How ‘High Noon’ Inspired Callum Turner in ‘The Boys in the Boat’


The Big Picture

  • “The Boys in the Boat” is an inspirational sports biopic set in the 1930s and centered on the University of Washington’s rowing team, highlighting themes of humanity and perseverance.
  • The film follows the story of Joe Rantz, a struggling student who joins the rowing team to secure his education and overcome adversity, under the strict guidance of Coach Al Ulbrickson, with the aim of competing in the 1936 Olympics.
  • Lead actor Callum Turner drew inspiration from actors like Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy, as well as the music of Woody Guthrie, to portray Joe Rantz’s stoic and determined nature on screen.

Based on a true story, George Clooney‘s latest directorial feature, The Boys in the Boat, is an inspirational tale of humanity and perseverance wrapped up in a sports biopic, just in time for the holidays. The movie stars Callum Turner as a University of Washington student struggling to stay afloat on his own as he searches for security among the school’s rowing team, and finds so much more.

Set in the 1930s, Joe Rantz (Turner) discovers that he’ll soon be unable to afford his tuition. Already working his way through school homeless, an opportunity presents itself when Joe gets word the rowing team is looking for more boys, and the gig comes complete with food, a part-time job, and housing. As unbelievable as it sounds, rowing is no stroll in the park, and especially under the direction of Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton), whose eye is set on the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

During a conversation with Collider’s Steve Weintraub, Turner and Hadley Robinson, who plays Joe’s girlfriend, Joyce, in the film, discuss the heart of the film, how huge of a sport rowing once was, the physical toll it took on both Joe and Callum, and the inspiration behind Joe’s stoic nature Turner portrayed on screen. You can watch the costars’ interview in the video above, or check out the full transcript below. Read on for even more on The Boys in the Boat from screenwriter Mark Smith, who previously worked with Clooney on The Midnight Sky, penned The Revenant, earning Leo DiCaprio his first Oscar, and whose wrote the script for the upcoming Twisters reboot.

The Boys in the Boat

A 1930s-set story centered on the University of Washington’s rowing team, from their Depression-era beginnings to winning gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Release Date
December 25, 2023


Main Genre

Daniel James Brown , Mark L. Smith

COLLIDER: First of all, congrats on the movie. I like throwing some curveballs at the beginning, and considering you’ve been speed dating with a lot of people…

CALLUM TURNER: But you’re our favorite.

I appreciate that. So, if someone has actually never seen anything you’ve done before, besides this movie, which obviously is the easy answer, what would you like them watching first and why?

HADLEY ROBINSON: Wow, that’s a good question. I guess I’d have to say, if you like this movie, there’s a show called Winning Time [The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty]. There’s two seasons of it, and it’s got a similar feel, so maybe that one. And it was the most recent I did.

TURNER: I would say there’s a movie I did called Tramps with Adam Leon and it was my first American lead. I was 25 and I think doing that movie, it’s such a special moment for me because it was when I decided, “Yeah, I really want to become an actor.”

The Rumors Are True: Christian Bale Is Lovely on Set

Christian Bale as Augustus Landor in The Pale Blue Eye
Image via Netflix

What is the most nervous you’ve been the night before the first day of filming?

ROBINSON: [Laughs] Wow, I’ve definitely got one for that. It was this movie I did called Pale Blue Eye, and it was the first day of shooting and I had to cry in the arms of Christian Bale. I was having a panic attack, and I think I got one hour of sleep, but then he was the loveliest and it was great. Probably that.

TURNER: I did a movie called Green Room and my visa didn’t come for some reason until the last minute, and I jumped on a flight to Seattle. I played the lead singer in the band and everyone else had been bonding and getting to know each other, and I just felt so out of place and out of touch. And I remember basically just bricking it and being somewhere near Astoria and seeing Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, and Joe Cole come across this car park at, like, 12:30. They were so beautiful, and we went on and had a beautiful time.

Jumping into why I get to talk to you guys, after making this and you were on the water a bunch, do you now have more respect for Spielberg and Jaws, making that movie on the water back in the ‘70s with film, no digital cameras, and antiquated technology, if you will?

TURNER: Absolutely. I mean, first off, that’s my favorite Spielberg movie and I already have the most amount of respect for him for that movie. The truth is, George was so prepared doing this that, for us, it felt seamless. For him, he’ll tell you it was almost a math to work out how to do it. And him and [cinematographer] Martin Ruhe, they made it so seamless for us. The difficult thing for us for our job was just to row, and so we would race for kilometer and then have to turn around and row back and reset and then race a kilometer. It was just excruciatingly painful, but you can see that in the film.

Oh, 100%. One of the things about both of you in this film is you do a lot of the talking and you do like none of the talking.

