‘The Boys In The Boat’ Actors Describe Working With George Clooney: ‘An Absolute Dream’

Callum Turner, one of the stars of “The Boys in the Boat,” said George Clooney served as both a “great leader and fantastic director” on the set of the sports drama.

Turner plays Joe Rantz, part of the University of Washington rowing team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, who amidst a life of hardships joins the Huskies squad in an effort to pay tuition.

The story of Rantz and his team are the focus of the Clooney-directed underdog sports tale with a screenplay from Mark L. Smith that’s based on the Daniel James Brown book of the same name.

“We all built a shorthand pretty quickly, that’s testament to him,” Turner said of Clooney, pointing to the director’s knowledge of old Hollywood.

“For me it was Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’ and ‘Mr. Deeds,’ watching movies like that. Spencer Tracy and tapping into Woody Guthrie. He knew because he’s a cinephile, he’d just be able to communicate through movies and moments. He’s just a wonderful human being.”

Turner and Hadley Robinson, who plays Rantz’s love interest Joyce Simdars in the film, spoke with HuffPost about rowing, their time on set and their on-screen chemistry in the upcoming historical rowing film.

Callum, you did two months of training for this role, correct?

Callum Turner: Five months in total, but we did two months of training pre-shoot.

Now in addition to the physical impact that had on you in preparing for this role, what were the results of that time together, especially as a group — “the boys” in the boat?

Turner: You know what’s crazy, without sounding too sentimental — it’s impossible not to — I created a bond with these guys that’s going to live with me forever. We were together every day. We rowed together, we ate together, we went out together, we watched movies together. We were bonded at the hip and we were a professional sports outfit. And we were all pulling in the same direction to try to achieve something that was seemingly out of reach.

We set the target of reaching 46 strokes per minute, which is what the guys did in the last race to win the gold. We all moved at different paces, the process was up and down — two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back. And it did feel like it wasn’t going to happen. And then on, I think it was the second last day, we did it and won the races. We got to 46 and we were shocked. There was disbelief in the boat, but also this euphoric feeling that we’d set out five months ago to achieve something when it was snowing in February on the River Thames. And at some point in June, or whenever it was, we’d done it. And yeah, we were all so proud of ourselves.

What were some of the behind-the-scenes things you mentioned, you talked about group bonding experiences. Did that help play into this underdog kind of performance that’s on display in the film?

Turner: We were a team and so what we did was we learned as we went. The difficult thing is there was eight of us learning a new skill and individually that would’ve been hard enough, but we had to do it in sync. The beauty of rowing is that you are in unison completely. There’s no room for error. If your hands are a millimeter higher than the man in front of you or the woman in front of you, then the boat is jeopardized. It goes slower. If your pressure on the foot press is weaker or even stronger than the person in front of you, the boat is jeopardized. So you really have to be in unison. And to achieve that, it takes a lot of work and concentration. So there were two things at play that were really difficult and I’m just so proud of those guys. I’m proud to be friends with them. And then the usual thing of being in a movie with someone like Hadley, you get to work with Hadley, and we built a bond, too. It was a very happy set, I have to say.

I did want to ask, too, about your character. There’s moments where he struggles with that camaraderie and there’s this painting of the several difficulties in his life leading up to this journey toward Berlin. The first half of the film, there’s this calmness in your character, and about halfway through — when you share a kiss with Hadley’s character – you break out of that in a way. Can you describe your approach toward Joe and that moment where things shifted for him?

Turner: It’s like if you have something on the line. Joe, he’s just getting through life, eating hand to mouth day to day and not thinking about the future. And then someone like Joyce comes into his life and they fall in love with each other, or reignite a love that they had when they were kids. And simultaneously, he has this exploration with this boat that he’s only in out of necessity. And these two things combined mean that he now has something to care about and something to drive him forward. He’s building for the future. From having nothing until that kiss where he realizes he has everything and he can’t lose that. And he’s been so used to being abandoned and let down in his life by his country and his family and he’s not used to opening up and being expressive and allowing other people in. So once he does that, it feels like the wheels have come off and everything’s spinning.

Hadley, can you talk about the super sweet crush-based romance, the support that you have for Joe and how it contributes to this underdog tale?

Hadley Robinson: She is so supportive. I feel like they come back into each other’s lives and I think they had a crush on each other when they were very young. Joyce is denying it and saying it was all Joe but then we find out that it was actually Joyce all along. It’s kind of this beautiful moment where their guards fall down at the same moment, which is rare, and they find out that the other person does have those feelings for them. I think the kiss at the train station, it’s kind of halfway through the movie when they part, but I feel like it’s an important moment because it’s saying, “Hey, I love you and I’m here for you and just because you’re crossing the Atlantic Ocean and we don’t know what’s going to happen, I’m still here.” It’s like they become tethered in that moment, is how I see it.

And then she listens in on the radio to what’s happening, with millions of other Americans, and it’s cool to see that she’s supporting him even though he’s so far away. Because I feel like a lot of people were in that position listening in, tuning in and on the edge of their seat, even though it was across the world. And so she in that moment is representative of what a lot of people are experiencing. But it’s a really sweet love story. And sometimes I think love stories — love in general, it can be so complex and convoluted — and this is just a really pure attachment they have that’s built on trust and that’s sometimes just really beautiful to see in a movie.

Turner: If we were to film the rest of their lives, it would be the ultimate love story. They were so tethered to each other and adored each other completely and utterly in love with one another. And I think that bond that they had is what people want from life — the connection with another human being that lasts 50 years, 60 years and they really did have that and lived together forever until they died.

Actors Callum Turner (left) and Hadley Robinson (right) look into each other’s eyes during an emotional scene in George Clooney-directed film “The Boys in the Boat.”

Laurie Sparham/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Hadley, I looked at your Juilliard résumé, is it true that you have a background in sailing?

Robinson: Oh, wow. [Laughs] That is a great find, let me tell you. Wow, OK, so I won one award when I was, like, 12 years old at a tennis camp once and then I guess I had the nerve —

Turner: You won a sailing competition at a tennis camp?

Robinson: Or it wasn’t even a competition, it was like an award, the sailing award. I grew up sailing but everything is gone at this point. You got to keep it up and I definitely have not been.

I was going to ask if you’ve tapped into that at all and gave the team tips?

Turner: The tip was doing better.

Robinson: Remember when I rowed, you were like, “Guys, she’s better than everybody else.”

Turner: It’s true. When we got in the rowboat, she was better than me.

Robinson: Which isn’t true.

Turner: And I had four months training [at the time].

Lastly, just working with George on this, was this a bucket list item? Any memorable moments or advice he imparted unto you?

Robinson: It’s been an absolute dream. He’s just brilliant in every sense of the word but also incredibly humble at the same time. So goofy and fun. He taught us a lot. I remember there was one scene we were doing where we were speaking very intimately together and he came over and he was just like, “Your faces have got to be close. It’s going to feel weird in person, but on camera it looks incredible.” And there were little technical things that he would share with us which was so helpful. It was like master class.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

“The Boys in the Boat” hits theaters on Christmas Day.

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