47 Meters Down: Roundtable With Actors Matthew Modine & Yani Gellman

– by Nancy Tapia

What would you do if you were trapped in a cage deep into the ocean, surrounded by a handful of great white sharks? It’s a terrifying prospect, and ever since Jaws hit theaters back in the ‘70s, moviegoers have been fascinating with the danger surrounding sharks. 

In the film 47 Meters Down, we see two women get trapped in such a circumstance. Will they stay calm, collected, and find a way out of this mess, or will they succumb to the forces of the sea? That remains to be seen.

Recently, LRM had the opportunity to attend a press junket, and while there, we had the opportunity to attend a roundtable with several other outlets, and speak with co-stars of the film Matthew Modine and Yani Gellman, who play the characters Captain Taylor and Louis, respectively. Throughout they interview, they discuss the filmmaking process, the experience in shooting on location, the threats humans are on the environment, and the projects they are working on next.

Check out the interview below!


So, were you glad that you weren’t underwater in a cage?

Matthew Modine: I would have loved to have done some of the scuba diving. I’ve been scuba diving since I was 15 years old. We got certified PADI in Maui although I didn’t have the money to pay for my certification, we took the whole class. We had to put a deposit and me and my friends took that whole class until the final thing and then we didn’t pay because we didn’t have any money. I am from a very working class, my father is a drive-in theater manager in Imperial Beach, California. We grew up there in San Diego, born in Loma Linda and we moved to Utah. I lived there for a long time. I’m the youngest of seven. It was about 150 bucks to get certified, so I didn’t really have the money to be able to do that, but we did the course enough to be able to learn how to survive underwater and then we had one friend who was certified because you have to have the card to get your tanks filled. He was the one that would go fill up all the tanks. They were always like, why are you filling up 10 tanks of air? He was doing it for all of us that weren’t certified yet.

Did you all ever have any encounters when you all were scuba diving?

Modine: The worst thing was we’d go to Point Loma in San Diego. We’d meet at the pipe. There was a pipe that came out of the cliff and there was always lots of lobsters and abalone in this area. We didn’t know until after a couple years of meeting at the pipe the reason the water was so warm and there was so much abalone and lobster was that the pipe was dumping sewage out into the... so yeah that stopped the scuba diving for a long time when we realized that we were swimming around in a soup of poop and pee and gutter.

Luckily your immune system is better than anybody else’s.

Modine: I know. I know. The lobsters and the abalone were so good.

So that’s the secret sauce, poop soup.

Modine: That’s what lobsters are. They kind of call them the cockroach of the sea. Yeah. That’s the reality. They’re bottom feeders and they eat sh*t.

Can you talk to us about the locations that you selected and where was the film?

Modine: Well, the big part of it was filmed in London. The girls in the tank at Pinewood Studios. Pinewood Studios had built a new tank, a big gigantic tank in the Dominican Republic near Punta Cana. That’s where we met and that’s where we did tank work. Then we went out on the ocean and filmed out on the sea.

Now, when you’re filming a shark attack movie and they put you on a boat out in the middle of the sea, do you ever want to get in the water or you’re like, no because it’s a little too close to home even though the sharks are CG.

Yani Gellman: Well, I actually had to get into the water at one point because they were sort of talking about sea sickness before we went out into the boat and I was like, no. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. They wanted to give me a tablet, which apparently everyone takes. I was like, no. I’m good. I got this. We get out on the water. We’re being rocked around by the waves. Before long, I’m sort of flat on my back and just totally overcome with sea sickness, which is no joke whatsoever.

Modine: In fairness, somebody had got sick before him.

Gellman: Yeah and it wasn’t until I saw him throwing up over the side of the boat that it really hit me.

Modine: That’s what happens. One person gets sick and...

Gellman: Matthew was like, get in the water and it will completely reset your clock and your equilibrium, but we were still shooting, so we couldn’t just jump in the water at that point, just continuity issues and so on. I had to wait. You’re just pretending that you’re not sick. I’m not sure how those scenes will turn out where I’m pretending I feel well, but then when we got a break in the action, I got to jump into the water and I felt a lot better after that. Yeah.

