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‘Adrift’ Team Talks Making a ‘Female Superhero’ on the Open Ocean

In some ways, Shailene Woodley feels as though she “can’t relate” to conversations surrounding the need for more powerful female roles in Hollywood. For the “Adrift” star, portraying a 24-year-old woman who survived 41 days stranded at sea is just another example of the many resilient women she’s played throughout her career.

What sets her character Tami Oldham‘s story apart, however, is that her tale really happened. At the Los Angeles premiere of “Adrift” on Wednesday, Woodley, her co-star Sam Claflin, and director Baltasar Kormakur discussed telling the true tale of a woman’s unflinching heroism on the open ocean in the most authentic way possible — by filming at sea.

“These stories are always important to tell,” Woodley told Variety on the red carpet. “This movie was important to tell in the ’80s; it was important to tell in the ’90s, and it didn’t get made, and it happened to get made now, and for whatever divine reason, a lot of conversation is surrounding this transition, not only in Hollywood, but in the world in balancing the scales, and any way to support that; I feel honored.”

Kormakur didn’t initially read the script through a gendered lens, simply drawn to the protagonist’s inner and outer strength. That such a character happened to be a woman eventually became central to his vision.

“When I started thinking about it, there are very few, if any, films that are women against nature,” Kormakur said prior to the screening. “It’s mostly men and wolves — men with beards, rolling in the snow. So I had an opportunity to make a movie about a female superhero, and who didn’t need a cape.”

In order to bring that survival instinct out in Woodley and Claflin, Kormakur made the decision to film the movie on the open ocean off the coast of Fiji. The crew took advantage of choppier days to film the pre- and post-capsize scenes, while calmer waters suited the romantic, happier moments, Claflin said.

“I start in the elements and take them through it — the worst,” Kormakur told Variety. “They were so happy the first day, but that was only the first two hours, and then everyone started puking, and after that it got real. Now we just have six weeks in front of us, 14 hours a day. Let’s get to work.”

Claflin attested to the added rigor and excitement of a production schedule beholden to the elements.

“[The ocean is] a difficult beast to tame, and truthfully, we had to resign ourselves to Mother Nature,” Claflin said. “As cheesy as it sounds, it was nice to become one with nature and use it to our advantage.”

Twin writer-duo Aaron and Jordan Kandell also attended the premiere, as well as the real Oldham, whose memoir they adapted for the screen. “Adrift” hits theaters June 1.

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