Nicky Whelan Shares What It Was Like Shooting Shark Thriller Maneater - Exclusive Interview

A tropical vacation turned nightmare is what Jessie (Nicky Whelan) experiences in the all-new shark thriller "Maneater." The film, which is now in theaters and available on demand and digital, starts out as any horror film would with a group of unsuspecting friends heading straight into a killer's trap as they try to cheer their friend up after a broken engagement. However, this time, the killer they encounter is a man-eating shark. 

The film, which was written and directed by Justin Lee, stars Whelan alongside Shane West from "Chariot" and country music legend Trace Adkins. While a lot drama goes down on the beach in "Maneater," Whelan spoke exclusively with The List about what it was like shooting in Hawaii and how close she got with her castmates. The "Neighbours" and "Hall Pass" actress also shared what her one piece of wedding advice would be and the workout routine she wished she had done before filming. 

How shooting Maneater gave Whelan a new respect for 'Jaws'

It looked like a very beautiful place to shoot, while the movie was not as beautiful, if you know what I mean.

Absolutely. Hawaii's stunning. I've been there many times. It's always nice to get a script that says shooting in Hawaii. It's definitely appealing, but we shot this movie in 18 days on a very small budget. We had a mechanical shark with puppeteers. [With the] weather conditions, water conditions, it was an enormous, challenging movie to make. It was one of those projects that [has] beautiful locations, but it's going to kick your ass. It certainly did, but it felt really good after the fact. It was great.

You had a mechanical shark? Did that ever mess up at all during the shooting?

It was very hard. It's an enormous head ... three times the size of my body. Trying to get a team of guys to carry that into the water, watching it, I was like, "Wow, this is no joke." And then to make it swim and look real, with limited time — in the end, [for] a lot of the movie, they ended up using the CGI shark, but the process of understanding how they must have done this back when they made "Jaws," and things like this, you really can appreciate how much goes into it.

There was one day where we had to wait a little while, and a tooth had fallen off, and we had to readjust that. The sheer weight of this thing in the water, and holding it up, it's no joke. It was really a challenge. The team did such a good job. Being a part of something where we did that and being able to talk about it later on ... seeing how it's done will stay with me forever. To be part of that process, it's old school movie making.

On what it was like working with Trace Adkins and Shane West

You had a great cast in this movie. You had Trace Adkins and Shane West. What was it like working with the cast and the crew? Do you have any fun memories from set?

Every day was such an adventure, to be honest with you. I'm a huge fan of Trace Adkins. He is such a badass to work with. Super professional, the top of his field where he's coming from, and stepping into our world — he's so professional and [has] really great energy. He suits this role so much. Working with him was really fun. Shane West, all the cast, we had a blast. Shane is hilarious. 

And as challenging as it was, we had such great energy. We would laugh and go on adventures and would be covered in blood, and someone lost a leg ... We managed to have a good laugh in between takes. There's a night where we go out and we actually are on the boat ... We're all snuggled up in the back telling stories. Iit was a beautiful experience, and a really lovely group of people that worked very hard in some pretty hardcore conditions. I loved it. It kicked my ass, but I loved it.

Speaking of that, I see that you often post a lot of workout videos and boxing videos on your Instagram. Was there any routine that you did to get ready for this film?

I should have [swum] more. The truth is, I know I look fit ... and I was a great swimmer when I was a kid ... I grew up in the water [but], I've got to be honest with you: This absolutely kicked my ass. I was required to jump in choppy water, and I thought, "Oh, it's lovely Hawaii water." Uh-uh. I was out of breath. I was gasping for air ... I should have jumped in a pool a few times before I thought I could come and do this. I'd said to Justin [Lee], our director, on some of the takes, I was like, "You've got to get this in one shot. I don't think I can do it again, it's exhausting me." He did, like a badass baller, he made it happen.

I remember crawling out of the water sometimes going, "Oh my, I'm not that fit after all." ... I would lay on the sand and stare at the sky. ... I would sleep very well at night. I would be exhausted by the end of the day. It was good for me. I need that. It's constantly pushing myself. I wasn't ready for that, so I was very grateful at the end of shooting.

Whelan shares her biggest advice for getting married

You're also starring as Sheriff Jo Newman in "The Flood" next year, where you encounter hungry alligators. What's worse, sharks or alligators?

I'm not afraid of sharks in real life. Sharks are beautiful, and I love sharks. I've sw[u]m in tanks with them and seen the peacefulness of them, and really understand the beauty of sharks. On the other hand, I've not dealt with crocodiles in my life. It's interesting you say that. It's pretty ballsy. I'll still dive in the water pretty much anywhere. I think that's the Australian girl in me. 

Crocodiles, I don't know a lot about them. I didn't grow up in an environment with them. To make a movie with them where you've got a whole bunch chomping at you and running towards you — at this stage, I'll say crocodiles are scarier. I know most people may not agree, but that's just me, personally. I'll say crocodiles.

They can go in water and land, so I agree with you.


You also just finished "The Best Man," which comes out next year as well, and it's about a wedding that goes wrong as well. Between "Maneater" and "The Best Man," what's your advice for weddings gone wrong?

Oh my goodness. That's hysterical. Don't get married. Joking. ... These wedding movies, I didn't really think of it. The way you put it has made me sort of go, "Oh yeah, they've always been these disasters." 

Weddings tend to have a lot of drama brought to them. Once upon a time, I got married ... and to be honest with you, it was the smoothest running beautiful wedding of all time. I may make movies about disastrous weddings, but the one that I did have in my life was the most beautiful day and so smooth sailing. I don't know what my advice would be. Get a really good wedding planner.

Whelan on the importance of being on Neighbours

You also played Pepper on "Neighbours." What was it like being on such an iconic soap opera? Do you have any fond memories from your time on the show?

I do. It was the greatest experience to start my career out on that show with no acting experience at all, and stepping into this huge production that had been running so long, and that I'd been watching since I was a little girl. To be on Ramsey Street, it was such a cool experience. It's got this incredible audience all over the world. It's great for your career, it's a great place to start, and a great thing to be involved with. It was ... really emotional about the show ending even though I've not been there for 15 years. I've been over in America.

To hear that it's ending — it started the careers of so many incredible actors in the business. My memories, they were so much fun. There's a huge age range of people. I learned so much. I'm still very close with a lot of the actors from the show. It opened doors. I remember walking through London, just as I had finished the show. I was walking down the street, and you would've thought — people are running up to me. "Pepper, Pepper." 

That was like, "My goodness. This show has an impact on people." I got to America, they didn't know it too well over here, but in England, they were like, "Yay!" It was a very special thing to be a part of in my career.

"Maneater" is now playing in select theaters and is available for rental and purchase on demand and on digital.

This interview has been edited for clarity.