So, everybody got sick?

Gellman: No not everybody. This guy (Modine) didn’t get sick. He was the captain. Yeah. He was fine.

For the underwater scenes, did you actually have a shark around at any point?

Gellman: No. You can’t really domesticate a shark. It’s difficult to shoot with a real animal. There was no shark. I mean, just being in the water, under the water is heightened enough, you know? You’re hearing your breath. You’re making sure you have enough air. Everything just seems so vivid and alive down there. We’ve talked a lot about how you become almost meditative down there and everything takes on this new meaning. It was just thrilling. I mean, I had gone scuba diving once before that, but this was the first time I spent an extended period under the water. It sort of really changed me. You really develop an appreciation and an awareness for this world that exists below the water that we just really take for granted.

Modine: We’re sitting here breathing, hearts are beating, but we’re not really conscious of it. In this age where everybody’s doing yoga, that’s what they talk about. Being in the moment and listening to your breath, and when you put on aqua lung and a bottle of air on your back and go into the water, you become acutely aware of your breath, of your heart rate, of the environment that you’re in. If you’re not in the moment, if you’re not paying attention, that’s when you get in trouble. I encourage everyone to, even if you just do it in a swimming pool, it’s a great way to become more conscious of living.

Can you talk a little bit about your history with shark movies, both of you? Watching them, liking them, or never wanting to see them again? Did you do it as an act of solidarity with sharks all over the world?

Gellman: I mean, definitely Jaws was a big movie for me growing up. You know? That was sort of one of the first blockbusters made, really and one of the 1st that I ever saw. It definitely instilled a bit of a fear in me as a kid.

A bit?

Gellman: Yeah, I would say (laughs). Maybe a bit more than a bit, but I grew up in Australia and we have a lot of, we live by the beaches and we go swimming. That’s a daily activity and so on. So, even though you have a bit of a fear of these, of sharks, it has a more proportional role in your overall experience. It’s not a daily fear. I think it’s more in communities that don’t have as much experience with the ocean. They take on this fear like, oh my God. If you get in the water, you’re going to get eaten. The truth is, humans are the biggest danger to sharks, not the other way around. Yeah. I think the water’s just a scary place to be because if you aren’t careful and you do something wrong, it will cut you down to size right away. That’s what’s interesting about this film. These women are completely cut off from all sense of security, totally out of their comfort zone. No cell phones. No escape and they just have to rely on each other to survive.

Modine: We're mammals that crawled out of the sea. Let’s get the hell out of the water. They say that dolphins are mammals that went back to the sea. Did you ever hear that?

Gellman: That’s very interesting.

Modine: Yeah. I read Peter Benchley’s book, Jaws, when I was a little boy. It was the 1st big book that I’d ever read and there was something primordial about the story. It was something really dark. It was bigger than sharks and it sort of felt like early man, before there was fire and how terrifying night time must have been with just waiting for the sun to come back up to provide light to take us out of that darkness. Benchley’s book was filled with that kind of horror, that darkness of what lies beneath. It’s unseeable. Steven Spielberg’s film was remarkable. It was so terrifying, but the shark had a kind of consciousness. It had an agenda. It really wanted that boat and those people that were on that boat. This film goes back to that kind of Peter Benchley primordial what lies beneath. What’s in the deep? What’s in the dark? But it’s also about stupid humans, you know? It’s like David Letterman’s old thing. The stupid human tricks. What happens when you dump a bunch of blood in the water and put humans in? What do you think is going to happen? Yeah.

Does it make you forget about acting when you’re near or in water?

Gellman: It does for me. Yeah, because you’re near something so much bigger than yourself. Yeah. You’re not even really acting.

Modine: It’s wonderful to be in this position where you’re just reacting.

