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The Making of Shark Night 3D, Part 2: Meet the Cast

Director David R. Ellis assembled a gorgeous and talented ensemble of up-and-coming actors to play the friends who find themselves trapped in a nightmare on what seemed to be the perfect weekend holiday.
“They were all really passionate about doing the movie and excited to be in it,” says Ellis. “I’ve had a lot of luck in the past casting young actors and I think these guys are all going to be huge stars. Sara Paxton, who plays Sara in the movie, was awesome in The House on the Left. She’s a good actress and obviously really pretty. She was our first choice. We were very lucky to get her and the rest of the cast.”

A pert blonde who rocks a bikini for most of the film, Sara has a dark secret that sets the action in motion. “My character is kind of a mystery at the beginning of the movie,” says Paxton. “We know that everyone is going to her house for a really fun party, but as the story unfolds, a lot more information comes to light.”

The actress, who had previously faced down a vicious gang in Last House on the Left and explored a haunted hotel in The Innkeepers, thought she was prepared for the rigors of Shark Night 3-D, but soon found her professional dedication tested. “The very first time we were on set, we were already doing underwater scenes in the tank,” she says. “It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done physically. We had a mini dive-training course for the underwater action. We had to learn to breathe through regulators, and there was someone with us underwater all the time to make sure we were okay.”



Even those precautions didn’t completely prepare her for the reality of what was in store for her and the rest of the cast. “When you’re underwater for that long, you can’t see anything clearly,” she says. “You have no depth perception. When they brought out the sharks, they looked so real. They were flying at me with real shark teeth. People are really going to be surprised at just how realistic the sharks are. The way they thrash around with their mouths opening is dead on.”

Paxton acquired a number of other new skills for the role, even learning to pilot a boat. “I had to be able to go really fast and do all these tricks,” she says. “It was awesome. I felt like such a badass. The experience was so much fun, even though it was really challenging. After this, I feel like I can do anything.”

Working with a cast made up almost entirely of contemporaries made the work seem like a vacation at times, says Paxton. “I knew it was going to be fun from the moment we all got on the plane together to go to the shoot,” she says. “We all clicked automatically. The single most challenging thing in this entire movie was staying in character during the serious scenes, because we all got along so well. With Dustin, I could not keep a straight face.”

Dustin Milligan, best known as lacrosse star Ethan Ward on the revival of the hit television series “90210,” plays Nick LaDuca, a college student who finds himself facing challenges he never expected on a trip to a friend’s posh lake house. The combination of shooting his first film in 3-D and an underwater action movie was too good for the actor to pass up. “Kicking a bunch of shark ass in 3-D was something I just couldn't turn down,” he laughs. “Every day was about waking up at five in the morning and going to fight sharks. The first two weeks of shooting we were in an eight-foot-deep tank. I had never done anything underwater before and it was terrifying at first. I probably choked down a couple of gallons of water the first day. But it was really exciting and fun.”

Director Ellis created an atmosphere on set that made it easy to get the work done, says Milligan. “The guy knows action and he knows what he wants. He shoots quick—bam, bam, bam. He's really laid back, but still all business. A set can get pretty tense when you're working with light deadlines or in difficult locations. David managed to lighten things up with doughnut-eating competitions and things like that. It's nice to work with a director who takes what he's doing seriously and respects everybody, but at the same time is still having a good time.”

Milligan considers himself a connoisseur of the genre and believes that Shark Night 3-D will stand as one of the best. “There are a lot of good shark movies,” he says. “But I think with the 3-D element and David Ellis at the helm, a lot of people are already pretty excited. There's a great buzz about the movie. The sharks are amazing! We're hoping people love the film. It's fun, it's not too dark—and it gets into the shark stuff right away and never stops.”
Sara and Nick are looking forward to a long weekend on the water surrounded by a group of close friends, including college gridiron star Malik Henry. Sinqua Walls, who appeared as a high school player in the hit series “Friday Night Lights,” describes Malik as “a born warrior—anyone who steps up to Malik is going to lose.”

Walls loved performing in the film’s intense action sequences. “It’s stuff you don’t get to do every day,” he says. “We trained on underwater apparatuses. We had to learn how to make sure our swimming strokes were appropriate for the lake, get familiar with the tank, and remember the lines at the same time. I got so caught up in the action, sometimes I would jump off the boat and then forget what I was supposed to say next.

