Johannes Roberts Exclusive Interview on 47 Meters Down and The Strangers 2
While Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has certainly set the gold standard for shark attack movies, there have been a few good ones since. Deep Blue Sea is big, dumb fun. Open Water, an ultra low-budget yet realistic and well-made thriller, made a splash several years ago. And of course, there’s the cheesy TV-chum, Sharknado and its sequels. The Shallows, starring Blake Lively as a lone girl against a murderous Great White, came out last year to mixed reviews but big box office. Now we have 47 Meters Down, a sea-set thriller directed and cowritten by Johannes Roberts.
We caught up with Roberts while he was hard at work on his next feature – The Strangers 2 – and he gave us some insights behind the motivation and the making of 47 Meters Down.
Dread Central: Was it a fear of sharks that made you want to explore this concept?
Johannes Roberts: No, I wrote this because I’m a diver.
DC: Oh, were you there under the water with the actors while directing?
JR: I love going underwater, but most of the time I would be on top. The monitor stations would be above, and we’d have speakers underwater. I’d be communicating to the actors and to the crew through microphones.
DC: When you auditioned actresses for these leads – who are played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt – how do you know they’re going to be able to act underwater?
JR: ‘You don’t’ is the answer. Neither of them had any experience but we went in hard, saying ‘You know this is not going to be fun,’ and they committed to it. I met them when we went diving off the coast of California. They’d never done it, it’s a pretty tricky dive actually, [and]we did a couple of dives out there. There’s strong currents and cold water out there so we put them through their paces there, and then we put them into training. They just went for it full on which is great. And the great thing is with Mandy, her character is not a professional diver, in fact neither of them are, so it was great. Mandy was genuinely fucking terrified, and Claire too, but Mandy was especially terrified and that comes across. It’s great.
DC: Are there any real sharks in the movie, like they had in Open Water?
JR: Well, Open Water, it has some [real sharks] but they’re not Great Whites. With what we were doing, there was talk about whether we wanted animatronics, and different ways to go. Because of the way we shot it’s not like any other share movie where you’re on the surface and the shark comes from out of the deep and attacks you on the surface. This was: we were in its lair, we were down there, and this was a whole different way of doing it.
DC: Wasn’t this movie supposed to come out last summer? Was it pushed back because of The Shallows?
JR: We were in post-production when they started on The Shallows. But theirs was a studio movie that had a lot of money, and moved fast. Yeah, I think we just didn’t have the money to compete with them, but then the movie worked super well and we could have got caught up a little bit. The Weinsteins were not sure what to do with it, and then you know what? The Shallows ended up to be a great thing for us. It did super well, it proved people are really interested in the genre. And you know Byron Allen [producer] loves the movie, like, he’s so enthusiastic about the movie. So yeah, it was a funny time, but this happens all the time in film, you’re working on something and something else comes out and if they have more money and clout they can beat you to the cinemas. So it’s good and it’s bad, you just have to roll with it, you can’t get too angry or caught up in it.
DC: Since you love diving, and the ocean’s life, how do you feel about the inevitable comparisons to Jaws?
JR: I love sharks, I absolutely love sharks and so I was always a bit worried about doing a movie like this in that I don’t want to in any way present sharks as something that they’re not, and in any way harm their species, because I’m the biggest fucking shark nerd in the world. To me, when we were doing it, the thing I kept coming back to, and it’s exactly what you’re saying, is actually they are scary and we can love that and the thing is, they are scary because they’re the closest thing to dinosaurs or monsters that we have. They are from a different era and time, they live in the dark, black sea and they are just perfect carnivores, killing machines in a sense, and they’re just the most fantastic monster that you could possibly ever have as well as being the most beautiful creature that there is. I really tried hard to, in the movie, it’s about two girls stupidly getting themselves into their lair and it’s not like evil sharks coming to munch and kill. It’s just like, these people should not have gone to where they’ve gone, and they’ve gone to a place where they’re not the top of the food chain.
DC: What’s it like talking about a movie you made a long time ago, that’s just now coming out? Are you just more focused on what’s next?
JR: To be honest, because it moves so fast initially, suddenly it was OK if this Shallows thing is going to be something. Everything really, really amped up, we were just moving at a huge, crazy pace in post-production that, to be honest, the lengths between finishing and release isn’t really that much longer than, for instance, my last movie, Other Side of the Door. It just takes that long to find the slot in everything, but it’s been a while. I’m now on Strangers 2, [so] I’m a bit distanced from the movie which is great. I can look at it and I’m very proud, I couldn’t be happier because it was a fucking hard movie to make. That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and I’d never want to go through that again. That [shoot] took a few years off me so I’m pleased that it’s getting that release. Every post I see and every ad I’m like, ‘Fuck, great.’ And whether it does anything or not, I really hope it does obviously, but I’m super proud, super happy. But yeah, a good distance from it.
DC: We are excited about The Strangers 2. What can you tell us?
JR: It’s going to be great, I hope. I’m in week two of filming. It’s Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman, and they’re fucking great. It looks absolutely incredible. I love Bertino’s film, I think it’s an amazing movie and tonally this movie is going to fit very well into that universe. It has a real strong emotional heart, which the first one did, and it has a very cool retro feel to it, a lot of sort of references to… I mean, I always bring a lot of John Carpenter with me because that’s what I grew up on, but also maybe going back a bit earlier to the seventies movies, from Don’t Look Now to Duel, the Spielberg movie, even Christine a bit, the John Carpenter movie. All of these influences are finding their way into the movie, but I think it’s going to be a real fantastic movie. I’m super excited about it.
47 Meters Down is in theaters June 16, 2017.
Directed by Johannes Roberts (The Other Side of the Door), the underwater thriller stars Mandy Moore (“This Is Us,” A Walk to Remember), Claire Holt (“The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals”), Yani Gellman (“Pretty Little Liars,” “The Young and The Restless”), and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, The Dark Knight Rises).
On the rebound after a devastating break-up, Lisa (Mandy Moore) is ready for adventure while on vacation in Mexico. Even still, she needs a little extra persuasion when her daring sister, Kate (Claire Holt), suggests they go shark diving with some locals. Once underwater in a protective cage, Lisa and Kate catch a once in a lifetime, face-to-face look at majestic Great Whites. But when their worst fears are realized and the cage breaks away from their boat, they find themselves plummeting to the bottom of the seabed, too deep to radio for help without making themselves vulnerable to the savage sharks, their oxygen supplies rapidly dwindling.