Interview: Bethany Hamilton, Subject Of Soul Surfer

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Andrew Simpson on 22 Sep 2011

Soul Surfer tells the incredible true story of Bethany Hamilton. A young girl from Hawaii obsessed with surfing, she was attacked by a shark in 2003 while surfing at the age of 13. Losing an arm, she returned to the water less than one month later to pursue, and realise, her goal of becoming a professional surfer. Having already co-written a bestselling book based on her experiences, Soul Surfer stars Anna Sophia Robb (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Bethany, and Hollywood stars Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her supportive parents, in an inspirational story underpinned with Hamilton’s Christian faith. The film has already been a huge hit overseas, grossing $43 million at the US box office. In person, Hamilton is a firm believer in the power of her own story, and remarkably bubbly and well adjusted considering the horrific accident that she has suffered.

FAN THE FIRE: How long has it taken for Soul Surfer taken to get made?

BETHANY HAMILTON: Well the idea has been there since the documentary [2007’s Heart of a Soul Surfer] and my manager is the guy, because if it wasn’t for him it wouldn’t have happened. He was persistent, and we kept pitching it. It wasn’t really coming together, and then 2 years ago we made Sean McNamara, the director of the film. I instantly loved him, because he was just a really honest, good guy, and he wanted to make an honest, good film.

FTF: How did you feel about Anna Sophia Bobb playing you?

BH: How she ended up getting the role was that I had seen her in several films, like Bridge to Terabithia and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factor, and a couple of others, and really enjoyed her and thought she could be right for the part. So we suggested her and she ended up getting the part. She came out to Hawaii and me surf coach and I taught her how to surf, and just got her comfortable in the ocean and helped make it look like she knew what she was doing on a surfboard. We’ve become really good friends, and I think getting to know me helped her play the role batter.

FTF: So does that mean you’ve had a lot of creative control, besides it being about you and being based on the book you wrote on your experiences?

BH: My brothers were working on set every day. We all have the same voice, and we think similarly, so if any one of us was always on set to give advice. We were involved every single day, even with writing the script.

FTF: You did a lot of the actual surfing in the movie too didn’t you?

BH: I did a lot of the stunt surfing, all the stuff after Bethany loses her arm is me!

FTF: Is there anything in particular you wanted to be included that didn’t make it?

BH: Not really, we really did get everything that really matters to us into the film. Overall I was really happy with how the film turned out, because you never know what’s going to happen when you combine Hollywood and a true story. Surfing is a really hard thing to portray, and then there’s my faith, so the odds of it turning out good are kind of low! But my family and I are so thrilled with the finished film.

FTF: How close does a biopic need to be to the reality of what happened?

BH: What I’ve learned through this is that making movies isn’t about making things exactly the same, but capturing the emotions and struggles, and also the good stuff we went through and putting that on screen.

FTF: Is there anything in the film that is fictional then?

BH: The only things that weren’t true were the boy friend character, but I like what he brought to the film because it shows that somebody is going to love me. A lot of girls believe lies that aren’t true, and so I think it’s cool to be able to encourage girls in that. The arch rival, she’s an added character, but in real life you have that, I didn’t mind that. All the other scenes are based on something.

FTF: In the film you’re not portrayed as being afraid to get back in the water after the attack. Is that really how it happened?

BH: I was more scared of losing surfing than sharks, because shark attacks are so rare. It’s not like every surfer out there is thinking ‘Oh God I’m going to be attacked by a shark today!’ People that drive cars don’t think ‘Oh God am I going to get in an accident 2 blocks from now?’

FTF: There was a documentary before the feature film. How does it compare?

BH: The documentary is more faith-based and detailed, I would say, They have their differences. This is a Hollywood feature film , so it’s different but more people will see it. You get to grow with Bethany, you see her growing up and her talent for surfing.

FTF: Faith is a very important part of that story isn’t it?

BH: My faith in God has been there since before I can remember, and it’s something that’s even more important to me that surfing. It’s not necessarily the same for other people, and I don’t try to push it on them, but I can see how God has taken my life and turned it into something beautiful that it might not have been if I didn’t trust in him.

FTF: What impact has all this had on your life?

BH: Well the book did really well and the movie has done much better than we expected, in the US at least! It definitely changes your life when you have that kind of stuff happen, and it’s been cool to see how it’s impacting people of all different ages, and the different stories about what people have gone through and how it’s encouraged them.

FTF: Will we be sitting here in five years time talking about the film based on the next chapter of your life?

BH: Definitely not!

Soul Surfer is out tomorrow.

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