“Hand-to-hand combat with a hammerhead shark was a really amazing experience,” says the young actor. “I have logged in so many hours watching Shark Week and envisioning the day I fight a hammerhead that it felt like I had been preparing for that all my life.”

Some of his female co-stars surprised him with their physical fearlessness and resilience. “The girls in this cast are some renegades,” he says. “They were thrown in water. They fought sharks. Sarah was trapped in a cage. And they did it like they were born to it. The guys were probably more afraid than the girls.”

There’s more to the movie than just thrills, however, says Walls. “Unlike some action movies, where it’s all about blowing something up or shooting somebody, Shark Night 3-D has characters that keep you emotionally invested.”
The physical challenges helped bring the entire cast closer together, but Walls says he has a special place in his heart for Alyssa Diaz, who plays the love of his life, Maya. Described by Walls as a “feisty chica” who is there for her man when trouble hits, the actress admits to being intimidated by the animatronic underwater beasts. “I’ve always been scared of sharks,” she says. “They freak me out and to see them right there got me every time. The tank work was fine, but when I had to go out in the lake, I was terrified. I didn’t know what was in there. It was dark. It was muddy. The natural elements of this film were pretty challenging.”

But when Diaz viewed video playback of her scenes on set, the fear fell away and was replaced by enthusiasm. “This is a take on the genre you can’t beat,” she says. “We have the action. We have the drama. We have the sharks. We have 3-D. It’s a fun film. And we also have one of the best ensembles I’ve seen.”
That ensemble includes Katherine McPhee, who first captured national attention as the runner-up on “American Idol’s” fifth season. “I love the ensemble aspect of the film,” she says. “I thought it was really well written. And the 3-D aspect was intriguing to me, because I’ve never been a part of that before.”
Her character, Beth, is a little more edgy than the other friends, she says. “She’s outspoken about her sexuality and wants to have a good time. But when things start to go wrong in the movie, she loses it and completely freaks out.”

Like Paxton and Diaz, McPhee found the underwater work extremely challenging. “I think all of us spent our first week in the water,” she says. “We did a lot of preparation for it. During training, I had it all down. But when it came time to shoot, I just could not stop getting water up my nose. Every time I came up for a take, I was basically choking. I just hope it adds to the drama!”

Gordon, played by Joel David Moore, and Blake, played Chris Zylka, complete the weekend party. Moore, who came to Shark Night 3-D hot off his role in the blockbuster Avatar, describes his character as “a goofy guy who thinks he’s got the skills of Brad Pitt, which is pretty much like my real life.”

Blake “has higher self-esteem than most,” says Zylka, who will star as Flash Thompson in the highly anticipated 2012 release, The Amazing Spider-Man. “I think Blake is misunderstood the first couple acts of the film. Initially, he seems kind of cocky, but later in the film, we see his emotional side.”
Both actors were attracted to the film’s blend of action and realistic characters. “It’s big action,” says Moore. “And that’s always fun. People enjoy sharks and shark movies.”

“We have a whole week on television dedicated to sharks,” agrees Zylka. “I’m pretty sure the demographic is probably about age 13 to dead.”
“But when you're doing a movie that has this much action, you also want the characters to mean something,” adds Moore. “David Ellis did a great job juggling both of those things.”

The arrival of Sara and her friends to the lake house attracts the unwanted attention of a trio of locals, including Dennis Cream, played by Chris Carmack. “He’s a small-town guy with an axe to grind,” says Carmack. “He’s had a bit of a troubling past and apparently he’s good with sea life. I like sharks a lot myself, so when I read the script, I thought it was a lot of fun. It has a lot of tongue-in-cheek comedy, but then it has its serious moments as well.”
Joshua Leonard brings unexpected levity to the film as Dennis’ henchman, Red. “It's a fun film and a take on the genre that we haven't seen before,” he says. “It’s great entertainment.”

Veteran actor Donal Logue plays Sheriff Greg Sabin, a man Sara has known all her life and trusts implicitly. “This part was a little tricky, but I had a lot of fun with it,” he says.

Logue, who originally met Ellis through a mutual friend, says, “David’s a great guy. He’s very talented and anything in the water is his domain. This has been a fun creative experience and it was a pleasure to get to work with him.”
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EdGross
9/1/2011

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