In turns out, the biggest challenge of The Boys in the Boat was making sure the boys actually looked like they belonged in the boat.
The Amazon MGM Studios film, directed by George Clooney, tells the inspirational true story of the 1936 University of Washington rowing team that competed for gold at the Summer Olympics in Berlin — but none of the nine actors who played members of the team had ever rowed before in their lives. The actors trained for two months in preparation, but as producer Grant Heslov recalls, it was a long road to get there.
“After the third week, George and I went to go watch them and they were terrible. And we were like, ‘Oh shit, we really screwed up,’” Heslov told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s Los Angeles premiere on Monday. “But they kept working and working and finally they got it.”
Callum Turner, who stars as famed rower Joe Rantz, remembers the same moment, joking, “George and Grant came down to watch us row and we were so excited, so proud, ‘Let’s show them what we’ve got, show them what we’ve done.’ And we were awful, and I could see behind the smile and the thumbs up, the pain and the fear in George’s soul.”
The group of actors did eventually get there though, as Turner noted that the real-life team reached 46 strokes per minute and the group set that number as their target when they began. “The more we went forward with our training and our evolution, the further it felt that we would reach it,” he remembered. “And then the second-to-last day we were filming and we reached it and we couldn’t believe it. We were shocked, no one spoke for hours.”
And while Clooney stayed away from the boats himself — teasing that he was in a speedboat alongside the actors and “I drank a nice chardonnay and sat back and said ‘Guys, you’re doing fantastic work.’ I’m not dumb” — Joel Edgerton, who plays the team’s coach, embraced some of the training.
Joking that his scenes rowing a single scull were cut from the movie “probably because I was terrible,” Edgerton said that being in the boat was like “walking on a tightrope, the balance of it. I found out that the rowing team — the coaches, the actual guys teaching the boys — had a wager on not if I would fall in, but when I would fall in. And I never fell in, particularly once I heard they were betting on me; I’m like, ‘Fuck you guys I’m not falling in, no one’s making money off of this!’”
Edgerton, who like Clooney has also directed a number of films, added that “It’s a luxury as an actor who also directs to get a front-row seat watching other directors, because normally you don’t get to visit other people’s sets, but being an actor you have to.” Watching Clooney at work, “I thought he was incredibly well prepared, I thought he had a very elegant way with the cast and the crew, and being a very successful actor, his ability just to kind of turn performances in a way — there was a nice shorthand in that sense. I felt very well looked-after and in confident hands.”
The Boys in the Boat premieres on Dec. 25.
This story originally appeared on HollywoodReporter