‘Young Woman and the Sea’: Daisy Ridley Trained for Months to Play Female Swimming Champion and Shot Scenes Until Her Lips Turned Blue

SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot points, including the ending for “Young Woman and the Sea,” currently playing in theaters.

While Joachim Rønning read the script for “Young Woman and the Sea,” he made little notes as he went along. When he reached the end, his first thought was, “This is amazing.” His next thought was: How could he possibly capture what he had just read on screen?

More from Variety

“Young Woman and the Sea” tells the story of Trudy Ederle, played by Daisy Ridley, who in 1926 became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. But a case of measles – which nearly killed her and left her with severe hearing loss, stood in her way, along with sexism. Yet, she overcame the odds. Rønning’s challenge was balancing backstory with motivation, going on the journey with the character, and then being there as she achieves that goal.

The filmmaker wanted to punctuate the film with such moments, particularly one near the film’s end: “When she’s lost in the dark, and people come out onto the cliffs and light the fires, I thought that was so amazing. I hope I get to translate that onto the screen, so those moments become important.”

It began with Rønning making the film as real as possible. “I wanted to be on the ocean. I wanted to be in the real elements with Daisy Ridley swimming through the currents and cold water,” says the director whose credits include “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and “Kon-Tiki.”

The film was shot on location in Varna, Bulgaria with the production using soundstages for interiors, water tanks, and of course, the cold waters of the Black Sea.

Rønning worked closely with his cinematographer Oscar Faur. Faur was no stranger to shooting water having worked on the disaster film “The Impossible” with Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland. Their conversations revolved around how best to capture Trudy in the water. “We built special rigs. We practiced in a tank with the camera equipment. He designed wires and cranes for us to capture all the swimming in the film,” says Rønning.

Ridley trained extensively in order to portray Trudy. “She started training for months and months, open water swimming with Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, the English Olympic medalist swimmer. They trained and she learned period swimming — how they swam 100 years ago.” Rønning continues, “When she went into the water, she was tough. She never complained and was always going for it, and asking ‘Do you want one more?’ and her lips were turning blue.”

Aside from having to swim through frigid waters, Trudy also encounters a jellyfish swarm in the film. “The jellyfish element is one of the very few that is CG. When you’re making a film like this that takes place in the real world – and this is a period piece – if it doesn’t look real, you’re taken out of the story,” says Rønning. “We worked really hard on creating that jellyfish sequence and planned for a long time. We had Daisy in the water with jellyfish proxies that later became animated animals.”

The final moments of her swim were a monumental achievement for Trudy and Rønning wanted to capture that spectacle. He says, “We had 1,000 extras in the middle of the night, on the beach in the middle of nowhere, all dressed up and they’d been there for six hours, and we’re shooting until six in the morning for several nights. I had Daisy coming to shore, again in freezing waters, and it’s such a feeling of accomplishment.”

As for hitting all the elements of telling the story — Trudy’s backstory, her family, the milestones in her swimming career and her attempts to swim the Channel — Rønning credits one person for the balancing act in the film’s storytelling.

“I have the king of pacing as my producer, Jerry Bruckheimer,” he beams. “I learned so much from him. In regards to what the audience feels, he has a remarkable ability to have his finger on the spectator’s pulse and know when something is dragging.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.