IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bethany Hamilton Discusses 'Soul Surfer'

Thursday, 07 April 2011 16:38 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bethany Hamilton Discusses 'Soul Surfer'

Bethany Hamilton became a championship surfer before the age of ten but it was her life-altering encounter with a shark that gave her national attention.

In 2003, Hamilton was attacked by a shark while surfing and as a result lost her entire left arm just below the shoulder. Against all odds she returned to surfing in 2005 and, with the use of only one arm, took 1st place in the NSSA national championship, a goal that she had been trying to achieve since before her accident. In 2008 she began competing professionally on the Association of Surfing Professionals World Qualifing Series against many of the best female surfers in the world and placed 3rd overall.

But now, Bethany's courageous story finally comes to the big screen with Soul Surfer, which opens in theaters everywhere on April 8th and features AnnaSophia Robb (Jumper) as Hamilton. The film also stars Oscar winner Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets), and veteran actor Dennis Quaid (Any Given Sunday) as Bethany's parents, as well as Grammy Award winning recording artist Carrie Underwood in her feature film debut.

iamROGUE.com recently had a chance to catch up with Bethany Hamilton to ask the exceptional surfer a few questions about her life, her family, the movie, and her inspirational story.

To begin with, there has been interest in turning your story into a film since right after your accident in 2003, what did you think of the idea when you were initially approached? Were you or your family hesitant to the idea or worried that Hollywood would make an exploitive film based on your life, and was it comforting to know that the film would be based on your 2004 autobiography?

Hamilton: When my family heard there was interest in making a movie about our story, we definitely were cautious, but thought it could be a good way to inspire even more people than the book ever could. We definitely knew that being taken advantage of was a possibility so we had our guard up, and we made sure to be as involved in the process as we could. It was exciting!

While your book inspired the film, I've heard that the filmmakers decided to interview you and your family to find out if there were any unpublished conflicts that would enhance the plot. I understand that they decided to focus on the idea that the media attention you and your family gained after the accident was like a "second shark attack." Can you talk about how the media attention affected you and your family, how you dealt with it and how that is depicted in the film?

Hamilton: The media's portrayal in the film is definitely not realistic to how we experienced it. We had a wave of media attention but it wasn't like there was a group of people swarming me. In reality we just had a lot of requests coming in, an overwhelming amount. We tried to tone it down in the film, as much as possible, but the decisions are ultimately up to the filmmakers, and they did what they thought was best. I am grateful to many members of the media, because they are bringing hope and inspiration to many people!

You and your family have a strong Christian faith, which is depicted in the film but I understand that in some ways you and your family really had to fight with the studio to keep that aspect of your life in the movie. Can you talk about the struggle and why it was so important for you to have that aspect of your life included in the film and not marginalized for the sake of a non-Christian audience?

Hamilton: Well you can't leave it out of my story or it wouldn't be my story. My family didn't have to fight, the director recognized that my faith was my motivation and he needed to incorporate that into my character in the movie. It was built into the script and we contributed ideas to make it as realistic to our story and real life as possible. We were grateful that the filmmakers were receptive to most of our input. There were a few times when I think some of the producers were scared that too much faith might turn away part of the audience for the film, so we stood up for that. I learned so much as we worked on this aspect of the film.

Did Actress AnnaSophia Robb spend any time with you before she began filming and how do you think that helped her performance? Are you ultimately pleased with what she does in the film and how do you think she did portraying you?

Hamilton: Yes, AnnaSophia did an amazing job playing me. She is such talented actress and was able to capture so many of my emotions and my passion for surfing and the ocean. I'm really happy. When we found out she got the part she came out to Hawaii and stayed with me and learned to surf with my coach Russell Lewis. Then just before filming, I stayed with her on Oahu, and she drilled me with lots of questions! But we became really good friends and will be for the rest of our lives!

Are you personally a fan of Carrie Underwood and her music and if so, how excited were you when you heard that she was going to appear in the film? Did you get to spend any time with her on set?

Hamilton: I hadn't listened to too much country music, but I had heard Carrie's song "Jesus Take The Wheel," which I liked. When we heard they were considering her to play Sarah we thought it would be a good idea to help reach a whole group of people who may not have considered seeing a "surf" movie at a theater. She did a great job and I'm happy to have her apart of the film. I didn't spend too much time with her on set cause she was so focused and busy, but when I did talk to her she seemed really nice.

Oscar winner Helen Hunt, and actor Dennis Quaid play your parents in the movie. Did they spend a lot of time getting to know your real parents and how did that interaction help their performances? Did you and your family spend a lot of time on set interacting with the cast and crew?

Hamilton: Dennis and my dad would hang out quite a bit, play golf or go surfing together. My mom and Helen hung out a bit too. Helen got my mom back out surfing after over five years of not surfing; they also made dinner together. I think the time they spent together did help them understand my parents better and relate to them. My family was on set every day, hanging out, working, or giving feedback to the director.

Ultimately, are you pleased with the film and how director Sean McNamara told your life story? Do you think it will bring some awareness to audiences regarding the struggle that you and your family went through after your accident?

Hamilton: Ultimately my whole family is really pleased with how Soul Surfer turned out. It captures the emotions we felt and definitely shows the struggles we went through and overcame as a family with God's strength getting us through it. Sean was great to work with and we are so happy with how he portrayed our story.

Finally, I understand that originally the film was intended open on only 300 screens but that the studio was so pleased with the final product that they have decided to open it in 2,000 theaters instead. Are you happy that the studio has so much faith in the film and how do you think audiences will respond to the movie?

Hamilton: We are excited that the studio has faith in Soul Surfer. Our hope is that audiences all over the world from every background of life will enjoy the film and be inspired by it.

For your viewing pleasure, please check out this Soul Surfer music video that features Bethany Hamilton, as well as an interview she did with Captain Jack Sparrow!

Soul Surfer opens in theaters everywhere on April 8th.

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