Actor Rachel Hendrix Talks “The Perfect Wave”
Part One of The Perfect Wave Interview Series
[Note: Part Two will feature Ian McCormack on Monday, 9/15; Part Three — Cheryl Ladd on Tuesday, 9/16]
One sting from just one box jellyfish — one of the deadliest jellies in the world — kills a man in minutes.
In 1982, off the island of Mauritius, surfer Ian McCormack was stung by five box jellyfish multiple times. Not surprisingly, he died shortly after. Later, as his dead body was lying on a morgue table, he miraculously came back to life (and scared the living daylights out of the doctor and the nurses on duty in the morgue that evening).
The event, amazingly enough, is indeed a true story. Ian is still alive today, and you can see videos here of family members and a nurse confirming that Ian is telling the truth. I’d especially recommend this video of Ian telling the full, detailed account of his story (though it is over an hour long, so make yourself comfortable before watching it).
The incredible things that happened to Ian while he was dead, and the fascinating worldwide surfing trek and love story that preceded his death, are the subjects of the new film The Perfect Wave, starring Scott Eastwood (Fury, Trouble with the Curve, son of Clint Eastwood), Rachel Hendrix (October Baby), and Cheryl Ladd (Charlie’s Angels). My full review of the film is here.
Rachel Hendrix won acclaim for her lead role performance in the film October Baby, which performed very well in the box office despite its limited release and its competition with The Hunger Games. She is also starring in the upcoming feature film Coffee Shop with Jon Lovitz, Laura Vandervoort, and Kevin Sorbo.
I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Rachel about her experiences making The Perfect Wave:
The Perfect Wave really channels the classic vibe of the surf documentary Endless Summer, have you seen that documentary?
I mention that because of all the exotic locations in The Perfect Wave. During that portion of the film, it just felt like this wonderful escape. Did you kind of feel that way while you were filming it, like you were able to escape from the rest of the world for awhile?
Oh absolutely, I mean you nailed it. It’s such a beautiful film, the cinematography just really shows the truth of where we were in our locations. You can’t not be totally overwhelmed with all the beauty, and definitely was able to relax towards the end of the shooting. In the beginning you’re nervous and you’re getting to know everyone, but it was definitely incredible to kind of rest in all of those beautiful locations.
Did you have a favorite location?
South Africa, I mean, everywhere in South Africa where we were shooting blew me away. I could not get over how beautiful that country was. Every coast is different. Every part of the country is different. It’s just such a unique place. And I would say I’m just trying to figure out a way to get back to South Africa to go for a little bit of me time, for sure. But yeah, definitely South Africa blew me away.
Yeah, a little more leisure time there would be great, I’m sure, because film shoots are so demanding.
They are. I didn’t get a lot of exploring time, unfortunately. I did have a lot of free time though because my character, she wasn’t shooting every day. I had people helping me know where to go and travel around, so I did get to explore a little bit more than other folks did.
I love how the film shifts from this surf movie into this great love story, and then suddenly it turns into this miracle story. I’ve seen a lot of films and honestly I haven’t seen one quite like this. What was your reaction when you first read the script?
Oh, you know Ian’s story is really one-of-a-kind. I know from what he encountered it was very individual to him, and it changed his life — just changed his life. Ultimately, the storytellers were trying to be as authentic as possible, and you can’t get more authentic than a true story. So that’s what I was drawn to. And that’s what ultimately I think makes the film so powerful.
I agree. I was able to watch a video of Ian tell his story, and also interviewed him, and I was really excited to see that they stuck to the story so closely. Did you get a chance to meet Ian at all or talk to him?
I did! I did, he came to South Africa, he came down to Cape Town when we started shooting first day of principal photography. So he flew in from London, and he gave his testimony at the church there.
Oh wow, so you got to hear it first-hand.
Yeah! Got to hear it, and he prayed over us and just sent us off, and that was my quick encounter. Would love to spend more time with him. We have a very close mutual friend, and I eventually want to get out to London and actually get to talk with him further after the release of the movie on DVD and everything — hoping there’s an opportunity for that. He’s a great guy, a wonderful man.
That’d be a great excuse to go see London too! [laughs]
I know, I know!
One of the questions I asked Ian was what his life was like after dying and coming back to life. And the thing that struck me the most was how he was so hungry to read the Word. The miracle obviously changed his life, and it has changed the lives of many others. But, hearing about the story is one thing; the work involved in actually making the movie is something else entirely. Did working on an intensely spiritual movie like this have an effect on your walk with God?
There’s certainly not one thing I can pinpoint in which I felt like I grew or retracted. I certainly felt like it was a — wow, how do I put this in words —
It’s kind of a hard question, sorry. [laughs]
No, no, it’s a good question. I just tried to extract and learn from every experience, no matter how beautiful or how painful. There were a lot of things and resistance in getting this movie made.
Oh really, wow.
Yeah, it was just one of those [experiences] that you don’t really feel like it was easy, the whole process wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t easy for me, and I don’t think it was easy for anybody. So growing and coming out of it and being so thankful for the opportunity to work with Bruce the director and Trevor Brown the DP [Director of Photography]; and Scott portrayed Ian so well. He just blew it out of the water. We were all on set really hoping that the people we encountered would see a light in us that looked different than what they had seen before. In a lot of ways we succeeded there and I felt like in a lot of ways we failed too just because you don’t get to be on your best when you’re on a film set. You get stressed, and especially these indie films that are really running a tight ship, it’s a difficult time. So I learned a lot, and it really did usher me into a place of understanding myself and this industry a lot deeper.
