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Gael Garcia Bernal, Eliza Scanlen: 'Old' parallels pandemic year

Gael Garcia Bernal plays a father who sees his kids grow up in a day in Old. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Gael Garcia Bernal plays a father who sees his kids grow up in a day in "Old." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, July 22 (UPI) -- Gael Garcia Bernal and Eliza Scanlen, stars of the new movie Old, said filming in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted themes in the film. In it, families are trapped on a beach that makes them age rapidly in a single day.

"As we were shooting it, people in the world were experiencing a somewhat similar thing, especially young people who are in high school and had their proms canceled because of COVID," Scanlen told UPI in a phone interview.

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As the pandemic progressed in 2020, social events were canceled in real time. In Old, children skip their entire childhoods in a matter of hours.

The 22-year-old Scanlen plays Kara, the 15-year-old incarnation of a girl who begins the day as a 6-year-old. Bernal plays Guy, a father who watches his children grow up before his eyes.

Bernal, 42, said that Old will remind people of the pandemic long after it is resolved.

"We will go back and see this huge moment of uncertainty that all humans were going through," Bernal said in a Zoom interview. "We won't see the whole experience, of course, but we will just see a little aspect of it."

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Old, which premieres in theaters Friday, is based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy. It was adapted by writer-director M. Night Shyamalan.

Guy and his wife, Prisca (Vicky Krieps), have taken their children, Trent and Maddox, on one last vacation. The couple have some medical news to share with the kids and are considering a separation. On the beach, they are forced to cope with a supernatural crisis.

"Together with Vicky Krieps, we started to write down and plot an idea of what happened to them, how they met, what would they do, where would they go," Bernal said.

On the beach, Guy and Prisca meet Charles (Rufus Sewell) and Chrystal (Abbey Lee). Kara is Charles and Chrystal's daughter. The couple Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and vacationing rap artists Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) also are visiting the beach when the crisis hits.

Old filmed on the Playa El Valle beach in Samana, Dominican Republic. Bernal said filming under COVID-19 safety protocols at the isolated beach created a unique pandemic bubble in which the small cast and crew could be "barefoot and with no masks on."

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Scanlen said Old was the first movie she's filmed entirely on one location.

"It's a pretty cool experience to work on a film that's set over the course of one day," Scanlen said. "It kind of got into a bit of a routine."

Although isolated, the crew could not control the location. Scanlen said the tides shifted every day and waves impeded sound recording. Bernal said adapting to those issues also reflected the way the world adjusted to the pandemic in 2020.

"The conditions we were shooting it in, being on the beach, not being able to control certain things, made us give way to those impositions or limitations that nature sometimes put upon us," Bernal said. "We had to transform them and change them and twist them."

Shyamalan reveals the effects of the beach gradually as the day progresses. Scanlen takes over for Mikaya Fisher as Kara ages.

The camera does not immediately reveal Scanlen in a wide shot, but rather from below her shoulders, hinting that she has changed. Scanlen said Shyamalan's cryptic camera placement required the actors to coordinate specific marks.

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"Not only did we have to really keep our eye on the camera, but really listen to each other as an ensemble," Scanlen said.

Bernal said he also found Old to be a technically daunting production. As the vacationers rapidly age, any medical condition with which they are coping escalates in supernatural time.

Shyamalan often frames scenes of crisis on the reaction of the characters. Bernal said he would have to look at a point within the camera apparatus to give Shyamalan the reaction he needed.

"Sometimes we were alone doing the scene looking at certain points within the matte box of the camera, sometimes with no people, none of the actors there," Bernal said.

When the children age, older actors replace them. When Guy and Prisca age, they wear old-age makeup.

"Maybe this sounds very obvious, but it was the best mask to put on," Bernal said. "We hardly felt it. It took a while to put it on, but it wasn't that uncomfortable."

M. Night Shyamalan attends 'Old' premiere in NYC

From left to right, cast members Aaron Pierce, Gael Garc'a Bernal, Vicky Krieps, director M. Night Shyamalan, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff and Nikki Amuka-Bird arrive on the red carpet at premiere of "Old" on Monday. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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