Jude Law and his co-stars of Black Sea weren’t just pretending to go on a gold hunt in a submarine. The cast and crew of the new thriller, which Universal’s specialty division Focus Features is releasing in New York and L.A. this weekend, spent a few weeks filming in a real submarine in England.
“It’s this really f—ed-up submarine. It looks like if you push it, it’s going to fall over,” screenwriter Dennis Kelly told The Hollywood Reporter at Black Sea‘s New York premiere Wednesday night, of the real vessel used for part of filming. Once shooting moved to a set, they tried to keep things similarly confined, Kelly explained, noting that it was “enclosed … so the crew had to [deal] with it the way you would a real submarine.”
Kelly, who was approached by director Kevin Macdonald and producer Charles Steel to write a submarine film that also dealt with themes of greed and desperation, explained that they rewrote the script around the particular vessel where they filmed the action.
“The entire geography of the submarine had to change,” Kelly said. “Everything that you do in the submarine has a very precise path,” which meant that the characters’ movements and behavior changed.
In general, though, Kelly said setting a movie in such tight quarters “brings it all down to what those characters are feeling and what’s happening in those tiny moments. It sort of really focuses it down.”
For Macdonald, filming in a confined environment also provided advantages by limiting the options he had as a director.
“A lot of the work is done for you,” he said. “You can’t suddenly go to a wide shot. You can’t suddenly have your actors running around all directions. You have to do what the space dictates.”
Shooting on a submarine, Macdonald said, also gave the film an authentic feel.
“The real submarine gave both me as the director and the actors a sense of what it’s really like for somebody to be underwater in a metal box,” he added. “When you’ve got real torpedo tubes and real dials and real things around you, it just helps as an actor.”
Law also told THR that when he read the script, he liked that the setting created believable stakes for the characters.
“It was clear there were going to be incredibly nail-biting thriller elements because you’re on a submarine, so if anything goes wrong, you’re going to die,” Law explained of the script, which he said along with Macdonald’s involvement was what attracted him to the project. “And I loved the social themes that were interwoven — the idea of the discarded working man, fighting to reclaim self-respect, the idea of this skilled few who’ve been discarded by society working together to beat the bank. I also sort of liked the slightly iconic elements of Robinson the character. At the time, I was in rehearsal for Henry V… in London, and there were parts of it when I thought, ‘This guy’s like Henry V. He’s like Captain Ahab.’ There are classical qualities to him that I wanted to investigate.”
Black Sea‘s original story, aimed at an adult audience, is somewhat of a rarity among high-profile films these days, but Steel said he thinks there’s an audience for this type of fare.
“It feels like it plays very much to an older audience, specifically male,” he said. “And even though it’s set now, it feels like it’s got a retro feel and feels like a throwback to films we love and don’t see so much of, which are character-driven thrillers that feel quite real.”
Macdonald was a bit more cautious in speculating about the audience for the film, saying, “I hope there’s an appetite for it.”
Both he and Law said they made the kind of movie they’d like to see.