EXCLUSIVE: Moving out of the documentary space with Nyad — the true but lightly fictionalized story of Diane Nyad, an athlete who swam from Florida to Cuba in her 60s — director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi came to Contenders London with producer Andrew Lazar and Bonnie Stoll, the real-life inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the movie, Diane’s friend and swimming coach.
All heaped praise on Foster, but Vasarhelyi was especially effusive in her praise for Foster’s co-star, Annette Bening, who literally threw herself in at the deep end to play the title role. “It was really important to us to cast age-appropriately,” she said. “Diane Nyad succeeded at 64. Well, Annette is 64, and she’s a consummate professional, so we knew that, when we brought the part to her, she was going to have to really sit with it to see if she was willing to commit to it. And she trained for over a year.”
“I’ll never forget the first day she arrived on set,” Vasarhelyi recalled. “We were shooting in a tank in the Dominican Republic and we had all these water safety people around us. She takes off her robe, she gets into the tank and swims. And it was one of those moments of wonder; because she had worked so hard, it was completely effortless. Annette would spend between six and eight hours a day in the tank. It was extremely difficult. And with movies, you never have enough money, never have enough days, but because Annette trained so hard, we were able to keep going. She found her passion. I mean, she is swimming every day, still. And she’s a good swimmer.”
Asked why he was attracted to the project, producer Lazar (who produces the project with Black Bear’s Teddy Schwartzman) referred to Nyad’s autobiography, Find a Way. “I love the book, he said. “I really love the idea that you can hold onto your dreams and achieve them at any age. So few movies are inspirational, and I think that most of us aren’t going to have a crazy dream to do something like she did and swim, for three consecutive days, over a hundred miles. But I love that she didn’t want to give up. The human spirit [is amazing], and there’s so much of that in Diana’s story.”
Check out the exclusive clip above.