Gellman: Yeah. You’re out on the water. If you’re scuba diving, if you’re having to think of other things outside of what’s happening in the sea and you become a part of the environment you’re in, you lose yourself in it and it’s a very freeing feeling. It also really helped that we had such a great, small, tight, very talented cast, but also a cast that really took care of each other and got along well. That was also really freeing and made it really easy to do our best work because we were all on a boat together and all had each other’s back and we just had a great time.

Plus, you’re filming in the Dominican Republic for crying out loud.

Gellman: Right (laughs).

What do you do when the cameras aren’t rolling? What sort of trouble or not trouble or early to bed, early to rise?

Modine: I was staying in Old San Juan. My wife was with me and it was so great to learn about the history of the Dominican Republic. We’re not taught that in American schools about what the history of that country is. That Columbus, which was really the first place that he arrived in and set up camp. Learning about the atrocities that the US government, what they inflicted upon the people of that island. It was fascinating to learn about those crimes. I mean, it seems America is always messing around with South America, whether it is Nicaragua, Panama, or Honduras. We’re always meddling and causing problems in places we have no business meddling in. Obviously, it’s for human resources. I mean, not human resources, for geological position. You know, Panama Canal or resources. Sugar.

Is that typical of you when you’re on location shooting a movie that you actually delve into the history of the place and sort of do some thinking around it?

Modine: It’s one of the great things about being an actor. We’re often accused, what the f**k do you know? You’re just an actor. It’s like, well do you have a passport? That could be the first question I might ask somebody that says what do you know, you’re an actor? I’ve had the honor, the pleasure of being able to travel around this globe a couple times and meet people. Not just meet people, but meet people with extraordinary talents and education that expand your experience of what it is to be a human being and help you to understand the common thread that human beings share, the ambitions that human beings share. It makes you a global citizen and understands for instance that Earth’s resources are finite. They are not infinite. We can’t have a consumer based economy that continues to rob the Earth of its resources because there’s never been, in the history of this world, history of this Earth, this many people crawling around the globe. I’m sorry to be topical and talk about the Paris Accord, but the idea that we would pull ourselves, being the country per capita that consumes the Earth’s resources and produces more carbon emissions more than any other country on the planet per capita, it’s extreme hubris. It’s extreme ignorance to think that human activity doesn’t contribute to climate change. To bring it back to this film, there are 100 million sharks estimated that are killed every year for shark fin soup or for sport. There’s a Budweiser and Toyota shark-catching contest going on right now where they’re just catching sharks for sport. The President of the United States’ sons hunted elephants that are endangered animals. They killed a spotted leopard that’s an endangered animal. The great film, we grew up together, Koyaanisqatsi, the Indian word that means life out of balance. That movie was made in the '70s that talked about how our behavior on the planet is out of balance with this species that we share this Earth with. We can’t continue on behaving like we have some God-given gift with manifest destiny to behave the way that we do.

What do you think of the movie? Because Shark Week. I love Shark Week. They educate you on why they need an ecosystem.

Modine: Thank goodness.

Then there’s a movie that comes out that kind of vilifies shark. People might use it as an excuse, but like you said, it is stupid humans who decide to go in the water.

Gellman: It also really depends on how you see the film. For me, it’s a symbol of what will happen to us if we don’t treat the environment with respect. If we trespass into those areas and we encroach on those areas and we take advantage of those resources, what will the effect be on humanity? It doesn’t look pretty. In some ways, I think the cage that these women are in is sort of a bit of a metaphor for our world, our planet. If we don’t take care of the very basic elements that we need to survive, like our water and our air, the air tanks. If we don’t treat the animals and organisms and ecosystems around us with respect, it will be a horror movie. I see this as being sort of like a return of the environment against the people that have trespassed.

You shot this movie prior to Mandy’s real breakthrough on television. A, you must be very proud of her. B, have you seen her since the explosion of her NBC show?

Modine: It’s so great. It’s so great. What I’ve learned after 3 decades of working in this business is that it’s a roller coaster, you know? I’ve worked just as hard on films that didn’t work as I did on films that are successful. The lesson is to do the very best you can all the time. Just show up and bring all your tools to the job. That’s the lesson and Mandy shows up. She shows up. She works hard. She was prepared. It was a very difficult shoot for both those ladies to spend that much time underwater in the conditions that there were. So claustrophobic, and day after day after day of having to go back into the water. It wasn’t an easy job for them. I mean, we had the easy part. Hats off to them.

