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SOUL SURFER

Bethany's Rocks: The Supporting Cast
Bethany Hamilton could not have recovered from a near tragedy without an incredible amount of love, honesty and support from her family, friends and church. For Sean McNamara, casting Bethany's parents, her church leader Sarah Hill and the friends who stood by her when her world was unraveling was vital to bringing the full emotional kick of the story to the screen.

He was especially thrilled when Dennis Quaid, the Golden Globe-nominated actor known for such films as The Right Stuff, Great Balls of Fire!, The Day After Tomorrow and recently G.I. Joe, came on board as Tom Hamilton, Bethany's surfer dad. "We combined several of Bethany's coaches and her real father, who was also her coach, into the role of Tom,” says McNamara. "As a father himself, Dennis so strongly related to the part that soon after we asked him to consider the role, he called me personally in Hawaii and said, ‘No matter what happens, I'm doing this movie.' His passion for it was fantastic.”

Quaid recalls a curious coincidence of timing that led him to jump at the role. "The week before Christmas I was watching ‘The Today Show,' and Bethany happened to be on about her story. I'd never really heard it before and I got very emotional while watching it,” he says. " It really got to me, how she overcame adversity and how positive she was about it. I got a little verklempt. Tears were streaming down my face, it was just so beautiful. Then, four days later, out of the blue, I get a call offering me the role of her father, Tom. I'm so glad I said yes. This is a terrific story and one that everyone can relate to and take something from. I loved that Sean McNamara was so committed to capturing the spirit of Bethany, of this family and of Hawaii.”

Having faced firsthand the heartache of family health issues in his own life, