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Based on a true story, The Impossible is Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona's follow-up to his hit horror movie The Orphanage. The film stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and centers around one family's survival of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
I got the chance to sit down with Bayona and talk about the creation of The Impossible, from shooting a deadly tsunami wave to Naomi Watts' potential Oscar nomination.
After his successful feature film debut with The Orphanage, which became the highest grossing Spanish-language film in Spain, Bayona set his eyes on the real life story of the Belon family. The family of five survived the deadly tidal waves that struck Thailand's beach communities during their Christmas vacation. Maintaining authenticity became Bayona's real challenge despite feeling the pressures to deliver another big hit.
"I think there will always be pressure regardless if the film is a success or not. If this film doesn’t do well then yea there will be much more pressure for the next one because that might be the end for me if I don’t get it right. [Laughs] The pressures on this film were more about telling the story correctly and in the logistics," said Bayona. "It was a massive project with hundreds of extras. It rained every day running our sets and schedule. The real challenge was paying tribute to all the people that lost their lives in the tsunami. "
Preparation for the film took almost two years and shooting lasted for 25 weeks between Spain and Thailand on more than 60 sets. Despite all the preparations the most challenging scene proved to be the creation of the tsunami wave. 35,000 gallons of water were used on a daily basis in order to create the violent mass of water.
"The whole tsunami had to be a surprise. It had to be shocking and intense," said Bayona. "After the tsunami you start to dissect the emotions of the story. We worked on that scene for more than a year. Technically it was a challenge to create that wave and flood. We shot the scene over a one month period. We used millions and millions of gallons for that scene and the actors were so brave. Naomi and Ewan spent a month in the water, swallowing dirty water. They were secured, of course, because the current was so strong."
Bayona admits that it was crucial to hear as many stories from those who had survived the tsunami but recounting those stories on set proved to be a bit of an emotional struggle for many.
"I had to stop at times because the emotion was so overwhelming," confessed Bayona. "It kept happening throughout the shoot. The story is so moving it resonates with you in such a powerful way. There were many days on set where different actors would be going through emotional situations."
Watts had the opportunity to meet the Belon family and have extensive conversations before and during production with the mother Maria Belon. Bayona believes that interaction helped Watts bring the script to life.
"I know that Naomi did her best," confessed Bayona. "I had an extraordinary time working with Naomi. Watching her work every day, the relationship we developed on set was pretty intense. We had a lot of trust in each other and we just let ourselves go. The story is so powerful that every day of shooting was very intense. I felt very lucky to have Naomi trust me the way she did."
Watts' performance has garnered incredible support from the acting community and film critics are predicting an Oscar nomination for the British actress. Just last week she received a SAG and Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a leading role and Bayona couldn’t be happier for her much deserved success.
"There were moments where I was not sure what was happening in front of the camera because she inhabited the character in such a way that I never said 'cut'," said Bayona. "We just did takes back-to-back and that actually led Naomi to a level of exhaustion and she loved that. She likes being pushed to the limit and once she's there she wants more."
"We never knew if we were doing things right until we started shooting and watching the first results," said Bayona. "We never thought the film would perform so well. There's a big recession in Spain so no one is really going to the movies but the lines for this film reminded me of going to the movies when I was a child and seeing a massive long line. The film is still number one after four weeks. It's a relief."