When Aaron Jakubenko signed on to the survival film Great White, his initial interest as a character-driven piece developed into something more, the Martin Wilson-directed film follows a fun filled flight to a remote atoll that turns into a nightmare for five passengers when their seaplane is destroyed in a freak accident, and they are trapped on a raft, 100 miles from shore with man-eating sharks lurking beneath the surface. I spoke to the Tidelands and Shannara Chronicles star about his love for genre films, working within confined spaces, and developing an appreciation for the film's subject and conservation message.
"When I was in the process of auditioning, I got to chat to the director, and it was really his passion," Jakubenko said. "He loves the old genre films and the classic [Alfred] Hitchcock films. It was not only that but also his love of character pieces. He really wanted to look into what it's like being a human who finds himself in this really extreme situation. As an actor, I love the genre. I love the genre piece. Playing the genre alone, what is for me, it's really the stuff that happens before and after those big scares that I find really fun to play with. It was a really character-driven piece." One of the challenges of doing a survival film is psychologically prepping his/her own mind for the ordeal.
The Survival Horror of Great White
"I think we were really fortunate that we got a five-week shoot [in Great White]," Jakubenko said. "It was pretty quick, and from day one, we're in really tight quarters. The last was really tight, but on days one and two, we were actually in this tiny plane. Te Kohe [Tuhaka] is cramped out the back of the room. We're all getting to know each other very quickly. I spent a week or two in preproduction sort of working with you kind of have to trust each other. You need to form this connection. When it gets to the day, you want to be prepared. You want to be connected so that when the cameras are rolling, you're already switched on. You ready to go. So then it can almost be the balance of having fun outside of it. I can often just stay in it, but that's not always healthy for me. Sometimes it's nice to sort of pull myself out just to connect with the humans that I'm fortunate enough to be making a film with."
The Mix of CG and Practical Effects Sharks of Great White
Special effects have come a long way when practical effects at one time being the only option, whereas some filmmakers can opt to just go completely CG. "We had a mixture [of practical and CG]," Jakubenko admitted. "We had scenes that were pushed past us. We were often looking at things. We had a guy in a dolphin suit at one point that one didn't work too well. Everything else that we had, we had CGI, but we also had this incredible animatronic. I think the props department had two stored or put it on the show day. It was amazing, and they made it quite amazing to work opposite because it would lunge at one of them. It was like on a trolley, and it would lunge like six or seven feet forward, and its head would turn, and its jaw like a real shark would sort of project out. It was really quite an incredible piece of machinery, and I felt really fortunate to work with it. I think everybody on set probably got a selfie with it or two as well."
How Great White Helped Develop Jakubenko's Love for Sharks
One aspect Jakubenko appreciated in playing marine biologist Charlie was everything he came to learn about the film's subject. "I've watched as many [shark thrillers] as I could," he said. "What I actually found most rewarding was as Charlie since he's a marine biologist, I just studied sharks. I really wanted to understand the life of a shark. I wanted him to really know what these creatures were like. When he's talking about them, he can be real and authentic. I actually found a really deep love for the creatures. They're a bit frightening and wild, but they're actually just a real necessity in our oceans, and we don't give them enough credit. They beautiful, intelligent creatures we even depend on keeping that the environment in the ocean." Of all the sequences he filmed, the climax was one he felt most difficult.
"It was probably the hardest thing I've ever shot, and it's just because we're in the element that is the final scene in the raft, and the raft didn't have a hard bottom," Jakubenko said. "So you feel it with your feet when it is filled with water. Your feet are all sinking and meeting in the middle. So you're leaning against the other actors. I'm pulling out props. I'm doing this. I'm doing that. It's just a really challenging scene because it demanded the most intimate moment of the film between Charlie and Kaz (Katrina Bowden). It was very tough to find that in the elements, but we worked hard, and everyone was very supportive as a team. We worked there, and we got it." RLJE Films' Great White, which was written by Michael Boughen, also stars Kimi Tsukakoshi, Tim Kano, Jason Wilder, Tatjana Marjanovic, Patrick Atchison, and Kate Jaggard. The film comes to theaters, VOD, and digital on July 16.