I thought you and Scott did a superb job in your roles. Was blown away by both of you. Was really caught up in the love story and what was going to happen next, and I was so caught up in it that I almost forgot there was this overarching story about the miracle that was going to happen. How did you prepare for the role and, since you mentioned challenges earlier, what challenges did you face in that process?
Well, it’s such a different world to be thrown into, a brand new group of people and you want to bring your professional face, you want to be on top of your game as possible while still being kind and still being humble. There are egos and there are humble people and conflicts and resolutions, I mean, just working through the little things and trying to be an example because you’re on the set telling the story of this great, real-life experience. The last thing you want to do is screw up your own witness and be somebody that they look at and go, “Ooh, I don’t really find Christianity to be real or authentic at all.” You’re carrying this weight and you’re praying, “Ok, God give me the strength, humility, and grace to always be caring, with You going before me and not me going before You.” That was just a challenge more than anything else, and Scott was coming down and we had a lot of talks about faith and a lot of conversations about what [role] religion had played in his life. Those are all very personal questions, and they’re vulnerable questions, and you get to a place where you learn what you need to learn, and you work through it, and you just try to always turn on your love before trying to show, “Hey, I’m right,” or, “What this story says is true to Ian but it’s not true for everybody else.” That’s a difficult argument to participate in, so you just listen a lot more, and you’re humble, because ultimately these films just face a lot of resistance because they do change lives, and the stories are not easy to tell.
I love what you said about listening. There’s a thing called “active listening” in evangelism where you’re really just trying to ask good questions and listen. I imagine on a film set you’re with all these people and you’re put together really like on a ship, riding on the journey together, you can’t really get off the ship. [laughs]
I’m sure that stretches you as a person as far as patience and all that. But I’m thankful that the movie was made because it was really powerful. But, my next question — and you already mentioned a little bit about Scott — but was it fun acting with Scott Eastwood, the son of Clint Eastwood, and did you get a chance to meet Clint?
I didn’t [get a chance to meet Clint], no, he didn’t come down. Scott was on set every day. He was working every single day, long days, getting up early, surfing; he was just slammed, and I don’t think it ever even occurred to him of having his father come down and visit — although we were all hoping for it, for sure, [laughs] but Scott is a professional and he is a magnetic person, and people enjoy his presence. And I really liked working with him. He was easy to work with on-screen, and he was able to really just be very professional about the romance and knowing that at the end of the day this is us telling a story, and the boundaries that come there. He was very respectful and really excelled in his portrayal. And I would hope that in the future if we ever had an opportunity to work together again it’d be interesting to see how far he’s come. This is one of his first lead roles, if not the first. I really enjoyed him and I think he’s going to do a lot in this business.
It’s exciting — it’s interesting to see children of actors choose the same profession, and I think he is standing on his own talent.
If he wasn’t related to Clint, in other words, he would still be great because he’s so talented on-screen. And you both also did have that great acting/on-screen chemistry, which really made the movie work. I’d like to talk about your photography. It was interesting to read in your bio that you love photography and taking pictures on set. I met the actor Jeff Bridges once, and he explained that he really loves photography and taking pictures on set too.
Oh, does he?
Yeah, he eventually published a book of his pictures.
I had no idea! That’s awesome! I think unit photography is such a cool thing.
Do you think you also might publish your pictures in a book someday or are they more for personal use?
Absolutely would publish. I would so love to do that. I love behind-the-scenes, telling the story of what’s going on. I love unit photography. I can look at it all day. Even my screensaver right now is my favorite black and white shots from The Perfect Wave, all the behind-the-scenes. It’s been cycling on my screen for years, and I love it every time. I got to ride elephants and surf and go to Indonesia and hold a baby orangutang and all of these things. I have lived a life in this movie. I have lived a full life just shooting this movie. And those remind me of that. I think unit photography is such a cool thing. Would love to publish. If people would make a demand for it, then I’d do it sooner than later.
I’m sure with technology there’s probably some low-cost way to do it.
You know, if you go to JeffBridges.com — I looked it up yesterday to make sure it was still there — he does have it up there still. You can look at his photography book there to get some inspiration. Was there any particular shot from your Perfect Wave unit photography that was your favorite shot?
There are probably five. None of them are surfing because my lens wasn’t long enough, so I just tried to tell stories about what was going on with the camera and the people and the actors and the directors. And Scott Mortensen was one of our assistant directors, and he is such a compelling person on-camera. He plays Lachlan in the movie. He’s in most of my images because he just found his way into them, and I have a really great shot of him standing in Uluwatu, Bali, about to go for the surf, and he’s just looking up at the sky smiling, and it’s a great portrait of him.
Wow, that’s awesome.
And, yeah, I would love to do something with these [pictures] one day, for sure.
Well, if that happens I’ll look forward to seeing those!
[And note to our readers: if you read Scott Mortensen’s bio here, you will understand why he would be smiling at the sky like that. He has an amazing story himself.]
Part Two of The Perfect Wave interview series will feature Ian McCormack himself, and Part Three will feature the accomplished actor Cheryl Ladd, who plays Ian’s mother.