BENJAMIN WALKER: My relationship with fishing was mostly cold beers on ice sitting on the dock in Georgia, swatting mosquitoes, so this is very different. I think I’ve always been a catch-and- release kind of guy, but we did go to sailor school. As far as Pollard’s concerned, it was great for me because all I had to do was boss everybody else around. That’s also part of the fun of doing movies – you get to learn a skill. You get to learn about a time period. You get to immerse yourself in an aspect of history that maybe you didn’t know anything about, and understanding this time and industry, understanding this time in America, was exciting. And maybe we can learn from the mistakes we made in the past and apply them to the future.
TOM HOLLAND: Ron was so adamant about making a film that was authentic, so the fact that we went to this sailing school and really did learn how to sail the ship was really important to the movie. This whole film is set on a boat; even if you’re not in the scene, you’re in the background because these sailors are working a hundred percent of the time. So it was really important to Ron, and to the rest of us, that when we were in the background, we were doing what it is these guys would be doing. And the people who taught us were real sailors, and we had them on the ship – you see them in the film – and they were always there to give a helping hand, to make sure we were doing everything right, and we didn’t look like idiots, really.
RON HOWARD: The authenticity, to me, was as important in this movie as it had been on others, like, for example Apollo 13, where part of transporting the audience was to get the details right. Whether people know right from wrong, they can kind of sense it. It also was one of those situations where, as Tom was saying, everybody was in pretty much every shot, so there was a lot of improvisation not only of action, but even language and terminology, so the sailor school was just as important as the astronaut school and flight director school had been for Apollo 13, or the boxing training for Cinderella Man or other movies that I’ve made which were inspired by real events.
CHRIS HEMSWORTH: Just in regards to fishing, I remember turning up and asking, ‘Okay, who’s going to teach me to harpoon a whale? Who’s the professional who’s going to show us that?’ And there was, thankfully, no one who put up their hand, but a lot of it was just trying to work out what would be functional and so on because there wasn’t someone on hand who could teach us that, anyway.
RON HOWARD: There were a couple of silent movies that depicted it at a time when there was still whaling, and harpoons were still used, so we had that as research, and there was a tremendous amount of research to build around the truth.
Back to the whale behaviors again, it wasn’t just what Melville wrote, or just what these guys put in their journals about the whale attack; there were also all of these etchings and drawings made by people who had actually been eyewitnesses to those kinds of terrifying moments.
QUESTION: Nathaniel, what does it feel like to hear your book being talked about and adapted into a screenplay, then seeing it told on the big screen?
NATHANIEL PHILBRICK: Well, it’s kind of surreal. For me, it began when my wife and I flew out of Nantucket in the 21st century and a day later were in Nantucket in 1819 outside London. It was like an out-of-body experience – it’s just amazing. And to have Ron involved in this, I was confident from the start that there would be some real integrity applied to it. The fact that the actors went to sailing school? That’s just the kind of thing that really eased my concerns. I knew there would be a real attempt to try to connect with the material as it happened, and then apply their own artistic vision to it. It’s been an immensely satisfying experience.
RON HOWARD: There’s another book that I want to recommend, by the way, anybody who’s interested. Which is, ‘Why Read Moby-Dick?,’ which Nat wrote. It’s a great little book, and I found it incredibly helpful because it deals, of course, a lot with Melville, but it also draws some other connections between the book and writing the book, and some of the themes – what was going on in Melville’s own life and the story of the Essex.
NATHANIEL PHILBRICK: What was cool was that Ron would call me up every now and then and have very specific questions about Moby-Dick – versus the Essex – and you can see it visually in the movie. That was really neat.
RON HOWARD: Nat suffered through a day of shooting. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, and when to look, you can see him.
NATHANIEL PHILBRICK: Yeah, but I have hair [laughs].