It’s a bright, temperate February day – summertime in Australia – and a group of professional divers adjust their equipment for the day’s dive. It’s a routine they know well for a job that is anything but monotonous. Leading them is actor Matthew McConaughey, fully suited up in diving gear for his role as Ben “Finn” Finnegan in Warner Bros. Pictures’ forthcoming romantic comedy adventure Fool’s Gold.
McConaughey plunges into a 140ft x100ft open air tank that has a minimum depth of 16 feet and a maximum depth of 21 feet. It holds 7.2 million liters of water. The tank has been meticulously constructed by the production team, and effortlessly reaches a floor that recreates the Caribbean sea bed. In this sequence, Finn is using a sand-blowing device attached to his boat, the Booty Call, to search for a clue that could lead him to fulfill his lifelong quest of finding the priceless 18th century Spanish treasure known as the Queen’s Dowry, lost at sea in 1715. The scene being shot today introduces this reckless but high-spirited treasure hunter. While he dives all out for glory, what few possessions he still owns after years of pursuing his dream are about to be lost, including his boat – the Booty Call – which has just caught fire several feet over his head. He is also about to lose his wife, Tess, who not only doesn’t live with him anymore, but is about to divorce him.
“When I read the script, I thought it looked like a lot of fun,” McConaughey says later, after he has changed and dried off. “I like the fact that Fool’s Gold is not a straight romantic comedy, but more of an adventure, with a sense of humor that I hadn’t played before. Finn likes as much the joke being put on him than putting it on somebody else. My job in the film is to get the treasure and also try to get my wife back.” McConaughey’s affinity for the character also extends to his name. “He is named Finn because of Huckleberry –one of my favorite characters growing up,” says the actor.
Fool’s Gold once again pairs McConaughey with Kate Hudson, whose chemistry together last lit up the screen in the hit romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Hudson plays Finn’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Tess. Hudson, an Academy Award® winner for her performance in Almost Famous, was delighted to once again re-team with the actor. “Matthew has one of those spirits that some people may call ‘crazy’ and others a ‘blast,’” Hudson enthuses. “I can really appreciate his because he is so much fun. There is not a mean bone in his whole body, which is very hard to find. I think that is why I connect to him – because of his contagious spirit.”
The comfort the two actors share working together infuses their rapport on-camera. “It’s hard to explain how, but it does work between us,” says McConaughey. “There is a give and take that really works between us. Tess is very smart and witty, and I think we flirt and fight well.”
Andy Tennant, the writer/director of Fool’s Gold, notes the continuity between this film, and their last film together in that the first was a story of falling in love, while Fool’s Gold opens with a divorce. “We can only imagine what their marriage was like!” he jokes. “Kate and Matthew do have good chemistry, which we have capitalized on, and happened to be right for the roles. It was fortuitous that both were available. Kate is just great as Tess, and Matthew is in perfect shape and has really embraced being Finn. Not a lot of leading men will allow themselves to be the butt of the joke, which is what he has done. His character is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and that is part of his charm.”
Playing Finn’s right-hand man, Alfonz, who is helping to scavenge the seabed in the sequences being shot today, is Scottish actor Ewen Bremner. Alfonz, tired of what seems to be a never-ending, fruitless search for submerged treasure will abandon Finn to his luck. And if things couldn’t get worse, Finn will have to face the wrath of Bigg Bunny (Kevin Hart), after having borrowed a significant sum of money from him to finance his underwater adventure. This ruthless Caribbean-based gangster is not at all convinced of Finn’s progress, materialized only in a piece of a plate that Finn is convinced belonged to the Spanish fleet that sank somewhere in the area nearly three centuries ago.
Tennant, who broke box office records with the comedy Hitch, sought to make his next film “big and fun” – and what could be more fun to make than a romantic comedy adventure set on the high seas? “I felt that the adventure comedies had been hijacked by animation,” he notes. “So, I spent 9 months working on the script and read everything I could get my hands on about treasure hunting. The Queen’s Dowry has never been found, and if you go down to Key West – a crazy place full of divers and drunks – you can meet people like the late Mel Fisher. He discovered the shipwreck of the Atocha, worth $480 million, that took him 16 years to find.”
Today’s shoot takes place in the underwater facilities of Warner Roadshow Studios at Oxenford, Queensland, where the cast and crew have set up after having anchored at Lizard Island, Port Douglas, and several other sites along Australia’s Gold Coast. Tennant is familiar with this dazzling seascape. “The irony is that I learned to scuba dive years ago because I had an Australian girlfriend and went diving with her in Port Douglas,” comments the director. “Twenty-five years later, I take on a movie that’s about scuba diving because of my experience in Australia, which I initially planned on shooting in the Bahamas, and I end up going to the same place.”
