The Impossible tells the true story of one family’s survival of the 2004 Thailand tsunami, which killed almost 300,000 people. Although it is the story of Maria Belon and her family, who were Spanish visitors on vacation in Thailand when the tsunami struck on the day following Christmas, the movie has changed their nationality to a British couple, Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons.
I spoke with Ewan about this powerful and inspirational movie at the press day for the film.
Do you remember where you were when you heard about the tsunami in Thailand?
I don’t remember where I was.
I remember seeing the images and being shocked by them, but at the same time I’ve done so much research on the film that it’s difficult now to remember what I remember from 2004 and what I’ve subsequently seen in preparation for this part.
How did the role come to you, and did you know that what happened to this family was a true story?
I was told that I was being sent a script to read about the tsunami in 2004, but I didn’t have any more information other than Juan Antonio (Bayona) was directing it. I’d become familiar with his film The Orphanage, and he was definitely a director I wanted to work with.
The script was incredibly direct and powerfully honest, so when I found out it was a true story I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Some of the lines of dialogue are almost too good to be written by a writer.
They are lines that Maria, the real mom, remembers hearing said, or remembers saying herself. She spent so much time working with Sergio (G Sanchez, the screenwriter) on the script that some of that dialogue is real.
Did you get to speak with Maria’s husband, whom your character is based on?
I didn’t get a chance to speak with him before we started filming, but I felt that I knew him very well from the script. Sergio knew him and Juan was very familiar with him and they were able to fill in any questions I had about what he was like as a man.
I guess because we were transposing them from being a Spanish family to being a British family, I felt like it wasn’t necessary to try to [be like him physically], I felt I had some kind of license, but I wanted to capture him so that he would feel like I was playing him.
What did he think of your performance in The Impossible?
A month or so after we started shooting the whole family came out to Thailand together for the first time since they’d left in 2004.
It was a very emotional experience for them to come back and visit. I suddenly became [filled] with fear that he wouldn’t like what I was doing, or feel like I hadn’t captured him at all. But I’m happy to say that he was quite please.
How did you as a father yourself handle working with the two youngest actors who play your children in this?
I’ve seen it with directors who emotionally blackmail children into giving a performance, or actually scare them into giving a reaction, and I said right at the beginning, ‘I won’t be involved in anything like that.’
I wouldn’t want someone to do it to my children and I’m certainly not going to do it to somebody else’s. So we worked with the children as actors, and arrived at a place where playing the scenes, they knew exactly what was going on, what was real and what was not real.
Shot in Thailand, in the exact place where the tsunami struck, surrounded by people who suffered the actual event, Ewan was asked how important it was to keep the movie accurate. Play the video below to see and hear his reply.
Click on the full-screen button for best viewing.