TURNER: Yeah, it was great, I had no lines.

How ‘High Noon’ Inspired Callum Turner in ‘The Boys in the Boat’

Image via United Artists/MGM

[Laughs] There was no studying the night before. But talk a little bit about both of your characters because you’re doing the heavy lifting in the relationship, but you also have to emote so much with just your face and your eyes. Can you sort of both talk about that?

ROBINSON: Well said. I think Joyce is well aware of the fact that he’s shy, and she sort of follows him to school. So, I think she does a lot of the talking because she’s sort of poking and prodding and just kind of testing the waters. Ah, I did a little pun there.

TURNER: Ohh, that was so good!

ROBINSON: [Laughs] I’m sorry, it was terrible. But testing the waters in the relationship and finding a balance there.

TURNER: You know, for me, someone that was really inspirational for me for this part was Gary Cooper in High Noon, especially, Mr. Deeds [Goes to Town]. I just love that guy as an actor, and he was sort of an embodiment of masculinity at that time, and I basically just ripped him. [Laughs] And Spencer Tracy, too, was a big influence, and I guess energetically, too, Woody Guthrie and the music of Woody Guthrie and the feeling at the time. “This Land is Your Land” I listened to on repeat every morning almost as a gateway back into 1936.

One of the things that I did not realize was how big the sport of rowing was at the time. It’s like basketball and football now, so talk a little bit about what you learned researching this era and researching these characters that really surprised you.

TURNER: I mean, I think that. Actually the fact that they would draw 100,000 spectators at Poughkeepsie just to go and watch a rowing race. I mean, our equivalent would be Oxford and Cambridge in London, and they don’t get anywhere near the level that these guys did. For me, the sport itself, I truly fell in love with it. It was hard and arduous and excruciating and painful, but with hindsight I can see how special it is. I’ll never do anything like this in a movie again. They set us up to succeed. It was like being part of a professional sports team, and I made a bond with these guys that is going to last forever.

ROBINSON: Yeah, it was a really popular sport back then and I don’t really know why it kind of dropped off. I don’t know when, I don’t know why, because it’s just so exciting to watch. It’s completely riveting, and on the water it’s also just aesthetically beautiful, which a lot of sports don’t really capture that kind of magic. But who knows, maybe this movie will bring it back.

TURNER: You wanna row now you’ve seen this?

I know I’m not physically fit enough to do the rowing after watching you do it.

TURNER: Oh, I wasn’t when I started.

Yeah, that is a beast of a sport.

TURNER: I’ve got so much respect for those guys. And now, the rowing community has sort of welcomed us as a film and accepted us, and I’m like, “Wow, I feel so small in comparison. You guys are absolutely Olympians, and I’m just like a podgy Brit.”

Why Rowing Was Vital to the Story in ‘The Boys in the Boat’

Callum Turner as Joe Rantz and Jack Mulhern as Don Hume rowing in The Boys in the Boat.
Image via MGM

One of the things, though, and what I found so interesting because it’s obviously based on a true story, is your character was literally rowing to survive. It wasn’t just a sport to him. This was his food, this was his lodging, this was his university. Can you sort of talk about how this is like borderline life or death?

TURNER: The thing that got me and broke my heart about Joe Rantz is when he was 13 years old, he came home from school, the cars running, his stepmom in the front, siblings are in the back, and his dad’s on the porch, and he says, “Dad, where are we going?” And his dad says “We’re going, you’re not.” He was 13-years-old and he was left to fend for himself in Sequim. He stayed in the same house, but it was basically an abandoned house, they took all the stuff out. He fished for salmon in the river just to survive, he bust on the street, and he put himself through school, and I was just so inspired by this determination and the grit and the desire to achieve something and not just to survive but to thrive. Then, through that attitude, he ended up in this boat. Joe Rantz, for me, is the true underdog story of life, and it was an honor to play him.

‘The Boys in the Boat’ Screenwriter Was Tasked Condensing A Novel Into a 2-Hour Movie

Mens Rowing team competing at the 1936 Olympics in The Boys in the Boat
Image via Amazon MGM Studios

In this interview with Smith, the screenwriter discusses reuniting with Clooney for their second collaboration and shares what may surprise people about the actor when he dons the director’s hat. He shares the challenges of paring down a novel to a three-hour script, the merits of a limited series versus a feature film, why this story appealed to him when Clooney asked him to write it, and teases his upcoming Netflix projects American Primeval and Untamed with Eric Bana. Smith also shares his experience working with Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro Iñárritu on The Revenant, why he gave up on the movie many times, and how it changed from script to screen.

‘The Revenant’ Wasn’t Originally a Revenge Movie

The Revenant Hugh Glass Staring off into the distance Cropped

COLLIDER: You worked on The Revenant, which went through development hell. Was that one of those things that you never ever thought was gonna get made?

