Working underwater presented unique physical and mental challenges for the actors. Lucas is a certified diver, but says that "Poseidon" was "the most difficult, physical water work I've done. The fact that you cannot see was so challenging. And being wet for five months -- I'd sit in a hot tub or kid's pool between takes rather than dry off -- your skin gets so soft that you can cut it with your fingernail. It's gross. It's absolutely amazing what happens to your body when you're in water for that period of time."
For Kurt Russell, the difficult part was the inability to see underwater and having to depend on the safety divers' guidance and air. "Once you're in there, there's no way out. It's difficult to put your trust in someone," he explains.
All cast members underwent training prior to the film and practiced holding their breath under water. "I had to learn how to scuba dive, freedive -- some of the scariest situations I had ever been in," notes Rossum. "To prepare to breathe underwater they would sink this Plexiglas cube over my head. It was quite claustrophobic. I'd give them a sign when I was out of air. But I got to a minute and a half."
Speaking of claustrophobia, Rossum and the other actors spent one of the most intensely suspenseful sequences in a narrow air conditioning duct. Quarters were so tight that Petersen had to use a 3-inch diameter Panavision snorkel lens, and the only light in the sequence came from flashlights carried by the actors. "We were in there for a week and a half, with water rising from below," recalls Maestro. "We had to keep up the energy and the tears. It was exhausting."
Despite precautions, the sets were still danger zones for the actors, who ended up battered, bruised and sick. In one underwater moment, Russell accidentally smashed Lucas in the eye with a flashlight, and that's Lucas' actual blood you see in the scene.
"I was hospitalized on this movie for two different injuries, when I had stitches on my eye and when I snapped a muscle in my thumb," elaborates Lucas. "We were hurt, everyone was sick. You're dealing with a human Petri dish. Those safety divers have been down there eight hours, and they're peeing in the water, definitely."
Dreyfuss admits to that bodily function, and Barrett says child actor Jimmy Bennett copped to it as well. "Plus you're tracking in all the dirt on your shoes into the water," she points out, adding that she avoided illness with doses of Chinese herbs, but couldn't escape a nasty scrape on her leg.
Vogel developed swimmer's ear, and he and Russell both got pneumonia. "Fortunately I had ten days off so I could get healthy and be in good shape for the underwater stuff I had to do," Russell says. Dreyfuss wrenched his back and would "crawl home" daily, and Rossum "was pretty much purple from the neck down with bruises because the floors were so slippery and my shoes were so slippery."
The scene where the escapees are waiting to see if a ballast tank hatch will open was the scariest for Rossum. "We were really in that enclosed space and the top was set to open on a pulley system. But what if the pulley system failed? Kurt was like, 'Just don't think about it, just don't think about it, everything will be fine.' It was the hardest thing I've done in my life physically," she says of the shoot. "But fear is 80 percent mental and if you can overcome it you'll be fine. Plus, I had to show the guys that girls aren't wusses!"
Levity on the set was a welcome and necessary tension-breaker. According to Rossum, Dreyfuss and Lucas were the biggest jokers. "Josh wanted to play a practical joke on Wolfgang and throw a bucket of water over his head on one day because we were five months in and he had never gotten wet. But he didn't do it."
The cast members praised the director for his easy-going demeanor and way of working. "I think maybe if we didn't work with a director like Wolfgang the shoot would have been torturous, because if we had the normal 16 hour days a film takes we would all be so exhausted. We were in at 7:00 a.m., had soup at 11:00 a.m., lunch at 1:00 p.m., and were done almost every day by 7:00 p.m. They weren't really long days so we got to rest."
Vogel says Petersen and cast camaraderie helped counteract the physical misery and were "what pushed us through this for six months, all of us encouraging one another and being wet and sick together. Wolfgang is so calm and relaxed, and that spread out over the entire crew." He'd readily work with the director again, as would his co-stars.
For more information on "Poseidon," check out the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Taken by the Sea: Eleven Real-life Shipwrecks
- Harrowing Survival Stories
- How Submarines Work
- How Aircraft Carriers Work
- How Steam Engines Work
- Harrowing Survival Stories
- How SCUBA Works
- How Fire Works
- If water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, why can't we breathe underwater?
- Why do my ears pop when I dive in the deep end of the pool?
- What causes "the bends"?