[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “The Wilds” Season 1.]
In a pivotal scene in Amazon Prime Video’s “The Wilds,” a trio of the unwitting castaways decide to swim out to the wreckage of their crashed private plane to try to find the black box. It’s a scene out of every disaster movie ever — maybe the black box can be cracked to figure out what happened, or even be used as a way to signal and get off the island? But as with everything on “The Wilds,” the scenario isn’t exactly as it seems. As Rachel (Reign Edwards), Nora (Helena Howard), and Leah (Sarah Pidgeon) head out to the open ocean, they are being watched by a group of renegade social scientists trying to determine what the societal outcomes would be if a matriarchy was forced to build from the group up.
Thus it becomes even more of an adrenaline shot to the anxiety cortex for the audience: Not only do the characters have to dive repeatedly to try to jimmy the black box free, but they are doing so under false pretenses. Will the scientists let one of the women die just to prove their hypothesis? How bad does it have to get before the experiment is disbanded?
For stunt coordinator Min Windle — who previously did stuntwork on “The Hobbit” film series — advising the actresses in the scene was primarily about maintaining their safety, but also giving the trio of young women the confidence to complete an extremely physically challenging shoot.
“If I can say one thing about being a female in quite a male-dominated industry — women seeing women doing stuntwork makes them believe that they can do it,” she said. “When a woman sees a woman supporting them to do the best they can, straightaway they believe it. Right away, they come on board 100 percent. They had a real camaraderie together, and they were very supportive of each other. They could lean into each other when things got a little bit tough, or a little bit tricky, or if they got tired.”
The Stunt Guild of New Zealand
Earlier this month, the Television Academy announced a much-needed addition to its rules; in addition to categories rewarding Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or Variety Program and Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, Limited Series, or Movie, there will also be an Emmy for (take a deep breath before you say this out loud, it is basically a stunt unto itself): Outstanding Stunt Performance by an Individual or Team in a Drama, Comedy, Limited Series, or Movie.
Windle’s work on “The Wilds” should be a contender in both the legacy and the new stunt category. While she did a lot of broad strokes stunt work for the show — What is a jungle adventure tale, after all, without some stumbling along and fighting through the overgrowth and getting stuck in quicksand? — but the water work is what really sets it apart.
“We started in spring, and New Zealand waters are notoriously not as warm as some place like Hawaii,” she said. “The water looked beautiful, but it was cool when we started, and New Zealand water is very dynamic. What starts out looking beautiful can really swirl up. We had a really amazing safety team as well as our stunt team, and the doubles were all very proficient divers and swimmers. Everyone was always in a safe environment, but we pushed them to levels that they maybe hadn’t been before, which was amazing.”
For the black box scene, Windle enlisted Kiwi freediver Kathryn Nevatt — who can hold her breath for seven-and-a-half minutes and can dive to more than 210 feet underwater without supplemental oxygen — to help train the actors. “I wanted to get specialists [on set] that were women as well, so along the way, the women could see other women at the top level,” Windle said. “We did freedive training to understand what it was like to hold your breath and use your breath underwater […] and the girls took to it! Sarah and Reign were amazing, and Helena as well. They had to push through a couple of blocks in their mind, but as soon as they saw what their bodies were able to do and that we were there to support them, they were into it.”
Matt Klitscher/Amazon Studios
The majority of the outdoor scenes in “The Wilds” — both in sea and on land — were filmed at Bethells Beach, a strip of black sand that faces the Tasman Sea and is on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, less than two hours from Auckland. It’s gorgeous, serene, and packed full of things that might take a nibble, as revealed in this classic headline from the New Zealand Herald: “Christmas Day water chaos: Sharks, orca sightings close Auckland beaches.”
It caused a little bit of apprehension for the cast, but Windle and her team’s professionalism helped them to overcome any trepidation. “New Zealand is an acquired taste — we’re all very used to it because we’ve come up with it,” Windle said, laughing. “It’s dark and murky, and you have to accept that there are some sea creatures, a whole world underneath there. But once you do, you can put it aside and get on with your work.”
All 10 episodes of the “The Wilds” are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.