We caught up with actress Ilfenesh Hadera to talk her new film Baywatch.
The Knockturnal: The Baywatch crew is a unique collective group of people. Tell me where your character fits into the group?
Ilfenesh Hadera: It is, you know, we’ve got someone that kind of represents everyone in it. You’ve got the slacker in Matt Brody, Zac’s character. You’ve got the rookie in Jon Bass. You’ve got comedy in a lot of them. Stephanie is the more seasoned lifeguard, and she’s pretty straight-laced. She takes things seriously and cracks the whip when she needs to. But all done out of love and respect for the job.
The Knockturnal: Were you a big fan of the series before? And who was your favorite character?
Ilfenesh Hadera: You know, in my house growing up, I wasn’t allowed, we weren’t allowed to watch a ton of TV. But that didn’t stop me from knowing what the series was, which is a kind of testament to how popular it was when I was growing up. So, you know, I don’t remember episode by episode but I obviously knew who Pam Anderson was, and you know who Hasselhoff is.
The Knockturnal: Oh, so funny. How was it working with such a diverse group of people from Dwayne to Priyanka, to Zac. Talk about working with everyone, everyone from all these different backgrounds.
Ilfenesh Hadera: I mean pretty amazing. And that’s what struck me at our table read. Years ago, January of I guess 2016, I walked into the conference room in Boca Raton, Florida and we all sat down together and read the script for the first time. And looking around and you see Dwayne. Okay, he’s a movie star, but he’s a man of color. He’s black and Samoan. And then Priyanka Chopra, who’s one of India’s biggest stars, whose now crossed over and is hugely successful here. And then Hannibal Buress, who wasn’t at the table read, but I knew was attached to it. And then meeting him, you know Priyanka’s, right-hand man. Amin Joseph, a man of color and native Harlem resident like I am. And it’s just like, in a movie that didn’t need to be as diverse as it was, at all, it’s amazing to see, for sure.
The Knockturnal: The film is so funny. I laughed out loud so many times. Was any of it improvised, or was the script really that good?
Ilfenesh Hadera: No, it was definitely a combination of the two. The comedy was in the script for sure. We were all belly laughing while we were having the table read. But Seth Gordon, our director, was really good and generous at letting people kind of go off the cuff when they wanted to.
The Knockturnal: How was it working with Seth Gordon, and what unique perspective did he bring to filming to make this rendition of Baywatch something different from the original series?
Ilfenesh Hadera: I’ve seen Horrible Bosses before we started filming. So I kind of knew what his specialty area was. But I think he’s got a great sense of timing, and he knows what translates well on camera. So, I don’t consider myself particularly funny, but he was very good at giving me the direction that I needed from him. And also, I mean, the original series, if you go back and watch a few episodes, is not a comedy by any means. It’s a pretty alarmingly heavy subject matter that we’re dealing with. Mitch’s son, as a child of divorce, what he was going through and sexual predators on the beach in one episode. And he also made music a huge part of the movie. I don’t know about you, but I mean, the soundtrack is great. From ASAP to Biggie and Desiigner and Panda, like the biggest hit of the year.
The Knockturnal: No, yeah I definitely loved the soundtrack.
Ilfenesh Hadera: Oh my God, when Brandon’s diving into the fiery water and ASAP is played, it’s like you want to make the scene last forever. So good.
The Knockturnal: There were so many crazy scenarios during this film. What was the craziest thing for you on set while filming?
Ilfenesh Hadera: The craziest thing for me on set while filming? Uh, let’s see. I mean it was just surreal, is this happening … throughout. But I think it really dawned on me that this was going down when we shot our slow-mo beach run, which is a big part of people’s memory of the series. And we didn’t shoot that until I think one of the last weeks of filming. And it was one of the last times we were all together as a group filming.
The film is now playing.