want to do?
ZYLKA: I just look at the character and the arc of the character, and see if it’s going to be challenging. We always want to challenge ourselves. That’s the biggest thing that I look at. Is this going to be a challenge? Is this going to be something that I can try my best to create, that no one could see anyone else do?