MARK SMITH: Oh, 100%. Yes. I think I wrote that draft in, like, ‘07 and it was for different actors and different directors, and we just kept going through. Then it was all gonna work with Leo [DiCaprio] and Alejandro [G. Iñárritu] but then The Wolf of Wall Street got financing, so then it was like, “Well, maybe we’re not gonna do it now.” It was a real roller coaster that I absolutely gave up on multiple times.

I can’t imagine. The thing about Alejandro is that obviously he wants to do everything realistic. I’ve seen the movie and I know the way he works. What is it like collaborating with someone who is telling you, “We’ll be able to do this,” but you’re like, “There’s no fucking way we’re going to be able to do this?”

SMITH: No, it wasn’t until I was on set and I was watching them. We went up months before shooting and rehearsed and went through every step because of how they were going to shoot it, and how it was gonna be this like long oner and all the stuff with the stitches. It was just like a play. Everyone had their marks and where they were going, they knew the moves, and we only had, we were talking sometimes, like, three hours in a day of light that we could use, so it was a very pressurized time. So, I didn’t think so until I saw how prepared they were and it was like, “Oh fuck, they actually know what they’re doing here. This could work.” Then it was just exciting to hang out and watch the ride.

Were there any really big changes or anything that had to be adjusted during the writing? You worked on it for so long, so I would imagine scenes came and went and tweaks were made, and based on budget. What were some of the big things that maybe changed from inception to what people saw?

SMITH: The biggest thing for me was, I didn’t wanna do a revenge movie. I had built it all around the idea of Leo’s character having had a family and lost his son. We kind of meet the son, they’re carving a star into the stock of a rifle and it’s like a little boy’s hands. You hear their voices, the boy is sick and a little drop of blood dripped into the grain of the wood and seeped in. We went from that to Hugh Glass, Leo holding this rifle 20-some years later. My story was that whenever the bear attacked Fitzgerald, Tom Hardy’s character decided to leave. He took Hugh Glass’s rifle, which was Hugh Glass’s son — that was all that was left. So, my thing was never about revenge, Hugh Glass getting Fitzgerald, he didn’t really care. He just wanted that rifle. He just wanted that last piece of his son back, so that was the journey. That was the real big change that happened, because Alejandro just wanted to have the son there and have it more of a visceral thing, so that was the biggie.

What Kind of Director is George Clooney?

George Clooney with Cinematographer Martin Ruhe on set of The Boys in the Boat
Image via Amazon MGM Studios

Jumping into The Boys in the Boat. You’ve worked with Clooney more than once. What do you think would surprise people to learn about working with George Clooney?

SMITH: Gosh, I feel like he’s got such a great reputation. He’s just the nicest guy, man. I don’t know how to say it. He’s just very thoughtful. I think there’s a perception that because he’s kind of cool and calm and collected and you don’t see him yelling and screaming and things, there’s a perception that this is easy, that what he’s doing is easy or that he’s just kind of coasting, and that’s never the case. That’s what he offers to people because that’s what wants people to feel, relaxed and everything, but he’s so focused and dedicated and just nonstop with it.

I’ve done two things with him. We were doing The Midnight Sky, we were meeting in pre-production, and he gave me the book for The Boys in the Boat and said, “I just got this, would you do it?” I read it and said, “Fuck, yeah. It’s like a gift, man.” But they happened so fast, and it’s so rare out there. You know how it works, it’s like, stuff gets in development forever, and when he wants to do something, it gets done. Not a lot of people can say that.

You touch on the fact that this is a true story and it’s based on the book, but you’re making a two-hour movie. Talk a little bit about how you decided what you were gonna focus on with the film, because obviously you can’t do everything.

SMITH: No, and I think there were previous drafts. They actually said that there were other drafts that had been written years prior, but they asked me not to look at those, and so I didn’t until after I wrote mine. It’s such a sprawling story. There’s all these different years and these different kids through different seasons that come and go throughout the novel, and they’re all so fleshed out. So what I did was I condensed it, and that was kind of the magic bullet for me was that I took it from this four-year journey and I just condensed it into one year. I cheated a little bit so that everything happens that freshman year, that one year when we first meet the guys.

I wrote a lot of versions, and even this version, it was like when I gave it to Clooney, I didn’t do him any favors because I gave him, like, a three-hour movie. There was just so much story. There is so much character. I think my first draft was 160 pages, but I do get very detailed into the water and the races and the way the oars are sounding and stuff. So, there’s some cheating there. He had to cut it down to get it sleek enough to be a two-hour movie, but it was probably harder for him than it was for me because once I kind of cheated — put it all in that one season where I didn’t have to worry about guys coming and going — my nine guys that were in that boat, those are the guys we meet and that we stay with, and that kind of saved me.

