Director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) was committed to making his action movie about Coast Guard rescue swimmers look ”absolutely real and authentic” — so it was quite a coincidence when reality intervened. ”We were about six weeks away from shooting when Katrina hit,” says Davis. ”A lot of the people who were working with us as advisers [left to] become part of the rescue team.”
The production relocated from New Orleans to Shreveport, La., but the shoot itself was no vacation. (The Guardian also filmed in Alaska, but only after the volcano near Kodiak Island ”stopped spewing molten glass.”) ”It was pretty brutal,” says Ashton Kutcher, who plays Jake, a hotshot swimmer training for the elite military unit. ”There [were] only a couple of scenes where I was dry and wasn’t freezing…where all I had to do was act.” But the action novice — who spent months getting in shape for the role — soon found his sea legs. ”Once I [felt] like a badass swimmer…it became: How can I push myself further?” But, for all that, ”they wouldn’t let me jump out of a helicopter,” he laments.
Jake finds a mentor in venerable rescue swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner), who’s struggling with life on the water after losing his crew in an accident. Davis shot many of the film’s most grueling water scenes in a tank that served as ”a 100-by-80-foot piece of the Bering Sea,” complete with six-foot waves. ”Kevin and Ashton got beat up real good,” he laughs.