“The story was written for the Caribbean,” explains producer Donald De Line, “and we first scouted in the Bahamas, but when we wanted to get the movie started it was hurricane season, which led us to search for alternative locations. Australia is known for the beauty of its landscape and underwater world, so we came down here and found we were able to piece it together really well.”
On this stage, production has painstakingly recreated the yacht used in the film, belonging to millionaire Nigel Honeycutt, played by Donald Sutherland. “Nigel Honeycutt is worth $700 million and has a boat named after his daughter with his fifth wife, whom he has now divorced,” Sutherland describes. “I think his first divorce was so painful that it took him four more to get over it. But he was generous to his wives, because he gave them each $50 million. I love this guy!”
The star of such classics as Klute, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and, more recently, Pride and Prejudice, Sutherland was delighted with the opportunity to travel to exotic, sunny locations for the film. “My work is subjective,” he explains. “I just finished playing a guy who was suicidal, depressed and very poor, so I felt like doing something completely different. I have been here for several months and I love it.”
Named for his spoiled daughter, Gemma (Alexis Dziena), Honeycutt’s yacht, Precious Gem, represents the only chance for Tess and Finn’s broken dream of finding the Queen’s Dowry. Tennant notes, “The treasure hunt is not only about the money. It’s about this couple who fell in love over a shared passion for research and discovery. But in the real world maybe that wasn’t enough, so when we meet them they are on the brink of a divorce. For them, the treasure may be finding a way back to each other. That, to me, was fun.”
Honeycutt will finance and support the operation, oblivious to the dangers it poses, both under and above the water. Bigg Bunny has already teamed up with Finn’s rival treasure hunter and former partner, Moe Fitch, played by Ray Winstone (Beowulf, Sexy Beast).
Dressed in impeccable attire, and accompanied by his equally stylish daughter, Honeycutt hosts a dinner where the tension between Tess and Finn fills the air. It is so thick, it could be cut by the antique Spanish sword they will soon discover. On set, the cast all raise their glasses of wine as the soirée ends. Despite the emotional distance between Finn and Tess, they are nonetheless hopelessly attracted to each other.
Filming on water posed both pleasures and challenges for the cast and crew of Fool’s Gold. Veteran stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell notes, “We had extensive water sequences, so everybody had to go through the certification process. Matthew is a natural athlete and a very quick study. He really can do everything that’s asked of him. For a stunt coordinator, he’s a godsend. I had never worked with Kate before, but she’s a good listener and asks all the right questions. She learns what needs to be done and then goes right at it.”
McConaughey already had his dive certification, but earned his advanced certificate during the course of production. For most of the cast, however, it was a new world. “I thought it was going to be easier than it was,” Hudson recalls. “When I had my first real dive, I was terrified to get into the water, but the marine crew and all the dive masters were amazing. And once you get down there, it’s just incredible. I mean, to be able to do my first dive on the Great Barrier Reef is mind-blowing. The sea life is phenomenal. It was like being in a whole other world. Now I’m in love with diving; I can’t wait to get back in the water.”
“They say the earth is about 75 percent water and 95 percent of it is unexplored, so there’s a lot out there that has never been found,” adds McConaughey. “If you can put together a few clues, then anything is possible…and it’s going to be an adventure no matter what.”
The romantic comedy adventure Fool’s Gold was directed by Andy Tennant. The film stars Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson. The film also stars Donald Sutherland (Pride and Prejudice), Ewen Bremner (Match Point), Alexis Dziena (Broken Flowers), Kevin Hart (Epic Movie) and Ray Winstone (Beowulf).
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a De Line Pictures/Bernie Goldmann Production, an Andy Tennant Film, Fool’s Gold. Tennant directed the film from a screenplay he wrote with John Claflin & Daniel Zelman, story by Claflin & Zelman. Donald De Line, Bernie Goldmann and Jon Klane produced the film, with Wink Mordaunt and James R. Dyer executive producing and Stephen Jones serving as co-producer.
The behind-the-scenes creative team included Oscar®-nominated director of photography Don Burgess (Forrest Gump), production designer Charles Wood, editors Troy Takaki and Tracey Wadmore-Smith, multiple Oscar®-nominated composer George Fenton (The Fisher King, Dangerous Liaisons, Gandhi, Cry Freedom), and Oscar®-winning costume designer Ngila Dickson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy).
Fool’s Gold will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.