Bonnie Stoll is not an easy woman to fool – but Jodie Foster pulled it off.
I Oscar winning actress plays former racquetball champion Nyad, the story of 60-year-old endurance swimmer Diana Nyad decides to re-attempt the punishing 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida that eluded her in her youth.
Stoll, Nyad’s best friend and professional trainer, told Sky News: “When I first saw (the film), I thought it was me…
“It’s surreal and it’s unbelievable and it’s really a tribute to this actor. I mean, he did it. It amazes me almost every time I see the movie and I see a little bit. I think it’s me at the top.”
Foster, 60, is reportedly completely committed to Stoll’s lifestyle: training, nutrition, supplements, exercise, everything.
Quickly recognizing Stoll’s “salt of the earth quality”, he described him as “the kind of person you’d want to be with in a storm”. Which is fortunate, because the movie has a few storms to weather.
Annette Bening also – who plays the role of Nyad in the film – trained for more than a year to be in extreme physical condition for the role, which required a long swim.
World-class actors, meet world-class athletes and make a film together. It’s a recipe Netflix hopes will be a hit with critics.
The movie recreates some of the most challenging moments of the real-life crossing, which was completed without the use of a shark cage, despite the danger of predatory waters.
But it wasn’t the sharks that were the biggest problem.
Stoll explained that the biggest threat to their success comes from the deadly box jellyfish.
“We weren’t expecting them. We didn’t know they were already in the Gulf. But it wasn’t a pleasant surprise… It was a nightmare.”
He explains how Dr. Angel Yanagihara, a medical researcher who is considered one of the world’s leading experts on box jellyfish, helped them overcome a potentially dangerous sticking point by helping to design the mask.
However, that came at a cost.
“Diana was the first to have her face transplanted, the mask, so the box couldn’t fit in. Then we heard about the box going into someone’s mouth and swallowing it. And that’s not a good outcome.
“Swimming in that mask was a nightmare, especially for me. I can’t even look at it. It’s claustrophobic.”
The director of the film, Chai Vasarhelyi says they replicated everything Diana wore down to the last detail: “That was true. The same suit Diana wore, the same glasses, everything”.
And when they had two silicone face masks made for Bening to wear, Vasarhelyi admitted: “It was so painful we cut the mouth”.
A move Stoll approved, echoing: “Good, good”.
Vasarhelyi worked with her husband, professional climber, skier, filmmaker and photographer Jimmy Chin on the film, and the couple have two young children together.
He explained: “It was a really good way to keep the family together in one place and who knew you could grow up in 40 years? That you can grow up after 12 years of marriage?”
The couple’s past films together include The Rescue (the rescue of 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Northern Thailand) and Free Solo (an Oscar-winning portrait of rock climber Alex Honnold).
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Vasarhelyi summed up their unique area of interest as, “stories about people pushing the possible”.
And proving that working with your partner is not a recipe for disaster that many might think, he joked: “We were such old stories, you know, me and him. But suddenly, I said, we became stronger. We got better. . We saw what each other did more clearly. And the children had time sweet.”
He added: “In the end it created profound changes later on in terms of how we went about it, how we worked together.”
It seems the magic of Nyad – which inspired the original film’s protagonist to wake up one day at age 60 and decide he wasn’t done yet – has rubbed off on its director.
And that’s the spark Netflix will hope will get into the hearts of voters come awards season.
Nyad is streaming now on Netflix.