Adrift is an amazing true story about one woman’s courage and strength to survive on the open seas, after surviving a hurricane and being cast adrift.

Shailene Woodley plays the real-life Tami Oldham, whose memoirs is what the film is based upon. On an adventure of her own in her early 20s, Tami met and fell in love with Richard Sharp, played by Sam Claflin, and the two ended up going on a sailing excursion, sailing from Fiji to San Diego, California. Along the way, however, they were caught in a massive hurricane, and while the boat survived, it was damaged. With Richard severely injured, Tami had to navigate on her own, figuring out the best way to reach the nearest land, using only rudimentary tools and skills – and her wits. After over 40 days adrift at sea, Tami was finally rescued… and this is her story.

ScreenPicks sat in on a conversation with the film’s stars, Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, who talked about filming on the actual open seas, learning to sail – and how the power of the story affected them.

On doing research:

Shailene Woodley: We learned to sail. You kind of hope that when sailors see this movie they’ll be like “Oh, Sam and Shai know how to sail” but I don’t know that they’ll do that. But I think that was a great desire, to make this movie for sailors and for Tami (Oldham Ashcraft upon whom Shailene’s character is based). There were a lot of hours on the sea learning how to tie different ropes and learn a new language. So much of sailing is cerebral more than physical, learning a completely new Rolodex of words.

Sam Claflin: Yeah, a brand new terminology for living basically but what I think was great was that Shai and I were willing to jump into the deep end, excuse the pun and we were also fortunate to have a great marine team supporting us, showing us the ropes. I think when you’re with a crew and a small cast willing to get your hands dirty and get physical, I think we were onto something good.

On meeting the real-life Tami Oldham:

Woodley: She was in Fiji for about two weeks and I only saw her a couple of times. We all went to lunch but I had spoken and Skyped with her for many months prior to that so I was comfortable around her but meeting her in person everything hits you on a new level of “I’ve got to do everything I can to honor her story.” She’s given me her trust and now I have to treat that simple gesture with the utmost reverence and respect. After everything that happened, when she met Sam she became speechless.

Claflin: Yeah. It was difficult. For me, my interpretation of Richard is I didn’t want to mimic what he was. I supposed I tried to be true to Tami’s viewpoint of him and remembrance of him but, I needed to bring qualities of me into the role. What really struck me and gave me some confidence is, when we met her I remember I was telling sort of a jokey story and she went silent and said “I can’t believe it. You are him.”

Woodley: You sound like him, you look like him, move like him and talk like him.

Claflin: So, without trying, obviously I possessed qualities of this man so it was quite rewarding knowing that you’ve touched a part of that person.


On being adventurous:

Woodley: Filming this movie was up there on the list of the biggest adventures I’ve ever been on. A day felt like an adventure. But I can relate to (my character’s) vagabond nature and desire to see the world and immerse herself in different cultures and understand cultures from a local’s perspective.

A lot of it was challenging but when you get to see the sunrise and sunset from a boat on the ocean every single day, it’s hard to complain about anything and it’s hard not to find deep appreciation and gratitude for the once in a lifetime experience that you are witnessing alongside a group of really incredible individuals. So much of this movie was possible because of our crew.

On difficulties of filming on the open water:

Woodley: We had an amazing stunt team who took the utmost care and precaution when it came to protecting, not only us but the whole crew. But, at the end of the day you are filming on the ocean and no matter how professional you are, or good at your job you are, you are on the open sea and there are elements that can’t be guessed and weather patterns that shift quite drastically very quickly. So, everyone learned very quickly that we had to trust one another and take someone’s word for caution seriously. If there was a small chance of a threat, everyone really had to pay attention.

Claflin: I think shooting on the ocean is obviously dangerous. Being on the ocean is dangerous and you are not only trusting everyone around you, you are putting your trust in Mother Nature and I think there were definitely moments where, in reflection, you would think “Well, I probably shouldn’t have done that”. We were moving around a boat while it was cutting through water on a ridiculous keel and at times, feeling a little seasick. I think what was amazing is that [director Baltasar Kormákur] would allow us to push ourselves to our limits and make it feel as authentic as possible.

On handling sea-sickness:

Claflin: I think the problem is real sailors make it look really easy. I think the first day I went out in a boat in Fiji, me and Shai were taken out on this yacht, we were sitting just in the harbor and I was sick so a part of me was really worried about this film because we spent most of it on the ocean but what I quickly realized is that not eating much and having lots of coffee is a really bad thing for a sailor.

But also, we managed to capture quite a lot of the early storm sequence with the waters getting choppy and us tying everything down we were surrounded by a key 15 to 20 man crew on that boat. It became claustrophobic at times especially with the stench of sick rising up from the hull of the boat crept to your nostrils. It got quite difficult and it was a very choppy day, I think the worst day for swells and that was our introduction so we were forced to get our sea legs early.

Woodley: We had people who disregarded sea sickness, who chose humor instead of complaints, who chose endurance instead of victimhood and that really made the experience fruitful for everyone. I think there was a time for all of us when one of us would get tired or sunburned or there would be a moment of discomfort and someone would remind us that we were filming a movie based on a story that was real and, at the end of the day, we got to go back to our hotels and got food delivered to us.

On their own survival instincts:

Claflin: I think I’d be okay. I’m much more resilient than I once thought I was. I was a Cub Scout. I know how to survive in the woods to an extent. I’ve never been put in that situation though. It’s hard to know you would deal with any given circumstance. I’m sure that Tami, for example, wouldn’t know that she could survive forty-one days at sea on her own before she was put in that circumstance. It’s difficult to know what your body can be pushed to but I’d like to think that I could. (To Shailene) You would be okay. You would be one hundred percent fine. You are probably more resilient than I am.

Woodley: I’d like to think that I would be too. I think the biggest key to survival is your mental ability but when you are in that situation who knows? I wouldn’t be able to survive at sea like Tami because I can’t use a sextant. So much of our lives now are dependent on technology that we’re not taking the time to utilize the tools that ancient navigators or mountaineers and seamen or people who live in the woods utilized and when accident happened and all the electronics went down, if she hadn’t known how to use the took that cross-references the sun with the horizon or the stars to the horizon then she wouldn’t have made it. So, as strong as she was mentally and as much endurance as she had she also had the skill set that wasn’t dependent on technology.

On respect of Mother Nature:

Woodley: The art of sailing taught me so much about how I don’t pay attention to the elements on the level that I wish I did. To be a sailor, it sounds simple to say but know which direction the wind is coming from and when it shifts. You are forced to constantly be in communication with nature, with the wind and the current. It’s just that language that I wish I had more of a connection to.

Claflin: I think my experience of this journey is knowing that I’m not a sailor and don’t think I ever will be but I really fell in love with the water…as long as I could see land. I think just seeing how drastically different the ocean was on any given day was amazing. Like one day it would be as choppy as anything, the next day it would be like glass and you wouldn’t see a wave all day. For me, it was incredibly eye-opening. We have no control over Mother Nature but, in a way we do. We’ve got a warming going on that is partly due to us as humanity. But, there are many elements to Mother Nature that we don’t fully understand. We are a slave to it. I think I really appreciated it, partly because of where we were filming. Fiji is a beautiful place so when you’re surrounded by beautiful sunsets, the beauty was perfectly captured in the film. To live through that was amazing.