What about your experience in the Dominican Republic when the cameras stopped rolling?

Gellman: We would sort of explore around the area where we were staying. I think, for the most part, after work it consisted of finding the next little spot to have a great seafood dinner in and just sit around and have a couple of beers and chat about the shoot. You’re pretty tired after you got off set, but it was just lovely to be able to do something as simple as walk along the beach, have a beer and stare out into the ocean and kind of pinch yourself that this is your job to come out to this incredibly beautiful place.

Modine: He started to say get paid (laughs).

Gellman: (laughs) As I said, this was a small film. Just touching on what Matthew was saying about showing up and doing your best work no matter what. I mean, we didn’t really know, I don’t think that this film was going to be as big as it is when we were making it. It was a smaller, low budget horror film that seemed like it had a really fun premise and a good cast. We just didn’t know what it would be. I think we’re just really tickled that people have responded well to the movie and it’s going to get a big release.

Modine: It’s an amazing response. Social media, it’s 100 percent either, "oh f**k no. I’m not seeing that." I know that those people that are saying that will be the first people in line to go see it. Then other people, it’s like, "I can’t wait to see it." There hasn’t been any negativity that I’ve seen. We did press yesterday with television outlets around the world and every single person that sat down was like, "this is so much fun. I had such a good time watching this movie. I got so scared. We’re critics and we see movies all the time." It’s wonderful. As I said, my dad was a drive-in theater manager and this is the kind of movie that he loved coming into the summer months because it was a box office bonanza for him. It’s a real popcorn movie. It’s a movie that young and old, boys and girls, everybody will have a good time watching this film.

I wanted to ask you in the movie, Mandy Moore's character was a spaz. I wanted to slap her, tell her to calm down. Then you have the other person who is calm and okay, let’s think about this. When you think about this situation, how would you react?

Gellman: Well, that’s very common actually. People, when put in a crisis situation, will react in one of two ways. They’ll either freak out and expend all their energy and begin making very misguided decisions or they’ll take a moment and compose themselves and stay calm. Especially when you’re dealing with the water and the ocean. You have to conserve your strength and your breathing is most important. If you get so adrenalized that you waste your energy trying to swim out of it without really taking a good sober look at what’s going on, you’ll die. In any sort of crisis situation like this, you have to take a moment to assess and then proceed calmly. I don’t know what I would do. What works about this movie is you can’t put a person in a more challenging situation and then try to tell them to get out of it. I mean, this is like a Houdini kind of box that they’re trapped into and they have to try and find a way to escape. Honestly, there are situations where I do feel confident I could do well. This one, I really don’t know what I would do because it is about experience, training and preparation. If you don’t have those things as a scuba diver, you’re a fish out of water, so to speak.

Modine: I get very calm. As I said, I’m the youngest of 7 kids and I have 4 brothers and 2 sisters. They tortured me my whole childhood. They tied me under a mattress once because they were having a party and they didn’t want me in the way. They put me under the mattress between the bed springs and the mattress and just tied me up. I had to stay there for many hours. One time, this was maybe the worst thing that ever happened to me in my childhood and it was self-imposed. I wanted to see if I could fit -- my brother had a little sports car. It was called the Sprite and I wanted to see if I could fit in the trunk. I opened it up, climbed inside, pulled it shut and went, wow I can fit. Then I realized I had no way of getting out. Nobody knew I was in the trunk. It was a hot day. I could barely breathe. It was probably about 100, 110 degrees in the trunk of the car and I was in it for six hours. I just had to go into suspended animation of calmness and wait until I could hear somebody so I could start banging. I was only about nine years old. Eight or nine years old. It was on the day my oldest brother was getting married. Everybody was looking for me. Where is Matthew? I was the ring bearer. Where is the ring bearer? He was locked in the boot of the car.

