Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi premiered their newest film, Nyad, on the Telluride Movie Competition on Friday. The Netflix movie, which stars Annette Bening as long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad and Jodie Foster as her coach, Bonnie Stoll, is the primary narrative movie from the married couple of co-directors, who received an Academy Award for his or her 2018 documentary Free Solo, about rock climber Alex Honnold, and likewise made the docs The Rescue in 2021 and Wild Life in 2023.
Chin and Vasarhelyi spoke with THR about working with actors vs. athletes, grappling with Nyad’s advanced historical past, which included exaggerating some claims earlier in her profession, and rolling out their movie within the midst of Hollywood’s twin strikes. Nyad may also display on the Toronto Movie Competition on Sept. 12, earlier than hitting theaters Oct. 20 and hitting Netflix’s streaming service Nov. 3.
Had been you actively trying to make a story movie?
ELIZABETH CHAI VASARHELYI We had been pondering very severely about discovering a narrative that we have been all for that centered a girl. And once we learn the script, Jimmy and I had this dialog the place I used to be describing what occurred, and he’s like, “No means. No means!” We form of checked out one another and we’re like, “Oh…”
JIMMY CHIN We had talked about going into narrative in some unspecified time in the future, simply as storytellers and artists as an area to develop as filmmakers. However we have been all for doing a narrative we hadn’t seen earlier than.
How did Annette come aboard?
CHIN We form of had all our eggs in a single basket. We have been like, it must be Annette, it must be Annette. We hadn’t even thought of anyone else.
VASARHELYI It was actually necessary to us that whoever was forged, that the actor be of an applicable age. And it’s a task that requires very deep work. Annette is such a dedicated actor. She calls for a lot of herself. She skilled for over a 12 months. And likewise the work that each she and Jodie did, spending time with the actual Diana and the actual Bonnie, was very, very significant.
If you have been trying on the script and serious about the best way to shoot it, how did you consider the best way to juxtapose the flashbacks versus the real-time motion of the Cuba swims?
VASARHELYI The script is superb. Julia [Cox] did a wonderful job and he or she was additionally on set with us. However our movies are very edit heavy in that we spend quite a lot of time breaking the film. We break the film over and again and again, simply attempting various things. And it’s form of the enjoyable of it and the magic of it, no less than for me. So we discovered that [structure] within the edit. it was at all times about how do you permit the swims to construct? How do you permit audiences entry to this very distinctive expertise of marathon swimming?
CHIN The melding of the archival, it actually provides it a unique visceral expertise. We’d shoot after which we edit it in a few of the footage from the precise swims, and it added this grit to it.
What was it prefer to work with actors?
VASARHELYI I labored for Mike Nichols 20 years in the past as his assistant on the Nearer set. I acquired to go to the theater with him each night time. I sat in each single rehearsal. And so I at all times thought, everybody rehearses, proper? The fortunate factor about working with Jodie and Annette and Rhys [Ifans] is that they rehearsed, and nobody ever acted with a stand-in. They at all times did one another’s reverses. I used to be personally terrified at first. 4 hundred persons are taking a look at you. And it simply took one good determination to know that the abilities translate and the instincts translate. Nonfiction and fiction, it’s very related muscle mass by way of storytelling. It’s simply, the sources in fiction are a lot richer. As an alternative of ready for 2 years for Alex Honnold to say “I like you,” Jodie can do it with out even saying something. It’s simply completely different, the entry to emotion.
CHIN Earlier than we began, I used to be pondering, what’s going to be the actual problem of this? And naturally, I believed, is it going to be working with actors? And it seems that that truly felt a lot, rather more pure than I believed it could. Since you notice if you’re working with expertise on docs, particularly when you’re working with high-end athletes, which I spend quite a lot of time doing, it’s constructing the setting to permit them to carry out at their greatest, the bodily setting, the emotional setting. It’s not like I’m going to inform Alex the best way to climb, but when I set all the things up and all of the cameras are in place and all the things’s shifting easily and he can simply are available and climb, then he can simply do what he does. A lot of directing is creating that setting with the intention to permit someone like Jodie or Annette to do what they do greatest.
Within the film, Diana comes throughout as a exceptional athlete however a fairly flawed lady. Did she have editorial management over how she was portrayed?
VASARHELYI Diana made a really good move to only allow us to do our factor. It was very troublesome for her, however everybody understood the intention, which was to point out a girl in her full complexity. It was actually significant to us to determine this stability between honoring the chutzpah that the actual Diana Naya had, and her intelligence, her fierceness, her drive, whereas additionally permitting folks to get to know her in order that in the end you’re doing the swim along with her. It was at all times the intention of being warts and all, however how do you floor it?
Earlier in her profession, Diana exaggerated some claims about her swimming accomplishments, and a few within the swimming neighborhood have complaints about how she accomplished her Cuba swim. How did you guys grapple with that?
VASARHELYI We attempt to deal with it within the movie. There are moments the place Bonnie makes enjoyable of her for exaggerating issues. We did our analysis and I spent quite a lot of time with Diana. We did our due diligence. This movie is just not a few report. It’s a few lady who wakes up at 60 and realizes she’s not achieved. And that lady has flaws. I feel that if we have been coping with a person, folks wouldn’t be choosing on him fairly as a lot. However Diana acknowledges her shortcomings and I respect that.
CHIN As knowledgeable athlete and dealing with quite a lot of high-end world-class athletes, and people who find themselves pushing the boundaries of sports activities, I’ve seen this occur a ton. There’s at all times going to be the skeptics and the purists and the armchair critics. The purists are at all times those that you’ll by no means discover swimming 100 miles or attempting to ski Mount Everest. She needed to put on a jellyfish go well with. That’s how she solved an issue. And I used to be pondering exterior of the field that allowed her to do it.
How are you dealing with the strike?
VASARHELYI We now have the utmost respect for each member of SAG and the WGA. And I actually imagine they’re preventing for his or her lives. All creatives are form of preventing for his or her lives proper now. And it’s unusual to be releasing a movie and particularly after these actors put a lot work into it. Not having Annette be celebrated, or Diana [who is also SAG-AFTRA member because of her sports commentating]. We actually need to help the strikes, and our actors can’t be current. It’s bittersweet.
This interview has been edited and condensed.