Nowadays, because of how well television is produced, and the quality, there’s really a debate in my mind, “Is this a movie or is this a limited series or a series?”

SMITH: 100%. Actually, that was a big discussion for us, because I’m doing a couple of limited [shows] at Netflix. And for him, when we were first doing it, it was like, “There’s a lot of story here, a lot of characters. We could really spend more time when they’re younger and on the backstory if we do a limited series.” And there was plenty of story for it. I know Steve Weintraub Daniel Brown and I talked about it a lot, too, because the things that he lost from the book, you know, you always miss what you lose. It’s just like me losing the stuff when a three-hour movie becomes a two-hour movie. But yeah, a limited series is such a great storytelling thing. It’s just a long feature for me, so I love that.

Look at what Shawn Levy did with All the Light We Cannot See. That does not work as a two-hour movie, but it works great as a four-hour movie.

SMITH: Yes, exactly. I think that’s the other thing is, to have that flexibility where it’s like, “Yeah, we’re gonna do six episodes but they’re only gonna be 40 minutes.” You can break it up however you want to, but you don’t have to just cheat and throw in some filler episodes or whatever. You really can make a tight four-hour movie, something like that, which is just a great way to do it.

‘The Boys in the Boat’ Is the Ultimate Underdog Tale

Yeah, it all comes down to who wants to pay for it and what you want to do. It’s all of that. So this is an incredible true story, and in that time period, I did not realize how popular rowing was and how it was larger than football games now with people cheering them on. What were some of the things that you learned about the time period that really surprised you?

SMITH: That was one of the primary ones. I had no idea, as well. I love sports films, and I love sports in general, and so I thought I knew all of that stuff. I didn’t. I had no idea that it was kind of rowing and horse races that were the big things, and boxing. Those were kind of the three at that time period. In this one, what it did was a lot like Seabiscuit in a way. It’s funny, Daniel Brown and I talked about this a lot, the comparisons, the way that the country latched on to Seabiscuit, the underdog, the little guy fighting against the money. There were a lot of similarities, and that’s what attracted me to it with these guys during this time period when this meant so much to people. But that’s not why they got into it. They didn’t get into it for the fame, or they didn’t get into it to win, they really got into it for survival, and then it just became that the country wrapped their arms around them.

Until you see the movie, you don’t realize that the people that were rowing, or at least some of the people, are literally rowing to have food, to have shelter, and to literally survive.

SMITH: That’s it. To get an education, to have a bed to sleep in, to have food, and that was it. That was the whole thing. We’re not trying to make this team so that we get to go row this boat in races and travel and have fun. It was, “I need this boat. I need to get this seat in this boat so that I have a job so that I can then pay for my education, and I can have a bed, and I can have food.” It really is, it’s just a whole different way to approach entering a sport, which I loved. And the fact that these guys, Joe especially, that they’d overcome so much. He’d also been abandoned his whole life, and crew is just kind of the ultimate team sport. I mean, it doesn’t matter how fast one guy is going, everyone has to work together more than any other sport, and so it’s the ultimate trust sport. So for these characters that were so reliant on themselves and just always had to do it, and had been damaged along the way, to learn to trust and to become a team, that’s probably one of my favorite parts.

Does George invite you to the editing room to watch cuts or do you not want to see it until it’s done?

SMITH: I don’t like to be too involved because sometimes I can be too close to things, too close to a scene or dialogue. I always have said if you want to make sure everything you want is in the end, when it comes out of the edit, then learn to direct. That’s kind of the only way to do it. Otherwise, that’s the trade off. So, I do my job and I hand it off. I mean, there are things that I’ve written that I’ve never watched the film for. What I did was on the page and that’s what it was. It didn’t necessarily come out.

What’s the Status of Netflix’s ‘American Primeval’?

Image by Jefferson Chacon

Well, it’s the same thing, the difference between a book and a movie. So, you mentioned some Netflix things you’re working on? What are you working on now? What can you tease about upcoming projects?

SMITH: I’ve got a six-episode limited series. Pete Berg directed it. It’s a Western, and it’s called American Primeval for Netflix. We were like 12 days short of being finished on a 100-something-day shoot when the strike hit, so now we have to go pick up those last 12 days. But that I’m very, very excited about. It’s gritty, the 1860s during the Mormons moving into Utah, and how the world was changing as everyone was kind of fighting over this newfound land. There’s that, and then there’s another one, which is called Untamed. It’s a kind of a True Detective set in a National Park, and Eric Bana is our lead in that one. It’s something we’re really excited about, too. It’s fun to do that kind of show.

The Boys in the Boat is in theaters now.

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