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Jaume Collet-Serra says ‘Shallows’ most challenging film for him

Jaume Collet-Serra and Blake Lively at the premiere for their film, "The Shallows."

NEW YORK — Though his film “The Shallows” is all about survival in the face of pretty tough odds, director Jaume Collet-Serra said he doubts he himself could achieve what his star Blake Lively’s character accomplished in his movie.

The film has been something of a sleeper hit for Columbia Pictures — grossing more than double its estimated $17 million budget in its first two weeks of release.

Lively is “the kind of person and kind of actress you can believe could stitch herself up if attacked by a shark. … If it was me, I’d simply slowly bleed to death. I’m not capable of doing anything like that.

“Of course,” the Spanish director said with a wry smile, “I also wouldn’t be wearing a pierced earring I could turn into a needle to stitch myself up, either!”

In “The Shallows,” her Nancy Adams character heads to an isolated beach in Mexico. Surfing on the lonely beach by herself, she is drawn into a battle of wills with a Great White shark, whose feeding ground is in the water off the beautiful beach.

The fact that Nancy is a smart medical student in the film “was very important. She obviously had the kind of intelligence to work out a number of key decisions, once she’s trapped by the shark,” added Collet-Serra.

The director, best known for his thrillers with Liam Neeson like “Unknown” and “Non-Stop” and his horror pictures like “House of Wax” and “Orphan,” admitted that when it comes to overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, “no one really knows one’s capability until faced with those frightening things.

“The whole point of the movie was to have a character — who unconsciously had been looking for a moment to cross the line — to discover what she is made of. … She went investigating something she saw in the water, when she should have absolutely headed in the opposite direction and got back to shore.

“She went into the shark’s territory, the shark didn’t come looking for her. The shark is a metaphor for any kind of fear. For a surfer, that is the one thing they fear the most — but it can be extrapolated into anybody’s worst fear.”

Speaking of fears, Collet-Serra smiled as he explained that, “as a director, making this movie was, in a sense, kind of the same thing — overcoming my fears of the unknown. Getting into this project was looking for trouble and to discover, ‘What am I made of?’ as a director.

“My fears were many. I have only one [main] character. I have only one location. I have to deal with water. I have to deal with difficult weather. I have a complicated CG character. I have a kid playing on the beach. They tell you never to work with all of those things in one movie — and I have them all in this film!”

As for shooting on Australia’s remote Lord Howe Island, Collet-Serra said that locale meant everything to him. “Despite the fact the weather could change every 10 minutes — and often did — and despite the fact it was so complicated to shoot in such an out-of-the-way place, I cannot imagine having made this movie anywhere else.”

The director explained that so many film locations are well-known to the viewing audience, from the moment he set foot on Lord Howe Island, he knew that was where he needed to shoot “The Shallows.”

“To find some place like this that was totally unique — nothing had ever before been shot there — was a fantastic opportunity.

“Challenging? Yes. More expensive? Yes. But, in the final analysis it was totally, totally worth it. That beach and that island were, and are, a very important character in the film — all by itself.”