HEAT VISION

'Sea Fever' Star Hermione Corfield on Sci-Fi Movie's Eerie Relevance

The actor, who plays a scientist who must enforce a quarantine, also delves into her small roles in 'Mission: Impossible' and 'The Last Jedi': "If you overthought it in that instance, it would’ve been game over."
'Sea Fever' star Hermione Corfield   |   Samir Hussein/Getty Images
The actor, who plays a scientist who must enforce a quarantine, also delves into her small roles in 'Mission: Impossible' and 'The Last Jedi': "If you overthought it in that instance, it would’ve been game over."

“I want us to stay on the boat until we’re sure that none of us is infected … It’s your families. It’s your husbands. It’s your babies. Hate me if you want, but we have to take action. We have to take responsibility.”

Sea Fever star Hermione Corfield delivered this monologue a year and a half ago, and yet, it is eerily similar to the countless speeches we’ve heard over the last few weeks that urge us all to self-quarantine for the sake of reducing the transmission of COVID-19 to those around us — even if you think you’re healthy. Unfortunately, not everyone has heeded the advice of scientists and politicians around the world, something Corfield’s scientist character, Siobhán, also contends with while aboard a trawler whose crew has been exposed to a mysterious infectious disease.

Since the Irish science fiction thriller was shot in the fall of 2018, Corfield never imagined that life would ever imitate her art to this degree.

“I completely feel for and empathize hugely with the scientists that have been trying to whistleblow and warn the world since this whole thing started in December or whenever it was,” Corfield tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Siobhán in Sea Fever struggles constantly to communicate and express how serious this is. It’s not about individuals or looking after oneself; it’s about the wider picture in the world and what exactly this could do to the entire human race. So, yeah, the parallels are very, very eerie.”

Corfield also reflects on a couple of her early film parts in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Oddly enough, both films relied on the first-act deaths of Corfield’s characters to serve as a catalyst for the rest of the story. Since Corfield only had bit parts, each project — while exciting — was overly secretive, which meant that she wasn’t entirely aware of the circumstances in each of her scenes. Still, she credits filmmakers Rian Johnson and Christopher McQuarrie for their guidance and support.

“The whole experience was quite surreal because it was one of my first few jobs, and the audition process had to be secretive. So, I didn’t really know what was going on for most of it,” Corfield says of Rogue Nation. “I had to pretend that it wasn’t as big a deal as it was — otherwise, for one of your first few experiences on a film set, if you overthought it in that instance, it would’ve been game over. But, it was an easy set to be on and incredibly inspiring and exciting.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Corfield elaborates on her Rogue Nation and The Last Jedi experiences, working with McQuarrie and Johnson, and the surprising difficulty of learning an Irish accent as an Englishwoman.

First and foremost, how is everything with you and yours?

Good, thank you. I’m currently in the countryside, doing everything remotely. So, it’s been nice and peaceful. My grandparents live a minute away, and we’re just waving at them through glass and dropping things off on their doorstep. So, it’s been interesting.

So, I thought Rust Creek put you through the wringer, but then I saw Sea Fever. Physically speaking, was this the hardest job you’ve ever had?

It was difficult across the board. Physically, it was tricky doing all the underwater stuff, but I really, really enjoyed it. We did all of it in dive tanks in Sweden and with proper training. I was fully prepared, but the physicality in carrying all the equipment … There’s one bit when I had to walk along this plank to jump into the water, which is that shot of when I first hit the water. It was incredibly heavy and incredibly difficult to do. We did lots of shots underwater where I had to hold my breath and when I had to untangle Ardalan [Esmaili]'s character, Omid, from the tentacles; it was so difficult and challenging. I enjoyed the fact that the set was quite claustrophobic and small; it felt like a play set, really. So, that wasn’t so much a challenge, and I enjoyed us all being there together. With the Irish accent and physical requirements, I’d say it was probably my most challenging job.

Compared to Rust Creek’s Kentucky accent, was the Irish accent more difficult?

Yes, I think so. I think the Southern accent is quite close to the English accent. It’s almost easier than other accents in America; I don’t know why, but it is. The Irish accent is very different, but it’s a beautiful, beautiful accent. So, I didn’t mind doing it.

You play a scientist who pleads with her boat mates to take an infectious disease seriously and to quarantine for the sake of their loved ones and communities. Of course, most of these people refuse to listen to the scientist, which sounds awfully familiar, sadly. Given that you shot this movie a year and a half ago, are the real-life parallels quite eerie in a way?

They are! It’s also something I never expected to experience firsthand — the world having to shut down, self-isolate and quarantine ourselves. So, I never dreamed that this would actually be a reality. I completely feel for and empathize hugely with the scientists that have been trying to whistleblow and warn the world since this whole thing started in December or whenever it was. Siobhán in Sea Fever struggles constantly to communicate and express how serious this is. It’s not about individuals or looking after oneself; it’s about the wider picture in the world and what exactly this could do to the entire human race. So, yeah, the parallels are very, very eerie. When we were making the film, Greta Thunberg was known, but she wasn’t at the height of her fame. She’s also a lone voice in a world that’s pushing constantly for economic gain, and she’s the one saying, “No, there’s something else to be thought about here.” When she elevated to where she is now, the parallels between her and the lone voice of Siobhán were quite interesting as well.

