Interviews Movies

Battling the Unknown: An Interview with Underwater’s Kristen Stewart

Seven miles below the ocean’s surface something has awakened.

The crew of the Kepler mining operation understood there would be hardships on their mission: Thirty days confined to the narrow corridors and cramped cabins of an undersea rig built to withstand the incredible pressures of drilling at the bottom of the ocean. But in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, all hell breaks loose.

Alarms shriek and wail as torrents of water explode through the reinforced concrete structure with unimaginable force, tearing it apart in a matter of seconds. Through her quick thinking and resourcefulness, electrical engineer Norah Price manages to save herself and stave off imminent disaster, but at great cost.

Unable to send a distress call, and with their escape submarine destroyed, things look bleak for Norah and the other few survivors. She and the remaining crew—the captain, Lucien, marine biology student Emily, operations expert Smith, systems manager Rodrigo and resident smart-ass Paul—are left with no good options. Their only shot at survival lies in walking across the ocean floor toward a distant, abandoned rig, the Roebuck, and hoping that its communication on equipment is still in good working order, or that there are enough escape pods to take them all to safety.Image result for underwater movie 2020

But their perilous journey is made even more treacherous as they begin to suspect that they’re not alone beneath the waves. Something is following close behind them, ready to strike at any moment. Locked in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with a mysterious predator, Norah and the others find themselves hunted and must summon every ounce of their courage if they hope to reach the surface alive.

A nonstop thrill ride only truly experienced on the big screen, Underwater stars Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher, Jr., Mamoudou Athie and T.J. Miller.

In 1979, Ridley Scott’s landmark Alien brought the horror genre to outer space. In 1989, James Cameron plunged a submarine crew into danger below the depths in The Abyss. Tapping into what both of those films did best and introducing exciting characters and creatures that feel entirely new, Underwater offers sci-fi and horror fans a compelling, visceral adventure set seven miles beneath the surface of the ocean and anchored by a fearless central performance from critically acclaimed actress Kristen Stewart.

In Underwater, Stewart is Norah Price, a gifted electrical engineer who becomes the de-facto leader of a band of survivors after disaster strikes beneath the waves, forcing them to evacuate the mining rig where they’ve been living. Five thousand miles from land, they struggle to find a way to make contact with the surface in the hopes of calling for a rescue, soon realizing that a harrowing march across the bottom of the ocean might be their only path to safety. Slowly, and with growing horror, Norah and the group begin to understand that they’re also facing a very different kind of threat: a biological threat that’s existed for ages undetected in the murkiest depths. Suddenly, the possibilities of escape seem that much more remote.Image result for underwater movie 2020Norah is tough, she’s cool, she’s enormously capable and she doesn’t suffer fools; and her journey of the movie really goes from a place of not being sure about her role in the world to being enormously certain and taking on the mantle of both leader and shepherd for the rest of her crew—and then also facing her own demons and her past, which we discover along the way.

Finding a gifted actress who could deliver a nuanced performance while holding her own in breakneck action sequences could only be filled by Kristen Stewart. She’s so dramatic and charismatic. Unlike other actors, she’s able to act with her entire body, without her even saying anything, delivers so much and in Underwater she gives a powerful performance.

“Norah starts this film completely caught unaware,” says Stewart. “She’s quite literally caught with her pants down, brushing her teeth in the morning, when the rig explodes. People tend to get emotional or show different colors in trauma, and Norah is closed off, a little emotionally unavailable. Throughout the course of the movie, you find out that she’s in the midst of a pretty intensive grieving process and she really doesn’t think she has anything left to lose. Just when it might be too late, she realizes that there’s really never a point where you have nothing to lose. There’s always something to keep fighting for. Life is precious. Then she really finds her feet and becomes a hero.”

When watching Kristen on screen, she conveys a unique combination of strength and vulnerability, which was exactly what is needed to play Norah. She is the eyes and ears of the movie but is always hiding a secret.
Image result for underwater movie 2020Although the physicality of the role helped shape Stewart’s performance, her connection with the character was immediate and required little in the way of training or research. “I didn’t have to prepare for the role,” Stewart says. “They’re not soldiers. They are completely normal people doing a job working somewhere they were told was safe but was not. What she’s good at is fixing screens and lightening screws and making sure the oil rig runs functionally, but she’s definitely not somebody who knows how to survive a situation like this. So the most preparation I could have done would be to be as present as possible.”

It was also Stewart’s suggestion that Norah’s head should be shaved. “I was so game from the very get-go,” she says. “Literally, 48 hours later, 72 hours later, we were at a hotel room with a hairdresser, and was getting my head shaved and dyeing it blonde.”

In Underwater, time is short and oxygen is in short supply, and the characters must surmount every new obstacle to have a second chance at life. The fact the story all takes place “Underwater adds to the tension of the movie. There’s a sense of claustrophobia that mirrors the evolution of Norah as she evolves over this extremely compressed period of time. You become incredibly emotionally attached to her and root for her to survive against all odds so she can have a chance at life again.

Underwater was filmed in New Orleans across three soundstages and a few exterior sets, but the hurdles the production faced were significant. One of the most difficult aspects of this production was that a majority of the story had our characters traversing the ocean floor, which meant production had to figure out how to realistically convey that the characters were underwater. To do this, they used a combination of visual effects, placing the actors in water, and utilizing technology that we created specifically for the shoot.Image result for underwater movie 2020Director William Eubank worked closely with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and production designer Naaman Marshall to shape immersive environments that would help transport the actors into the confining spaces in which the story unfolds. Complicating matters for Marshall, most of the Kepler sets—the hallways, the suit rooms, the control rooms, the barracks quarters—had to be designed to shake or to be flooded or to be set on fire, and then they often needed to be completely redesigned, repainted and restructured to function as suit rooms for Roebuck, the decommissioned station that offers a last chance at survival for the beleaguered crew. It was important that both the Kepler and the Roebuck sets looked weathered and worn, as though they had been miles beneath the ocean for years.

Visually, there are elements reminiscent of sci-fi, heavy metal, and anarchy. The look and feel of the movie were meant to be utilitarian, lived in, a little punk rock, a little bit futuristic, to amplify the sense of claustrophobia and confined spaces by building sets with very low ceilings.

Underwater’s dynamic opening sequence quickly sets the tone for the film in both pacing and execution. “I had a hundred pounds on my back every day,” Stewart says. “I couldn’t go two steps without breaking a sweat. It was so physical. But there were moments of this story that you couldn’t achieve without feeling as raw and nervy as this environment made us feel, and so there that was something I actually looked forward to. There was no way to fake that. I didn’t want to hyperventilate and pretend to look afraid. I looked at it as a challenge.”

Overall Underwater is “a gripping thriller about the repercussions of taking things that don’t belong to you because we are tapping our Earth to a diminishing extent,” offers Stewart of the film. “It’s an action survival story about a group of people who really don’t know each other, but at the end of the day are connected by way of just being human. This movie has a lot of twists and turns and surprises around every corner. Hopefully, we blow people away.”

Underwater will be available on Digital and Blu-ray on April 14th.