Jason Sudeikis may be best known for over-the-top sketch comedy on Saturday Night Live and Maisie Williams for wielding a sword as Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, but in The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, they take on a pair of more grounded roles, playing a grieving widower and a homeless New Orleans teen who team up to build a raft.
In Bill Purple’s indie dramedy, which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, Sudeikis stars as Henry, a young architect left reeling after his pregnant wife (Jessica Biel) is killed in a car crash. Amidst his grief, he strikes up a friendship with a teenager named Millie, and when he learns that she’s constructing a raft to sail across the ocean, he decides to lend her a hand.
“We just wanted to make a story that was really realistic amidst this totally ridiculous plot, which is building a raft and sailing off into the distance,” says Biel, who both produced and starred in the film. “But within the insanity, it was super important to have the lightness and the levity there.”
Williams and Sudeikis sat down with EW at the Tribeca Film Festival to talk Saturday Night Live, Game of Thrones, and wielding a hammer in The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I wanted to start off by asking you both what it was about this script that hooked you. What made you originally want to sign on?
JASON SUDEIKIS: I mean, for me, it was the script. I read it years ago in June 2009, and just stuck with it, always hoping it’d come back around. I loved it. I lost it a couple times, where they couldn’t get financing with necessarily me alone, and then lo and behold, all these years later, it did. But it was the story. I just felt my heart would break for Henry, the character I end up playing, every single time — and for Millie as well.
MAISIE WILLIAMS: I’d read scripts before that I’d put down in the middle of a scene and just smiled to myself because it’s funny or because it made me so happy or I could just picture it. And then I’ve read scripts that I’ve put down because I’ve been like, bawling my eyes out. And it’s very rare that you get a script that you can get both things with and that it nails so perfectly on both emotions. I genuinely got to the end of the script and was like, “What a rollercoaster.”
Maisie, your character, Millie, has this lifelong dream of building this raft and taking to the ocean. It’s something she’s dreamed of since she was a little girl. Did you two have some kind of crazy dream when you were kids that you wanted to make happen?
WILLIAMS: I don’t know. I have very visual dreams. I had a recurring dream when I was little that I was like teeny, teeny-tiny in a massive murky lake, and I was like nose to nose with a massive whale. But it was like not just the size of a normal whale. It was like HUGE.
SUDEIKIS: And you were smaller than you are now?
WILLIAMS: Yes! But it was just so incredible and so visual, and that would be sick if that ever happened. I actually do really want to go snorkeling with whales, so that could happen.
SUDEIKIS: You should!
WILLIAMS: That would make my dream come true. But anyway, you’re going to go into something philosophical now, and that was me like, “Me and a whale!”
SUDEIKIS: I would say that yours is pretty philosophical. And it’s probably one that a lot of people would emphasize with. But me? I think I wanted to be a detective when I was a kid. Because like Encyclopedia Brown and Sherlock Holmes, I always loved those. So that was like my dream. Being the oldest, my parents both worked, [and] I feel like I was raised in a lot of ways by movies and TV, so if I saw The Karate Kid, I wanted to take karate lessons. I saw The Color of Money, I wanted to shoot pool. So whatever I read — I read The Firm, I wanted to be lawyer — I would get into, hardcore, for like six weeks after it. And then I didn’t know I wanted to be an actor or anything like that, but when I look at it now, it’s kind of what we get to do. Like, I get to be a soulful widower in this film or a guy murdering his bosses in Horrible Bosses. I get to try on these, quote-unquote, different hats.
WILLIAMS: And you always end up meeting the kookiest people, and this is like their life. Like I met the world champion at longbow archery. When would you ever get to meet that guy? And that’s all on Game of Thrones. You end up meeting the craziest people and faking being them for a bit.
You’re kind of collecting skill sets.
SUDEIKIS: Absolutely. Little merit badges, like Boy Scouts.
WILLIAMS: Like a Brownie!
Jason, your character has these purple sneakers given to him by his wife, and they come to be really symbolic, reminding him to be bold and spontaneous. Do either of you have an object or a piece of clothing that has that kind of significance for you?
WILLIAMS: I have a box of things that I’ve kept since I was really, really little, and I add stuff to it all the time and trade things out because I don’t ever want it to get bigger than this box. I want to make sure I have [only] the most important things. My favorite thing that I’ve got in there is this little bag of threads and buttons and pieces of my costume from Game of Thrones in the early seasons. I stopped doing that in season 3 or something. But every little thread they cut off my costume, every little bit they cut off my belt to make my laces shorter, anything like that, I kept. Every single little piece, up until like season 3. All the costume girls were like, “Oh, weirdo.” But I look back at that, and I can remember every costume and everything. It’s like a form of memories, I guess. I think maybe in a previous life I was like a sparrow or something, just collecting things.
SUDEIKIS: Twine, making a nest out of it.
WILLIAMS: But yeah, that’s really significant, I guess. That was when my life totally changed, and as a safety thing, I was like, I want to keep all these little threads. Because at the beginning of the series, we didn’t know if it was going to go on, and I wasn’t foolish enough to be like, “Oh, this is it, for six seasons! I can’t wait!” Like every single year, I would cry when we left set because [there was a chance] I could never, ever come back here and see these people ever again. And it meant so much to me. So I’m really glad that I kept that because it was such a massive point in my life that I will remember forever.
SUDEIKIS: With the smallest details of it, discarded.
WILLIAMS: Right, these tiny little bits of waste that meant nothing now mean so much to me.
SUDEIKIS: What I think of is a T-shirt that I have from the sketch group that me and four of my friends started when I was living in Kansas City. This is after I’d stopped playing basketball in college and moved home, and then the four of us were like, “Let’s write a sketch show.” And so we created this group called Der Monkenpickle.
WILLIAMS: Did you combine your names?
SUDEIKIS: It was like a whole afternoon of fighting, like, what are the two funniest words? It was monkey and pickle. Well, then how do we put ‘em together? And then we’ll make it German. Der Monkenpickle. So I have a T-shirt, and basically it says Der Monkenpickle, and it’s a banana with a little tiny monkey hanging off of it. And I don’t think anybody really noticed, but I wore it on my final SNL at goodnights. I still have that T-shirt, and it was purposeful. It had been so stretched out over so many years, but I wore it on my last SNL show, which was kind of like the culmination of an affection and a lot of hard work in the world of sketch comedy. It was surreal to me, from my first group to — at least as of now — my last sketch group.
So much of this story focuses the actual construction of this raft that Millie is trying to build. How much of the construction did you guys do? Are you handy people?
SUDEIKIS: [singing] Movie magic! I’m not that handy. My father wasn’t a handyman. He grew up in Chicago with a superintendent, and I’ve passed that on probably to my son. “Make friends with someone who knows how to do that stuff!” I mean, if something needs to be built, or electrical work, I’m not your guy at all. But it was amazing the way [the art department] built this thing, the way they put it together. And we’d see props in Millie’s shopping cart in an early scene, and then it’d be on the raft.
WILLIAMS: There were things that were written into the [blueprints] that honestly didn’t get as much screen time as they deserved, because there were al these drafts that she’d made and sketches that she’d made and pictures. They all had all these notes on them and all the information about the stuff that she was collecting, and then the art department put all that together and without even having any mention of it in the story.
SUDEIKIS: It was just great, that attention to detail. I’m much better at destroying things. Sledgehammers. Hammers to walls. That, I can do. That’s more my speed.