You missed the wedding?

Modine: My brother Michael found me in the trunk of his car. He went, "what the fuck are you doing? Get out of my car. Come on. We’re late for the wedding." There wasn’t like, oh my God. Are you all right? You poor little kid. How long have you been in the trunk? There was none of that. It was like, get out of my car. Come on. We’re late for the wedding.

I just want to change the subject for a second. You said your dad was a manager of a drive-in movie theater. Especially coming from Southern California, I’m thinking, oh my God. If cars could talk. You must have at least one really hot story you could tell us about being the son. You’re the go to guy at 13.

Modine: I mean, I got my sexual education from the back rows of the drive in movie theater, but it wasn’t from personal experience. It was my dad saying, go turn the speakers off. I don’t know why he wanted me to turn the speakers off, but it was expending energy. He’d go, go turn all the speakers off. I would have to walk around the drive in turning the speakers off, but if you got to the back row of the drive in, that’s where everybody was getting busy in the back seat of the car. Turn the speaker off and peek into the car and watch people getting busy in the back seat of the car. Personally, I don’t know why, but I just wasn’t that player in high school where I had access to a drive-in. All I had to do was bring a girl to a drive-in, but I was just such a dork in high school. I didn’t know how to make the moves.

What’s next for both of you?

Gellman: Well, right now, I’m in the middle of working on one of my own little projects. I’m directing a little short and we’re actually filming some stuff this week. That’s what I’m working on.

Modine: I got the sequel to SicarioSoldado, coming out with Benicio [del Toro] and Josh Brolin and I’m leaving next week to play George Herbert Walker Bush opposite John Travolta in a movie about cigarette boats. We’ll be filming in Puerto Rico.

Speaker: Have you started Sicario yet?

Modine: Sicario is finished.

Speaker: It’s done. How long ago did you finish that?

Modine: Probably three, three and a half months ago.

Speaker: And that will be out this summer?

Modine: Yeah. Opposite Catherine Keener, who, we played husband and wife in a movie directed by Tom DiCillo called The Real Blonde. It’s about an out of work actor. It’s one of my favorite movies of his.

I don’t understand how that movie could get any better.

Modine: Sicario? 

Yeah.

Modine: Soldado? I think it definitely, because they showed a big sequence to me because they had been filming for a couple months when I came in. I think it would definitely be as good as Soldado, but it’s really, really good. Benicio and Josh are at the top of their game. It was so much fun to work with Catherine.

Modine: Yeah, it just came out on Blue Ray.

Came out on Blue Ray. We got it from Warner Bros. What’s that experience been like 30 years later to go back and revisit that film and realize all the training that you had to go through to make that picture and then to now go play the former President of the United States?

Modine: I’ve been back to Spokane, Washington a couple times for different screenings at the Spokane Film Festival and films that I’ve directed that played at the film festival and the 1st time I went back, the place where I meet Carla, it was called the Milk Bottle and there was a fire. I said, why don’t we have a screening of Vision Quest at the film festival, to raise money to help them rebuild this restaurant? It’s such a small community and the people said that’s a great idea. We had to turn people away. It was a theater for about 3,000 people and there was snow on the round. About 200 people got turned away. I told everybody, I said if I run by your house, if you know the songs, if you know the dialogue, say the dialogue, sing the songs, scream out if I run by your house and it was one of the most fun screenings I’ve ever had. Another one, a big opera house and a fundraiser. It’s wonderful to be in any kind of film that sort of stands the test of time that encourages people to be their best. The film is such a coming of age story and you don’t have to be 18 years old to be coming of age. We’re still coming of age when we’re 50 years old. We’re still learning about what that new age is going to be. It continues to speak to people of all ages. The music in the film, whether it is Journey or Red Rider or it was the movie that introduced Madonna to the world. It’s just wonderful to have been a part of something like that. To play Herbert Walker Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, my struggle is going to be not to sound like Dana Carvey.


47 Meters Down is in theaters now!

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Film, Interviews, News, Featured 47 Meters Down