Dozens of bloodthirsty alligators are out to get Haley and Dave Keller in the new horror-thriller Crawl, but for the actors behind the father-daughter duo, water was the real foe.
"It was punishing, grueling, miserable being in that green swamp for two months," Barry Pepper, one of the two stars, tells SYFY WIRE at a press event. "You'd come out and your whole body would be a prune. Not just your hands. You'd have dishpan body after 12 hours in there, because it was just easier to stay in the water than to get in and out and in and out."
Pepper and his co-star, Skins actress Kaya Scodelario, didn't actually come into contact with any gators during the roughly two-month shoot, which was filmed in Serbia rather than in the Florida swamps. Instead, the two battled life-size animatronics, a couple of stuntmen in suits, and CGI gators.
"As actors, you can't have your arm ripped off by a real gator," Pepper astutely notes.
The water in the movie, though, was very real — not nearly as muddy and murky as real floodwater would be, but at least this way viewers can actually see director Alexandre Aja's brutal gator kills.
Filming took place mainly on three sets, each built in massive tanks that allowed for them to be increasingly flooded as the Category 5 hurricane that trapped Haley and Dave in the gator-filled house rises. There was one that was just the crawlspace where they're initially trapped, another set of the whole house, and a third set that comprised basically an entire neighborhood, with multiple buildings, streets, and trees that were ready to get drowned by millions of liters of water.
"It was horrible — in the best way! I knew it was going to be s**t, and I wanted it to be s***," Scodelario tells SYFY. "I didn't want the pampering. I hate the Hollywood-y side of filming, I hate the people that go back to their trailer every two minutes."
"There were days that I'd go home and I would keep my fake blood and my mud on because I wanted the extra hour in bed," Scodelario continues. "It would take so long to scrub off at the end of the day. So I would just leave it on, and I'd go home, and my son would look at me and go 'Mommy?'"
Scodelario's character, Haley, is a competitive swimmer, which as you might imagine comes in handy during her encounter with quick-swimming gators. Prior to shooting Crawl, however, Scodelario describes herself as not a swimmer but "a sunbather, and I dipped in the water to cool down."
"I had a swim coach who was an ex-Olympian in London who I would do an hour in the pool with every day," she says of her training for the role. "I started with little floaties in the kids' pool and there would be, like, 6-year-olds beating me. I did that for about seven weeks and worked my way up."
The training paid off, and Scodelario's death-defying swims look believable — or at least, as believable as they can given the exaggerated nature of this gator-attack thriller. The killer gators are, naturally, the reason most moviegoers are headed to theaters to see Crawl, which had a respectable opening weekend, but Scoderlario and Pepper were both drawn by the father-daughter relationship at the film's core.
"In survival movies, there's a big strong guy, and he wants to save the pretty woman so that he can then ravish her when he gets home. And that's meant to be his motivation for saving the planet, is this chick he met five minutes ago," Scoderlario says. "For us, we were like, no, it's family."
Scoderlario says Haley and Dave's somewhat troubled but loving relationship gives the characters the strength they need to survive the rising floodwaters and chomping gator jaws.
"I think that's why she can do it," she says. "Yes, she's an athlete and she's been training for this, but if it wasn't her father, someone that she loved that much, maybe she wouldn't get as far as she has."
Pepper also connected with the characters' relationship, although he says that some of their character interactions didn't make the final cut of the film — for an understandable reason.
"In the crawlspace, they didn't know where the gators were," Pepper says. "There was a constant threat on the father and daughter, Dave and Haley, so [the filmmakers] didn't feel like they would have enough time to talk and argue and develop that relationship. Some of those scenes, maybe one or two that are missing, will be behind the scenes."
Even with some scenes cut, Dave and Haley's relationship gives the movie some heart to go along with its bite, and Scoderlario appreciates that there's more to her character than just fighting.
"I don't know why people keep giving me physical roles. I am honestly the laziest person in the world," she says, suggesting that maybe she doesn't want to fight reptiles underwater for her next movie. "I'm happy to play the kickass chick, I'd also like to be able to play the kickass chick who doesn't have to physically kick anyone's ass."
That isn't to say that she didn't enjoy Crawl, even if filming it was a trying, waterlogged experience.
"I loved that every day, Haley was going to do something incredible, whether it was climbing up onto the side of the kitchen or beat her dad back to life," Scoderlario says. "There was so much power in her, so much determination."