Josh Lucas knows that actors have it easier than other people. But the making of "Poseidon" was an incredibly difficult undertaking, he said. "I never compare what we do to a real job," he said. "But truthfully, this was a close to going to work on an oil rig as you can get."
In a press conference with reporters, cast members and director Wolfgang Petersen said the film was not an easy one to make, but it was a fascinating experience.
"Poseidon" tells the tale of a New Year’s Eve cruise gone horribly awry. After the titular ship is hit by a rouge wave, it turns upside down. Believing that staying put will mean certain death, a group of passengers strike out on their own, braving fires, electrical wires, and lots and lots of rising water.
Petersen has made several films that involve disaster on the ocean, and Lucas said the director told him "Poseidon" would be the third in a loose trilogy.
"The first conversation he and I had was, ‘I want to do what’s essentially a trilogy — "Das Boot," "The Perfect Storm" and this one — and deal with moving from a huge Hollywood-type panoramic party setting into a claustrophobic hell and an ascent out of that hell," Lucas said. "But not in a spiritual sense like in the book, just from a pure survival [standpoint]."
The ocean can be both a calming and unsettling natural force, which is why it appeals to his artistic sensibilities, Petersen said.
"You go to the water and dream," he said. "There’s a long, endless horizon and there’s a lot of space where your thoughts can go. [But] It’s the biggest force of nature, with the most destructive kind of absolute frightening force."
And in fiction when things go wrong on a grand scale, cast member Mike Vogel said, audiences can enjoy the high drama in comfortable conditions.
"Be it with this or any disaster movie, there’s something within us as humans that we’re drawn to catastrophe for some reason," he said. "We want to experience that without having to experience it. It gives you a chance to keep one foot in each world without getting hurt."
In this case, Kurt Russell was excited about the possibility of working with Petersen on the reconfiguring of a classic genre film.
"I’m not much on sequels, and I’m not on remakes; I don’t like or dislike them," he said. "I think [it’s about] if you read a good script or there’s a director you want to work with. That was the thing for me. In this case I really wanted to work with Wolfgang.
"There are lots of movies that I wouldn’t want to have any part of doing a second part of, or remake of," he continued. "This is quite different from the first."
The original "Poseidon Adventure," made in 1972, starred Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters. The film helped to kick off the "disaster movie" genre that was popular in the 1970s. Mia Maestro said while she enjoys "The Poseidon Adventure," it’s something that could benefit from an update.
"I love the original movie," she said. "I think there are many interesting connections between the old characters and the new characters.[And] I thought it was the perfect movie to do a remake of. We have so much more technology and the special effects are so much more incredible these days.
The film is relatively brief at 99 minutes, and there isn’t a lot of delving into the characters’ backstories or inner workings. But that was very much by design, Lucas said.
"You can’t have bogus dialogue," he said. ‘[People] are not gonna get to know each other in that situation. The sets and the kind of filmmaking Wolfgang was doing was so violently heightened. [If] you come into a room and there’s dead bodies around the room, you’re not going to have conversation about, you know, ‘where you from?’ In a sense, it honored the truth of the situation more than it would have otherwise."
While that might mean that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for actors to make grand speeches, Russell said that’s fine by him, as films made with big sets and lots of special effects require different things from their casts.
"If you’re doing "Poseidon" or "Backdraft," these big movies that have a lot of activity in them, you work with it," he said. "What you try to do is be as good a part of it as you can to help tell the story that that director wants to tell. Whatever you’re going to do, whatever your part is in helping bring that about, do that to the best of your ability."
But while the actors spend much of their time onscreen reacting to the dangers around them, Lucas said there are little opportunities to show some of the subtle aspects of a character.
"You’re not really acting much in this movie, you’re reacting," he said. "The thing I try to settle into and connect to is, who is this guy inside and what can you show from the inside that’s not through dialogue — that’s through subtle little moments of this man’s independent rogue-ish danger and mysteriousness at the beginning. All that has to be totally internal because it’s not dialogue and that becomes an interesting challenge in a reactionary environment."
And that environment was hazardous for the actors. While many of the images in the film were created using CG effects, the actors were shot on a huge soundstage to depict the upside-down ship.
"It was a serious set," Vogel said. "There were several close calls."
Russell came down with a throat infection. Both he and Vogel had pneumonia. Russell also unintentionally hit Lucas in the face with a metal flashlight, causing [the] production to shut down for a day while Lucas was taken to the hospital. Lucas was hospitalized again when he fell and snapped a muscle in his thumb, an injury that required surgery.
"For the first two and a half months of the movie it was one thing after another," Russell said. "I just kept being sick."
"We were hurt, and everyone was sick," Lucas said. "You’re dealing with a human Petri dish."
In addition, the effects of the water took their toll in other ways.
"I was wet for five months," Lucas said. "I’m soaking wet in every single scene. Your skin gets so soft that you can cut it with your fingernail. It’s gross. It’s absolutely amazing what happens to your body when you’re in the water for that period of time."
"It was the underwater stuff that was psychologically difficult to do because once you went in there wasn’t any getting out," Russell said. "You also have no goggles on so it was very difficult to see because of the lighting. You were dependent on someone swimming in to give you air and then they had to lead you out. By the time you reach the end, you’re out of air."
But the environment also made for a very realistic experience, Lucas said.
"I really like physical filmmaking," he said. "There’s a real sense of physical truth in this movie — there’s nothing fake. I mean, we were there. Obviously the boat is not real, but all those environments, all that fire, all that water, [they’re real]."
Because of the intensity of the shoot, there was real camaraderie among the cast and crew, Lucas said.
"I find it boring when actors sit around and say, ‘Aww, everyone liked each other,’" he said. "Truthfully, had we not like each other on this movie, it would have been impossible because it was so physically difficult. There was an odd lack of ego, where everyone was showing up and saying, this is extremely difficult, let’s help each other through it which is kinda what the characters had."
How audiences will react to the film is, of course, another matter altogether. Peterson said he is always excited to have a big movie out around the summer, but he also hopes the audience will be entertained.
"It’s a pro and con [situation]," he said. "There’s a lot of excitement about summer movies, but there’s huge competition out there. I have decidedly mixed feelings."
There’s one thing that Vogel is certain of, though: he’ll never go on a cruise.
"Never," he said. "I’m just not a water guy."