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Film

Soul Surfer Press Junket
The Luce Hotel
Brentwood, California
March 31, 2011

Written by Paulette Cohn


“Soul Surfing Girls:
An in-depth chat with AnnaSophia Robb and Bethany Hamilton”

Watching AnnaSophia Robb shoot the curl in the upcoming movie Soul Surfer, you would never guess the disparity between her and real-life surfer Bethany Hamilton, who she plays in the inspiring true story about a teenager who lost her left arm in a near-fatal shark attack and overcame towering odds to become a champion.

But when the actress and the athlete recently walked into The Luxe Hotel in Brentwood, California, the statuesque, blonde Hamilton towered over the petite, 5-feet 2-inch Robb. But it was obvious that size didn't matter, as the two appeared to be great pals and members of a very special mutual admiration society.

"I think of her as a friend, instead of a role model," says Robb, but she also admits that Hamilton's courage and unwavering Christian faith are a source of inspiration to everyone who hears her story.

Hamilton, actually chose Robb to bring her dramatic story to life, because the surfer had admired Robb’s work in several of her movies which include, Because of Winn-Dixie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bridge to Terabithia and Race to Witch Mountain.

Now that Soul Surfer, originally a book but turned into a film by director/writer Sean McNamara, is coming to the screen, millions more will see the inspirational story of Hamilton's fight to regain the dreams she thought she had lost following the October 31, 2003 shark attack, which nearly took her life.

Soul Surfer, from TriStar Pictures & Film District, opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, April 8. The movie also stars Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Lorraine Nicholson and marks the film debut of Carrie Underwood.

Question: Sean McNamara, [the director], told me that you picked AnnaSophia to portray you in the movie.

Bethany Hamilton: Yes. My mom and I had seen her in a couple of movies like Bridge to Terabithia, Because of Winn-Dixie and a couple of others. I don't know. I just really liked her. She is blonde and cute.

Question: How quickly did you respond to her pitch?

AnnaSophia Robb: I didn't know she had handpicked me. My agent sent me the script and I read it. I was, ‘Did this actually happen? Did she really do this? Did all this amazing stuff really happen?’ So when I met with Sean, I asked him all these questions. He was, "Yeah, that actually happened. Yeah, she actually did that.’ I was blown away. I couldn't believe it. I was so excited as an actress to be able to play the role. When he told me that Bethany knew about me and recommended me, I couldn't believe it. So, of course, I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it since I read it, but then that was, ‘Of course, I will do it.’

Question: Anna, you are so young. Can you imagine having a crisis like that and overcoming it like Bethany did?

AnnaSophia: At 13…I am 17 now. If that had been me, I don't know what I would have done. I most definitely wouldn't have been that strong. It is pretty incredible. Her faith at that age … maybe it was because she was that age that you felt you were invincible and kept going for it. I so admire her and her family, too, for continuing.

Question: Did Bethany teach you how to surf?

AnnaSophia: Yes!

Bethany: She came out to Hawaii as soon as she could prior to filming and she came to my island and my coach Russell Lewis and I team-tagged coaching her. It was really fun. She didn't have enough time to nail surfing. It takes years and years. I just really wanted her to have fun and get comfortable in the ocean, so when she was out there shooting the ocean scenes, paddling and sitting on the board and duck diving, she would be able to do it. You did really well.

Question: What was the hardest thing for you to master?

AnnaSophia: I don't think I ever mastered anything. I can always improve, but I guess it would be … I fell in love with surfing. Spending time in the ocean and becoming comfortable with it and gaining a passion for it and a love and appreciation, that wasn't the most difficult thing, but it was key to Bethany's role. You can't really learn that. You have to experience it and bring it forth.

Question: One of the things we saw in the film was Bethany working out to really get in shape to compete with the other girls. Did you have to get in shape?

AnnaSophia: Yeah. I worked my butt off. I worked six weeks in Hawaii training and two weeks back in Colorado, swimming and doing breath-holding stuff. Then two hours of surfing every day and working out on land. Bethany helped me change my diet so I could gain more muscle. David Zelon, our producer, trained Lorraine and me and he would be in our face going … I feel like doing wall squats because we were so strong and I wanted to get that strong and get surf muscles. He would be, "Would Bethany give up?" We were, ‘No!’ And I would do another minute of wall squats. You laughed with me all the time.

Question: Have you kept up with any of it?

AnnaSophia: I try. I do certain stuff. I did wall squats for a while, but no, it was like a full-time job working out.

Question: Bethany, do you have to be stronger than the other women to compete?

Bethany: I think for me it is just … I am not thinking how the other girls are fit. I am just trying to bring my fitness to its personal best. I am super passionate about it. I love working out. I have a really good trainer on Kauai, who is very wise. We started with posture correction, keeping your spine in proper alignment, so when you are training your body is getting the right strength training. If your body is out of whack, you are going to be training your body to get more out of whack. It is nice to have somebody on Kauai to work with me. I don't know enough to guide myself, so I do strength training, posture correction and eating healthy. I eat all organic and a lot of vegetables.

