Making a film based on a true story is often hard work because you want to play the real people as accurately as possible. Ross Thomas knows exactly what this is like and spent a lot of time with the real Hamilton family for his role in the upcoming Soul Surfer, based on Bethany Hamilton's inspiring story.
Hamilton lost her arm in a shark accident and courageously got back into surfing, beating all odds.
Ross plays Bethany's brother Noah Hamilton in the film and took time to talk to Movie Fanatic about his experiences filming the movie.
He told us he took this role very seriously, even interviewing the real Noah on camera before filming.
"We as people have so much in common that I was able to pretty much get inside of his character and understand him from when I first met him," he said of the real Noah Hamilton. "Right when I got to Hawaii I took he and his wife out, I flipped the switch and I took out my camera and I interviewed Noah on camera."
Check out the rest of the interview below.
Since this movie is based on a true story, what was your reaction when you’d first heard of this girls encounter and story?
I remember hearing about Bethany’s story when it first happened. I was one of millions of people around the world that were first and foremost, shocked by the event. Shark attacks are always making headlines despite who the person is, sort of always lurks there, no pun intended. Everyone has that fear of the ocean on some level. I’m immediately drawn to those types of stories, especially if it’s a comeback story, it’s just a survival story.
It’s pretty amazing. Following her path and her continual success and growing from that accident was a fun story to watch. I’ve been following her career for a while now and watching Bethany surf with one arm, she’s amazing, as she was with two.
Tell me about your role in Soul Surfer.
In the film I play her older brother, Noah Hamilton. We as people have so much in common that I was able to pretty much get inside of his character and understand him from when I first met him. Right when I got to Hawaii I took he and his wife out, I flipped the switch and I took out my camera and I interviewed Noah on camera. I really wanted to let him free flow about what his experience was in this time of his life. I went back and studied those tapes and him and the way he talks and his mannerisms. Just understanding the essence of his nature, I just had to look at what he had done, being the older brother in the family. Noah has such a big heart, and he’s such a strong supporter. I really wanted to know from him what the initial experience was like when you hear that your sibling had just been attacked, and I could relate because my younger brother had a horrific accident as well. When stuff like that happens, family comes together in a way you’ve never seen before. The family unit becomes closer through something like that. He told me the initial emotion went inward for him. We all deal with pain and tragedy in different ways. It doesn’t mean Noah wasn’t feeling anything; it was very heavy on him. He had issues with the media surrounding his sister. He took on the role of the protector and shielded. To this day, Noah is her exclusive photographer and promoter.
Why were you attracted to this role?
When the opportunity came to be a part of the film, I didn’t even wait a beat to think about it. I immediately wanted to be involved because I knew how big of a project it is and how important the message and story is to be told to the international community. Knowing the story and having been following it prior to this movie coming into production, it’s a story that needed to be told. It had all of the elements of a film that I as an actor want to be a part of. It’s not only there for entertainment purposes, but it’s spreading a positive message and can create some big change around the world. Everyone felt honored to be a part of the story; we all know how important the message of the movie is.
I’d also worked with Sean McNamara on several projects before. He and I did a surf series in Hawaii called Beyond the Break. I felt so lucky and blessed to go back to Hawaii and work with him.
Did you meet Bethany and her family?
I spent a lot of time with Bethany. Actually, I consider her one of my good friends now, which is pretty amazing. The whole Hamilton family was present throughout the whole shooting of the film. It was interesting for me as an actor because I’d never done a project where the living people of the story we were telling were on set watching all of the tapes. It was a bit intimidating. That family has a tremendous amount of love, and they’re really amazing people; a joy to be around. Noah and I have a lot in common, we’re the same age and both grew up in a large family with very strong moral and family values. When I got to Hawaii, I was welcomed with open arms by the Hamilton family. We all grabbed a board and went out in the ocean, it was the ultimate icebreaker. It was as if I was part of the family, off the bat. On my days off I’d go surf with Bethany and she’d totally school me. [laughs]
Being a surfer yourself, do you think you would have the courage to go back out there?
I think that is a question that no one can answer until it happens to you, or if it happens to you. I’d like to think that I would, but I can’t say for sure. I think if you love something as strongly and as deeply as Bethany does surfing, really at the end of the day, if your heart is that investing in something, I do believe through courage and bravery and hope, you can overcome fear and darkness and see light. The ocean provides such a wealth of joy and happiness for so many people. Something like a shark attack is so rare, I don’t think I could stay out of the ocean. Knowing her story now, if anything ever happened to be I’d look at Bethany as a sense of encouragement and inspiration.
Why is the message of this movie so important?
I think it’s going to strike a tone with audiences everywhere and leave people with a big smile and a sense of inspiration.