When Siobhán appealed to the crew by saying, “I want us to stay on the boat until we’re sure that none of us is infected … It’s your families. It’s your husbands. It’s your babies. Hate me if you want, but we have to take action. We have to take responsibility,” that’s obviously a monologue we’ve heard a lot over the last few weeks.

Completely. Some people assume that if you don’t have symptoms, it doesn’t affect you, but it’s not about that; it’s about the wider good. So, you’re right; that’s what that monologue is all about. It’s personal responsibility for the wider good.

I realize that most of the trawler scenes were contained, but did you get seasick at all when you shot the exteriors at sea?

The first 10 days, we did all of the exterior shots on the deck and underneath, actually, wherever the fish were caught. That was all on a boat, and we did a few scenes out on there as well. I did struggle a bit after about a week. Once you get off the boat, you get a kind of sea-leg effect where you can’t quite walk in a straight line. You’re constantly trying to balance yourself and trying not to wobble, which means that when you get on land, you’re all over the place. The room even spins when you try to sit down. So, that was difficult.

What did they use to make that blue slime?

It was a kind of gel. The first time we used the slime, we were playing around with different colors to figure out how you could see it most clearly. A lot of the time, we’re touching it, and it’s between our fingers … So, we had to make sure that the camera was able to see it and that it captured the light. I think we kept adding dye to it, that blue hue, so that you could actually see it.

Since Siobhán is Irish, you had to learn the aforementioned Irish accent, but you also had to color your hair red. This led to the film’s acknowledgement of a sailor superstition that redheads are bad luck at sea. Apparently, some believe that Gilligan’s Island extended this superstition’s shelf life. What else did you learn about this along the way?

I had heard of it before, but lots of people said, “Is this actually a thing?” I didn’t know whether it was anti-Celtic or not. That’s what [writer-director] Neasa [Hardiman] and I talked about. There’s a long tradition of that kind of mistrust and superstition, and I think it begins a long, long time ago in anti-Celtic sentiment. 

Siobhán was a great scientist in the lab and classroom, but she seemed to lack life experience, which her mentor desperately tried to encourage. Is there a time in your life where you went on your first big voyage of sorts, like Siobhán was trying to have?

That’s an interesting one. I think your first life experience is when you start making proper decisions for yourself — and whatever that results in. I remember the first time I decided to do something for myself, I was 14, and I decided I wanted to be an actor. I auditioned for National Youth Theater, and I went and did the calls for two weeks when I was 15. That was when I first felt like I truly took charge of my life. After that, I went traveling for a bit, which was brilliant. Then, I went to Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute and UCL [University College London]. Yeah, I think it’s that first experience of taking charge and ownership of your destiny and decisions. As you said, it’s getting out from the lab — and getting out from home as well. (Laughs.)

We just discussed life experiences, but I now have to ask you about a couple of your notable death experiences that likely took place on the stages of Pinewood Studios near London. Can you first reflect on “Record Shop Girl” in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation?

The whole experience was quite surreal because it was one of my first few jobs, and the audition process had to be secretive. So, I didn’t really know what was going on for most of it. By the time I actually got to shooting, I couldn't believe it was all a reality. We did a rehearsal the night before, so I came in to rehearse with Chris [McQuarrie] and Tom [Cruise]. And then, the day after, we shot the scene. It was an incredible film set, and I think everyone had their finger on the pulse. It moved seamlessly and was incredibly exciting. I had to pretend that it wasn’t as big a deal as it was, otherwise, for one of your first few experiences on a film set, if you overthought it in that instance, it would’ve been game over. But it was an easy set to be on and incredibly inspiring and exciting.

Since your character was so likable in her one scene, we, as an audience, immediately wanted retribution for her death. So, it’s a credit to your performance and effective writing.

Yeah, it was exciting. Because the plot was all so secretive, I didn’t realize all that, but I remember someone telling me, “Oh my God, do you know that you’re mentioned again?” I was like, “No way!” It was such huge excitement for one of my first few jobs.

And what comes to mind regarding your experience as Tallie Lintra, the heroic and fallen Resistance pilot, from Star Wars: The Last Jedi?

Again, it was a really secretive experience starting with the audition process, and it was surreal to be on that set as well. I can’t remember if it was the first day or second day I was there, but I went up in the A-wing, and that was really, really amazing. Like Chris, Rian [Johnson] is amazing to work with, and he talked me through everything. It was so secretive, so I wasn’t entirely sure what battle scene it was or where Tallie was at that point. After shooting it and once it had come out, the support was just phenomenal. I’m really impressed by the Star Wars fan base as well.

Chris McQuarrie’s Twitter feed self-destructs/deletes like clockwork, but I remember an exchange in which he gave Rian a hard time and jokingly took credit for him casting you. Were you aware of this?

(Laughs.) I did see that, yeah. They tried to get me to say which one I preferred, and I didn’t know what to say.

I’ve talked to several Star Wars pilots the last few years, and Jessica Henwick seems to be the only one who didn’t get motion sickness from the cockpit rig. Did you happen to get motion sickness from your A-wing rig?

No, I didn’t, actually!

Well, you’re in elite company, then.

(Laughs.) Thank you!

***

Sea Fever is available on digital HD and VOD on April 10.

  • Brian Davids
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