Question: Your story is so inspirational. How did you find it within yourself to continue after such a tragic event?

Bethany: It can be looked at as tragic, but I look at it more, "What can I do now?" At the time, surfing was and now is and always will be so special, I am just passionate about it. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do it and that scared me more than the sharks. I just really had to give it a try. I ended going out about three weeks later – a little more than that – and I just knew I would be doing it for a while once I got up. Then I just worked hard after that and had fun with it, too.

Question: It is kind of ironic that 127 Hours came out about the same time. Have you met Aaron and seen the film?

Bethany: I did see his film. I had a long flight to Australia. That was one of the few films worth watching. It was gnarly. The movie was really beautiful and very creative in its filming. There is really only him and a couple of other characters in the film. It is really intense. I fast-forwarded through some of it. It was amazing. He seems to be incredible. I haven't met him yet. It is funny because his accident happened the same year as mine and then we both had a movie come out the same year.

AnnaSophia: It is funny because he is from Denver and I was going to go see the movie with a friend of mine and all of a sudden, I was, ‘Why are there so many people here? This is really annoying. I need to get in the movie.’ It was a small artsy theater. Then they said the guy was there. I knew he knew of you. I waited because the screening was late. I said, ‘Hi! I am AnnaSophia. I play Bethany Hamilton in her movie. I think you are so awesome. I am excited to see your movie.’ He said, ‘That is so cool. I haven't met her yet.’

Question: Your film is much less gory. Was it hard for you? You said you fast-forwarded through . Was that the part? A girl passed out in the theater.

Bethany: It is really gnarly. The attack in our movie is really quick, but his is … he alone is removing it himself. I didn't want to watch it. I was, ‘OOOO.’

Question: People have been telling your story since it happened. Sometimes I am sure it is nice and sometimes it hasn't been the way you felt it happened. So it sounds as if you had a lot of control in the way this movie told your story. Did you realize how lucky you were to have that?

Bethany: My family and I have been so blessed to have Sean McNamara as director and everyone producing was fairly receptive. It was nice that they allowed us to give feedback and keep the story as true and realistic as it could be. It is really hard to compress it into an hour and a half. Even us, we were trying to come up with fictional stuff to portray an emotion that we wanted to share. But overall, seeing the finished film, I think it captures who we are and what we stand for and our passion for surfing. It is exciting to have it and be happy with it.

Question: Why do you think you were able to turn this story into a global phenomenon?

Bethany: There is this one little thing in the end credits when I was really little and I laugh every time that I see it: "Me, quit? Never." I guess that is just part of who I am ever since I was little. I would say that in front of the camera. It was like this big camera crew. It is part of who I am.

AnnaSophia: I don't think she ever thought of it as inspiring other people, just doing something you love. Surfers don't get that much media attention. It is just something she wanted to do, not to inspire millions, but to be happy with herself. To be able to live and to continue doing what she loves. No one ever wants to give up their passion, so she did it for herself and God made it into a phenomenon.

Question: Millions were inspired by this story. People are going to see this film and go away with the message of her life. For you, who got to know her, how did knowing her change you?

AnnaSophia: I am not like a completely changed person. Bethany is a real person. She is my real friend. I think we encourage each other to do our best and keep the faith and not crumble under pressures. It has become a really good friendship. I think of her as a friend, instead of a role model. She is. I do look up to her. I think what she is doing is fantastic.

Question: What is next for you?

AnnaSophia: Right now, it is my junior year. I am finishing promoting this and then I have to get back to school for [college prep tests] SATs on May 7th. We have to prep. The ACTs also. The AP test and everything.

Question: Where are you going to go to college?

AnnaSophia: I am looking a lot of places. I am not sure.

Question: What about the prom? Are you excited for that?

AnnaSophia: I think I got my prom dress today.

Question: Is it a Hollywood designer prom dress?

AnnaSophia: It is not.

Question: A thrift store?

AnnaSophia: I love thrift stores. If I could have, I would have.

Question: What about a prom date?

AnnaSophia: Nope. It is in a month or two from now.

Question: Isn't it true that a lot of high schoolers aren't taking dates to prom now?

AnnaSophia: A lot of us just broke up with our boyfriends, so we are going to go in a big girl group and have so much fun. It is about the dress and having fun.

Question: What is your romance situation?

Bethany: Non-existent.

Question: It looks like there was someone at the end of the film?

Bethany: That was just a friendship and he was actually a fictional character. I am a patient girl and all my friends are the same way. We are not in a rush for the right person. We want to wait for the right person. I am definitely excited to meet that person. I am saving my purity, plus I am so busy.

 

 


 

 

 


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