The surf drama Drift tells the story of the Kelly brothers (played by Myles Pollard and Xavier Samuel), who spent their youth, in the 1970’s, searching for the perfect wave. In order to save their home and family, they launched a backyard surf business, crafting homemade wetsuits and custom made boards that become a global brand.
At the film’s press day, actor Sam Worthington (who plays hippy drifter and surf photographer JB) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about the good and bad about working with friends, researching what it’s like to be a surf photographer, taking inspiration for the character from his uncle, known as Rainbow, what it’s like to surf for a movie, the most challenging sequences to shoot, and his first time surfing at the age of seven. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: When this role came up, was it a total no-brainer?
SAM WORTHINGTON: I got to work with my friends, surf where I grew up and make a movie. But when you’re working with friends, unless the material is right, our friendship could end. So, the boys had to get to a certain point where I asked them if I was allowed to join.
Were you worried about actually reading the script then, in case it sucked?
WORTHINGTON: I wouldn’t have done it. If I couldn’t find anything in it, I wouldn’t have done it. I’d still support my friends, but I wouldn’t just pick it for the sake of it. But, I liked the role. The role was something different that I wouldn’t normally get to play, so it was good.
Did you do any research into what it takes to do surf photography?
WORTHINGTON: I went out with the boys. When you surf, you’re going away from the break, and surf photographers have to get right in there. It’s a different way of thinking. So, I went out with some of the guys who filmed the actual surf footage, and they just showed me where they normally sit and how not to get pushed over the falls and how deep we could get, and things like that, just to test it out. It’s a different set of skills.
What are those cameras like to shoot with?
WORTHINGTON: They were bulky ‘cause they’re rudimentary. Surf photography is a young thing. The ones they use nowadays are still very heavy, but they’re buoyant. Mine kept filling up with water. It would sink, every now and then, and we’d have to build another one. I’m comfortable in the water, so it was easy for me to balance and know how not to get smashed.
Was this character completely on the page, or did you collaborate on it and help develop his look?
WORTHINGTON: I wanted him to look like my uncle. My uncle is called Rainbow, which says it all, really. So, I wanted him to have rainbow colored hair. I didn’t want to go in and be all Hollywood and chiseled. I wanted to just have a beard and be a bit fatter and squeeze into a wet suit that was too small, like a big, fat seal. I wanted to be really unappealing. And the way of thinking is a lot like my uncle. My uncle does think about peace and love, and he is a drifter. He thinks Avatar is for real and Pandora is a real place, he’s that high on mushies, all the time. But, that was cool. It was more fun for me to do that. I liked the cheekiness of having a gun, but flashing a peace sign. That was a bit more fun to play. The pressure was on the other boys, and not on me.
Was it nice to go to set and not have to worry about being groomed?
WORTHINGTON: Yeah. I’ve done a lot of roles where I’m the hero saving the planet. I love doing them, but sometimes you wanna completely try something different and create something unique and get lost in it a bit because it’s completely far away from me.
How different is it to surf for a movie than it is just to be out there, on your own?
WORTHINGTON: It’s even more hairy. To film in water is three times harder than just on land. And when you’re dealing with 20- to 30-foot swells rolling in, you’ve gotta be very on your game. We had a good security force of jet skis to stop us, if we got dumped or the dinghy went over. But, you’ve gotta be respectful out there because it’s relentless and unforgiving. In Australia, you don’t have the budget to do special effects, so we had to do it for real, but you’ve got no control out there.
Were there any sequences that felt the most challenging?
WORTHINGTON: Yeah, anytime the three of us were in that little dinghy boat because you realize how small you really are, in the grand scheme of things. There’s a camera on a helicopter and one’s on a jet ski somewhere, and it’s just you and your two mates in a little metal boat, in the middle of the ocean, bobbing up and down. It puts things in perspective. We were miles and miles out to sea, and the rescue boats were miles and miles off, to get some of the shots. But, as long as you’re cautious, it’s okay.
When was the first time you tried surfing?
WORTHINGTON: I was about seven, when my dad first started me out there, but I don’t remember anything from back then. But, I like the fact that you can just be out there and realize how low on the food chain you really are. All your little worries disappear. And then, when you come back to shore, you’re a bit freer and more fearless. That’s why I’ve always loved it.
When you do a film like this, where you’re surrounded by such beautiful scenery every day, does it make it hard to go back to a regular movie?
WORTHINGTON: They’re just different. It’s different worlds and different experiences. I don’t mind being in studios, and I don’t mind being out in nature. They’re two different ways of making movies.
Drift is available on-demand July 2nd, and out in theaters on August 2nd.