Josh Duhamel & the 'Capsized: Blood in the Water' Cast on Shark Week's First Movie

Eric Andersson
Preview Discovery Channel

For a guy who knows he's about to get attacked by a shark, Josh Duhamel couldn't be in better spirits. "I'm going in the pool!" the swim trunk–clad actor announces to no one in particular this May morning in the Dominican Republic. That "pool" is actually a 2.7 million-gallon water tank at the island's Pinewood Studios, where he's filming the Discovery movie Capsized: Blood in the Water.

For hours under the scorching sun, crew members mill about on metal catwalks constructed over the expansive tank while, down below in chest-high water, Duhamel gamely rehearses and then shoots his close encounter. (For the record, there's no actual shark — it will be added in later digitally.) He screams. He splashes. He flails. And he kids around too. After one take, Duhamel cries out, "It got my wiener!"  

Jokes aside, Capsized is serious business for Discovery. For the first time ever, the network is diving into a new genre for Shark Week: scripted film. (Those fake megalodon documentaries don't count.) Since its debut in 1988, the popular annual event, which last year drew 34.9 million viewers, has largely relied on reality specials and informational programming to entertain and educate viewers about the ocean dwellers.

Paul de Gelder on His Shark Week Adventure With Ronda Rousey

Paul de Gelder on His Shark Week Adventure With Ronda Rousey

The Navy diver and shark attack survivor prepared Rousey for encounters with bull sharks, blue sharks & the mako.

But following the summer staple's 30th anniversary, "there was a lot of discussion around, 'How do we build on this success?'" says Howard Swartz, Discovery's senior vice president of production and development. "So we decided to try something out of the box."

Capsized, based on actual events, recounts the ordeal of captain John Lippoth (Duhamel), his girlfriend, Meg Mooney (Rebekah Graf), and three other young sailors — tough Deborah Scaling (Beau Garrett), hard-drinking Mark Adams (Josh Close) and good-natured Brad Cavanaugh (Tyler Blackburn). In 1982, a billionaire hired the group to sail his 58-foot yacht Trashman down the East Coast to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Somewhere near North Carolina, a raging storm destroyed the vessel, leaving the quintet clinging to life in an 11-foot dinghy.

Capsized: Blood in the Water

"They were lost at sea with no food, no water, in the blazing sun and then freezing at night," a tired and sore Duhamel explains during a much-needed break. For five excruciating days, until a Russian freighter came across the survivors, "they were barely hanging on," Duhamel continues.

Oh, and sharks were circling them too. But unlike popcorn movies such as Jaws and The Meg, Capsized doesn't "demonize" the creatures, insists Swartz: "One thing we've done really well over 30 years is celebrate sharks and try to get away from the perception of them as these mindless killing machines." Duhamel agrees. "Sharks are just doing their thing," he says. "It's not personal. It's like, 'You're there. I'm going to eat you.'"

All the Shark Week 2018 Celebrity Appearances, Ranked

All the Shark Week 2018 Celebrity Appearances, Ranked

It's that time of year. The sun is out, the beach beckons, and, we assume, the predators of the deep are out there, swimming around somewhere. Probably near Australia, if we had to guess. Hopefully far from our beach towels. Dust off your floaties, team....

And they did. Like Lippoth, Adams also tangled with one of the predators — and the film's violent dramatization freaked out the actor playing him. "That was scary, man," recalls Close, admitting the shoot has been draining. "They had a fake shark on my leg, and if you look down, it looks real. It's got its eyes shut and it's chomping into your leg. I'm holding my breath, then screaming." 

Thank the stunt crew for that authenticity. In scuba gear beneath the surface, they would attach ropes to the actors and jerk them every which way, catching them off guard. "I tell the actor, 'OK, I'm going to pull you when you're there,' but then I pull a little bit earlier," reveals stunt coordinator Dickey Beer — who's worked with everyone from Harrison Ford to Angelina Jolie — with a smile. "You must have that surprised look on somebody's face."

Underwater. Double tagged tiger shark swimming toward camera

In fact, the whole production looks convincing, from the attack scenes to the ominous image of shark fins slicing swiftly through the surface of the water. (Beer's stuntwoman daughter Amy wore model fins to double as a predator.) Even costars who didn't swim with the fishes got chills. "I feel like I'm able to separate reality from fantasy," says Blackburn. "But there are moments when you're like, 'Oh s--t!'"

Discovery is banking on viewers having that same breathless, edge-of-your-seat reaction to Capsized. "It has so many elements that resonate with our audience," says Swartz. "It's a true story of survival in shark-infested waters."

Capsized: Blood in the Water, Movie Premiere, Wednesday, July 31, 9/8c, Discovery