Aussie star’s secret shark fear
You could forgive Aussie actor Nathaniel Buzolic for thinking long and hard before saying yes to a shark movie.
The Sydney born actor, who found fame in Hollywood as tormented bloodsucker Kol Mikaelson in the cult supernatural hits The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, suits up as a scientist in Deep Blue Sea 3, the third film in the dumb-but-fun action-thriller franchise about super-smart sharks.
But Buzolic says while he was excited by the idea of acting underwater - "you can't talk underwater so I thought they had just made my job easier" - he has always had a sense of unease about the ocean apex predators that dates back to his surfing days. Indeed, one particular incident in Byron Bay convinced him to rack the surfboard for good. He was just about to hit the waves in the northern NSW tourist haven when he noticed a dead shark had washed up on the shore, prompting some very mixed emotions.
"I was happy about that in some sense - although a dead shark reminds you that they are there," Buzolic recalls. "And then I walked around the other side to take a closer look and he had been half eaten on his side and I was like 'what ate HIM?'. If this shark is here and has been eaten by a bigger shark, that's when I realised 'you know what? This surfing this is not going to work for my paranoia'. I pretty much called it a day and never felt comfortable sitting on my board beyond the break."
Shark movies have been cinema staples for decades now, but exploded into the public consciousness with Steven Spielberg's Jaws.
After a nightmare shoot on the open ocean that nearly broke the Oscar-winning director, combined with wrangling a cranky and unreliable mechanical shark nicknamed Bruce, the monster hit not only redefined the cinema landscape as what's widely considered to be the first US summer blockbuster but entrenched a shark-phobia so deeply in the public consciousness that beach attendances fell that year.
Ever since, filmmakers have been trying to feed off that fear - from the increasingly ropey Jaws sequels, to genuine fright fests such as The Shallows and The Reef, to the faintly ridiculous The Meg (giant shark) and the out-and-out silly Sharknado franchise (flying sharks). And with real-life shark attacks still high on the list of audience fears, the genre clearly still has plenty of bite.
"I think growing up, as kids you just love shark movies," says Buzolic. "You know people are going to get attacked, you know there is going to be action and there's that fear factor when you look at sharks. I think it's just human nature to be fearful of something that is so much bigger, so much more in control and something that we can't see under the surface."
Buzolic needn't have worried about his fears on Deep Blue Sea 3, which continues the series that kicked off in 1999 when genetically engineered sharks on an underwater research facility menaced Saffron Burrows and LL Cool J and shockingly and hilariously bit Samuel L. Jackson clean in two.
The third chapter was shot in South Africa using a combination of open water footage and a specially constructed pool to simulate an ocean village, but despite falling in love with his newly acquired skill of scuba diving - and embracing the challenge of being directed via a giant underwater speaker - Buzolic was kept on a short leash for safety reasons.
"We trained in real waters and then obviously when we got to shoot the movie Warner Bros were like 'nope - too risky … open ocean, real sharks … that's not going to happen'," he says with a laugh.
One of Buzolic's co-stars in Deep Blue Sea is compatriot and martial artist turned actor Bren Foster, who speaks in his native Australian accent. Buzolic, who relocated to Los Angeles more than a decade ago, says he was often asked if he wanted to play characters as Australian in his early days there - and always said no.
"Before a lot of Aussies started making the trip to the US, we were kind of like this incredible novelty that Americans would just froth over," he says. "I always straight-out refused because I think the Australian accent just stands out so much when you are surrounded by an American cast. I didn't like that and I didn't want to get typecast as 'the Aussie guy'."
He was so determined not to fall back on his own accent - Kol Mikaelson was British, and he played an American in Mel Gibson's Sydney shot Hacksaw Ridge - that fans are often astonished, and disbelieving to discover he's from Down Under. He recalls a recent fan encounter with a woman who told him he looked just like "that actor from the Vampire Diaries" but couldn't possibly be him. "I told her it was me and she said 'what do you mean? You're Aussie'," Buzolic says with a laugh. "And I said 'it's really me - I put on an accent' and she didn't believe me for 10 minutes until another group of people walked past and said 'look, it's Kol Mikaelson'. People get kind of surprised and say 'I didn't even know you were Australian', which is good. If people did know then I'd be a rubbish actor because I'm not doing my job well."
When lockdowns started to kick in, Buzolic hopped on one of the last available flights from LA back to Sydney to be with his elderly mother and while he's started to get back to auditioning for work in Australia and overseas, he has no idea what the future holds, but he's confident a down-to-earth attitude and his faith will see him through.
"I think that's just the nature of our business - you just never know," he says. "We often think that we have some sort of control over our life or our future and something like Covid happens - obviously an extreme event - and you realise you have no power and no control whatsoever and the sand pillars of society that we relied on are easily breakable and can crumble fast. I am a Christian and I think that the one saving grace from this experience is that I don't anchor myself to my career and I don't want to define my whole life with 'I am an actor and that's what I stand for and that's what I want to have on my tombstone at the end of my days'."
Deep Blue Sea 3 is available to stream and on home entertainment from Wednesday.
Originally published as Aussie star's secret shark fear