‘Adrift’ Director Baltasar Kormakur on Casting Shailene Woodley, Shooting Surrounded by Sharks

Baltasar Kormakur has taken on epics like “Everest,” an action-comedy in “Two Guns” and an atmospheric Icelandic TV drama series with “Trapped.” The director-producer-writer is often drawn to tales of extreme elements and survival. Starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claifin in the true story of a couple who faces tragedy on the ocean, “Adrift” open June 1.

Why are you so drawn to stories about the sea?

I’m Pisces, my sign is water. I was a competitive sailor as a kid and I was drawn to the sea. This was my first story about about sailing. Iceland is surrounded by water, so it’s part of my life.

What is it about tales of survival that attracts you?

It’s very raw and visceral, coming from a country where nature and the weather are a constant. When people face these elements, the person behind the person comes out — the mask comes off.

What appealed to you about the book the movie is based on?

It was one of the first scripts I’ve seen that’s a woman against nature.

Were there any scary moments during filming?

Kind of every day! Filming in Fiji, at one point we were surrounded by 50 bull sharks. I tried to make it safe, but it’s easy to get it wrong under those conditions. It was 12 to 14 hours a day in the water.

What made you think Shailene Woodley was the right choice to star?

I loved her performance in “The Descendants.” There’s something earthy about Shailene, she’s a free spirit, a nature-loving girl. Her emotions were authentic, and she’s very strong in the water. She did her own stunts in the water and under the sailboat.

Why do you switch back and forth between working in Hollywood and Iceland?

Hollywood is a great opportunity to play on a bigger stage, with a bigger budget. But Iceland lets me create something as part of a community — I opened a studio there — and gives it more of a meaning.

When will we see Season 2 of “Trapped”? 

Early next year. It has sold out around the world.

What’s the biggest difference between working in film and TV for you?

The way it’s evolved is that most people are just making films for television. It gives you more range for the characters, they don’t have to be instantly empathetic, you don’t have to get everyone (in the theaters) in the first weekend. TV is like slow cooking, it allows you to take your time. But I love films.

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