Blake Lively, Sully the seagull, and director Jaume Collett-Serra during filming (Photo: Columbia Pictures)
Robinson Crusoe had Friday. Tom Hanks in Cast Away had Wilson. And in the new woman vs. shark thriller, The Shallows, surfer Blake Lively has Steven Seagull. No, that’s not a misprint. Lively’s companion for much of the film is an actual seagull, not an aging action icon. In The Shallows, the Age of Adelaide star plays Nancy, a former med student who has taken a leave of absence following the death of her mother. For now at least, her profession is “surfer,” and that career path brings her to the same isolated Mexican beach where her mother used to hang ten.
But Nancy’s idyllic vacation is cut short when she inadvertently swims over the feeding ground of a great white shark, which promptly turns its attention on her. Swimming away from their first encounter with a nasty leg wound, the young woman seeks refuge on a rock 200 meters from the shore line. It’s here that she meets Steven, a gull that’s also stuck with an injured wing. As day gives way to night and the tide rises, threatening to swallow their safe harbor, Nancy relies on her feathered friend for companionship. In return, she uses her medical training to mend Steven’s wing by popping it back into place, allowing the bird to avoid becoming shark bait when it comes time to confront the beast head on.
Speaking with Yahoo Movies recently, The Shallows director Jaume Collett-Serra confessed that the shark is a purely CGI creation. But he also told us, with no small trace of pride, that Steven Seagull is a genuine avian movie star, whose real name is Sully. “We had three seagulls, but one was genius and the other two were dumb,” he says, laughing. “The other two were only used in a couple of shots, so 99 percent of the film is Sully. Not all seagull [actors] are created equal!”
Collett-Serra went on to reveal that, in the original script, the gull acted as more of a narrative device, whose primary job was to give Nancy someone to talk to. “The writer had Nancy talking to the seagull quite a bit,” he remembers. “As the movie evolved, we didn’t want her to be like Snow White talking to animals. When you see her predicament, you get it. You don’t need her to explain everything to a seagull!” The director describes their relationship in the finished film as being more akin to “roommates,” and that relationship apparently carried over off-camera. In this widely-circulated Instagram shot from last year, Lively is glimpsed cuddling with her-costar. “NO: This is not the opening scene in Dumb & Dumber YES: That is a real Seagull,” the message reads.
Part of the reason Sully may have been such a good fit for the part is that he clearly understood Steven’s plight. According to Collett-Serra, the real gull also had an injured wing that rendered him incapable of flying. Unlike his alter ego, though, Sully is still grounded by his injury. (Turns out that fixing a bird’s wing isn’t as easy as Nancy makes it look.) “That was just a prosthetic,” the director says of the movie injury, admitting that he doesn’t know how one would go about mending Sully’s wing. “I don’t have the slightest idea. But in the context of the movie, I don’t think it matters. As long as Nancy believes she fixed it, that’s what’s important.”
Watch the trailer: