Ted Danson Chats About Whales

Our exploration into the Alaskan film tundra continues with a chat with the one-and-only Ted Danson. In Big Miracle, Danson plays a hardened oil executive who changes his attitude after seeing first-hand the struggles of three Alaskan whales. But then again, this story can melt the coldest of hearts.

Tell us about your character.

Ted Danson: He’s based on a real person, but very, very loosely based. What I love about this film is that everybody has self-interest. My character is an oil exec and wants to be able to open up. He’s the “green” oil company. But he spends $14 million and ends up falling in love with the whales, and yet at the end he’s still an oil guy. But I think he surprises himself by how much he ends up caring about the whales.

What research did you do for the role?

TD: Very little. No truthfully, because it wasn’t built on a real guy. I’ve gotten to the point where if you have to learn how to do something like cutting something down with the chainsaw, then you need to practice, but if you don’t have to do that and the material is good, your job is really to show up in the moment. If you’re not spontaneously discovering stuff as the camera roles, who cares? That’s my new philosophy in life.

What drew you to the role?

I love the piece. I thought it was brilliant. It’s hard to do a sweet, environmentally friendly piece without making people gag. But here is something where everybody’s out doing their thing, and yet somehow all of these strange bedfellows come together and do the right thing and save the whales. It’s very compellingly told, and it’s very fast-paced. There are about 12 characters who all have their own stories that make people like Dermot Mulroney want to show up even though the parts aren’t huge. Everybody wanted to play because it’s such a great story.

Were there any obstacles you encountered with the big production?

TD: Not really. I mean, it’s cold. You feel like a four-year-old being bundled up mom every day before you go out in the snow. It’s awkward to walk around with all this equipment. But for the director and for the crew, there are really huge challenges — to turn this little slice of set into Barrow. You feel like you’re in the middle of this vast nowhere like you do when you’re up in Barrow. The only thing perhaps we haven’t captured is how cold it is. Sometimes Ken would say, “Remember it’s cold.” And we’d go, “Brr!” But when I went up there (to Barrow) and it was eight below? Man! You almost involuntarily scream it is so cold.

But I cannot sing Ken Kwapis’ praises enough. He knows exactly what he wants and yet he lets you explore. No one’s ever seen him get angry, literally, even when things fall apart. He’s this really cool, efficient, bright, mellow leader. There are people who have worked with him over the years who would go anywhere to work with him and I’ve become one of those people.

Big Miracle opens on February 3, 2012.

Additional Reporting by Keertana Sastry