Drew Barrymore came to Washington for the premiere of her new film, Big Miracle, about the extraordinary real-life rescue of whales stranded in Alaska in 1987. I had a blast on the red carpet, talking to the real-life characters who inspired the film as well as Barrymore, her young co-star Ahmaogak Sweeney, writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, and director Ken Kwapis.
It was a special treat to speak to Bonnie Carroll, who was working in the White House in 1987 when the whales were discovered and coordinated President Reagan’s involvement. She told me that when she got on the phone for the first time with the military officer overseeing the rescue, she fell in love with him as soon as she heard his voice. “I was in the West Wing and he was in Barrow, Alaska. Just hearing his voice — we both knew, and we were together from then on.” The closing credits of the movie show their real-life wedding photo. “The world came together for the whales,” she said. “My husband was the kind of leader who could make something like that happen.” The premiere last night honored the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) program she founded following the death of her husband. Bonnie and her husband are played by Vinessa Shaw and Dermot Mulroney in the film.
I also spoke to Cindy Lowry, the environmental activist who inspired the character played by Drew Barrymore in the film. They spent a lot of time together and Barrymore wanted to know everything about where she lived and even what she wore. “She’s really passionate about the things she cares about and has an appreciation for why I am so passionate about whales.” Barrymore talked about the way Lowry inspired her. “She’s willing to cross boundaries and be very forceful, but it is always in a very informed way, to articulate your point and do it with flair.”
Director Ken Kwapis: “When I read the script, what I fell in love with was the idea of a group of people with different agendas, often competing agendas, who had to figure out a way to set aside their differences and solve a problem. That’s what attracted me, this idea of unlikely collaborators who have to work together. I also fell in love with the whales! They made me cry. The fact that they were trapped in this hole. I found it very emotional. The reason to see the film is the emotional experience. There’s spectacle, there’s humor, there’s romance, there’s wonderful characters but it is really an emotion picture. Alaska was beautiful, the people were fantastic, but it was very cold and there was a dearth of daylight. I had a huge ensemble cast and many of them had never worked in front of a camera. And on top of that, we had three gigantic robotic whales that worked — most of the time! There’s something for every member of the family — a wonderful coming of age story, a romantic triangle, a lot of layers.” This was his second time working with Drew Barrymore (they did “He’s Just Not That Into You”). “I wanted someone who could be very forceful and at the same time very accessible. As strong as she is, she wears her heart on her sleeve. Audiences love her for that. ”
Amiel and Begler were writing sit-coms when they got a copy of the book about the whale rescue by journalist Tom Rose, who inspired the character played by John Krasinski. They bought the rights for $1 (Rose was paid more later when the movie went into production) and worked for 15 years to get it made. “People all showed up for their own reasons but got involved in a story that became a massive cause for them. There were oil companies and Greenpeace and the Reagan Administration and Inupiat whalers all coming together for what seemed like their own purpose and it ended up being everyone’s purpose,” Amiel said. “It was important to me to show all sides in this movie, and I think we did.”
First-time actor Ahmaogak Sweeney told me why kids should see the movie: