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Kids of the 1980s will remember Matthew Modine from his performances in movies like Full Metal Jacket, Vision Quest, and Married to the Mob. He’s also acted in socially striking films like Birdy and And the Band Played On. He’s really not known for horror movies or popcorn flicks, but he decided to be a part of 47 Meters Down because he is an avid environmentalist and he liked that although it’s a thriller, sharks are not “the bad guys” of the story.
We caught up with Modine at the press junket for 47 Meters and here’s what he had to say.
Dread Central: The director, Johannes Roberts, has done a few horror movies before. Did you see them?
Matthew Modine: I was not familiar with his work. He sent me the script, and it was one of those things where – there was a movie my friend Kiefer Sutherland was in called Phone Booth, where he was predominately on the phone for most of the film while that guy was locked in the phone booth, directed by Joel Schumacher – and it kind of reminded me of that element. It was a horror film, a suspenseful film, but without that supernatural thing that horror films have to have in order to work. I had long talks with Stanley Kubrick, we took two years making Full Metal Jacket, about why horror films are so popular and what is the attraction. We boiled it down to, after many discussions, that if there’s something evil in the world, something like a vampire that comes back to life, then there’s some hope and promise of there being something good afterward. So we put ourselves through this horrific trauma in hopes that there is life after death. I think it’s the same reason people go to church.
DC: Sharks aren’t supernatural, but they are still scary. Yet, they’re not truly dangerous, are they?
MM: Yeah, they say you have a better chance of getting hit by lighting or eaten by a hippo than being attacked by a shark. You know, the hippo looks so cute and adorable, and lightning just seems unlikely, but a shark has all these teeth and it has a scowl. Its mouth turns down into a frown, and it looks mean, whereas with dolphins it’s turned up and even killer whales have a kind of grin on their face. So sharks just have a perceived nightmarish image. For so many centuries we were sea faring mammals and that was probably a big fear; we saw sharks and the horror of them. I think we’ve all heard about how during the Second World War, the people were clinging to the sides of the ship and one by one they just got eaten by sharks. It’s terrifying. I’m a lover of sharks. They serve such an important part of the ecology of the ocean. If you Google it you can see [how many] sharks are killed a year for their fins and for sport. It’s barbaric. We use the words that sharks are predators and we know that the biggest predator in the world is the human species.
DC: You made this movie a long time ago. It actually came out on DVD in other countries under the name In The Deep. But now it’s getting a big theatrical release here in the States. How does that affect you, as an actor – or is it something you don’t think about?
MM: It’s kind of a fantastic story. It was a Harvey Weinstein/Bob Weinstein low budget feature model that they were doing for a certain amount of money, and they went into this. I don’t know much about the Weinstein company but they had some films that hadn’t done well, [but] they were very pleased with this movie and Harvey invested another million dollars in visual effects. Still, they decided it was best to release the film in DVD form, and it was in the trucks, boxed up and on its way to the stores with a different title, and our new distributor Byron Allen saw the film and loved it, and said ‘This is a huge summer movie.’ He called the Weinsteins and said ‘I want to buy the movie.’ [The Weinsteins] said ‘If you want to buy the movie you have to come up with the money right now because this film is in boxes and being distributed to stores tomorrow.’ So he took a gamble, found the money, bought the film and here we are. I think, well in this case, he’s got a shark by the tail because my father was a drive-in theater manager and this is the kind of movie my father prayed for during the summer months. This is the kind of crowd pleasing fun popcorn movie that does so well in the summer.
DC: Do you dive?
MM: Yes. We talk about being in the moment, so many people doing yoga and stuff today, but right now we’re all sitting at this table, our hearts are beating, we’re breathing, [and] we’re not really conscious of it. But as soon as you go in the water with that aqua lung and bottle of air on your back, you become acutely aware of being in the moment and I encourage everybody to experience that.
DC: Where did the water scenes in the movie take place?
MM: Pinewood [Studio], which is where they filmed the girls in London. The bulk of their scenes were shot at Pinewood. Pinewood has opened this new underwater tank in the Dominican Republic.
DC: How did they make the tanks look like the ocean?
MM: When you look underwater there’s always stuff floating around: fish bones, shit, lots of stuff. So in the tanks they put ground-up broccoli in the water, just to give it that look of particles in the water. But you know what broccoli smells like after a couple of days… the poor girls. When you have to go to the bathroom and you’re in a wetsuit you pee, so it got pretty funky in the tank.
DC: How is 47 Meters Down a “horror” movie, to you?
MM: This is a horror film without the supernatural. It is something that could happen, might happen, does happen. I just thought that it was really suspenseful. I love Peter Benchley’s book Jaws, it was so incredible because the presence of the shark was so mysterious. It was quite different in the film [because], the shark seemed to have a consciousness and an agenda. It really wanted to get that boat and those people on the boat, but in Benchley’s book it was more of a mysterious force of nature. Jaws was a huge movie at the drive-in. After it was a first run feature, it became a second run.
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).
47 Meters Down comes out June 16th.
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.