In the Heart of the Sea tells the true story of the fight for survival which inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Vibe’s JIM PALMER caught up with the film’s stars, director Ron Howard and producers.

Audiences have grown fairly used to the star of a movie going to extreme lengths for a role, but how many times has a whole cast done so?

In Oscar winning director Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea – the true story of the sinking of the Essex whaleship in 1820 which inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – the actors were required to look emaciated and starved for scenes where they had been stranded at sea.

And so, after building themselves up to the buff physiques of professional sailors, they went on a gruelling diet and lost a substantial amount of weight.

Cillian Murphy, who starred in 28 Days Later and Batman Begins, plays The Essex’s second mate, Matthew Joy.

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Cillian Murphy as Matthew Joy and Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase in In the Heart of the Sea. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.

Speaking to us on the film’s press tour, he said: “Ron told us he wanted to do this and wanted to do it as authentically as possible and the thing about it is at the beginning we were on this regime to bulk up and we were in the gym.

“Everyone felt fantastic and looked fantastic. We were getting these amazing breakfasts and lunches and dinners and then it all came to an end and we had to begin the other half of the film.”

He added: “Normally on a film like this you might send the actors off and say go away and come back when you’re emaciated but with this we had to do it while we were shooting. So we dropped dramatically.

“Then inevitably, when you get loads of men together, it gets competitive.”

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As his co-star Tom Holland, explained, the experience brought them closer.

“When you get 21 guys and say ‘sorry you can’t eat for six weeks’ they are obviously going to get on together,” he said. “We knew each other very well before the diet – we had been working for three months, we had been training in the gym and just working with each other for 12 hours every day.

“The weight loss accelerated our relationship to a point where we are all very close and it really did help us throughout the film because these men would have had relationships that are pretty unbreakable.”

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Chris Hemsworth's first mate Owen Chase and Tom Holland's Thomas Nickerson struggle to survive after being shipwrecked in In the Heart of the Sea. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.

The film’s lead, Thor star Chris Hemsworth, added: “It was unlike anything I had ever done before. It was like being part of a football team back in High School or something.”

Inevitably, the lack of food was a struggle and affected the actors but that again was a positive as far as the cast was concerned.

Cillian Murphy said: “We had to use that. We were feeling a tiny, tiny version of what these guys felt. We had to try and harness that in some way. It was really helpful and useful that there was a group of us.”

Benjamin Walker, who plays the ship’s captain, added: “It’s easier to seem exhausted and hungry when you are exhausted and hungry.”

At the heart of it all was a great script, based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick, and a director in Ron Howard that many of the cast were desperate to work with.

Murphy said: “He did push us but he does it with such grace and he’s such a warm individual. The director is like your general, your leader, you have to trust him and you want to realise his vision.

“The director sets the atmosphere, particularly for a film like this. We all wanted to do whatever Ron was asking of us because we all love his films and we all mad about him as a person.

“He couldn’t be more caring and open and available. He’s just a terrifically genuine person.”

Producer Paula Weinstein, whose credits include Blood Diamond, concurred.

She said: “He’s a master filmmaker. You couldn’t ask for a better collaborator or leader.”

Her co-producer Will Ward added: “He is so focussed. A lot of times you go on set and things move so slowly and Ron was just ‘go, go, go’ all day and that kind of intensity really inspired the actors too.”

Weinstein had owned the rights to the book for around 15 years and had been looking to get the film made.

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In the Heart of the Sea tells the true story of survival after a giant whale sunk the whaleboat The Essex in 1820 and it's a story which inspired Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.

She saw a story of more than man versus whale but a tale of survival and also an ecological edge – the whalers killed off vast numbers of animals in pursuit of oil used for fuel.

She said: “If you look at that time from our perspective and what we’ve learned, it’s impossible to take this on and not be on the whale’s side. That’s what creates the interesting story for us – you understand the men, why they have to do it, how they earn a living, what does it mean.

“Nantucket, this little island, was lighting the streets of Paris and London and the greatest salons in the world. In the meantime, look what we’re doing now.”

It was when Ward handed the script to Hemsworth (he’d previously shown it to Channing Tatum) that things started moving.

The Da Vinci Code and A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard told us: “Chris Hemsworth brought the script to me, and this was after we had a good experience working together on Rush, and when I read about the real Owen Chase I thought he was born to play the part.

“I was very impressed on Rush with his creative ambition and his growth.”

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Many of the Essex's crew died when the whale sunk their ship or from starvation and injuries afterwards. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.

For Hemsworth, it was the epic scope of the movie which appealed.

He said: “Very rarely do you read something and you are properly transported to another place. It had that effect on me and after I finished reading it, I kept thinking about it and the questions it raised and forces you to ask.

“The opportunity to do something that’s visually stunning, on a big epic scale, but was a drama was a combination I hadn’t seen a lot of and I don’t think has been made as much.”

Making a movie on the water was another draw for the director, who had come close to making film’s set at sea twice before – one about Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior and another based on Jack London’s novel The Sea-Wolf.

Howard told us: “This came along and it kind of fulfilled aspects of both stories. It was the big sea adventure but it also dealt with whaling and shined a light on the capitalism that is the energy industry.

“That was the energy industry of its day and we have our own energy industry today and issues and dilemmas surrounding that.”

The sacrifices and long days for the cast and crew aside, the breathtaking results of In the Heart of the Sea were not easily achieved by director either.

“This was probably the most challenging movie I’ve made and it’s not just about the water,” said Howard. “It was about the combination of the complexity of the movie: technically, dramatically, the logistics.

“I knew that going in and I was very grateful for all the experiences that I had in the past that I could apply the problem solving in this movie.”

In the Heart of the Sea (12A) is in cinemas December 26.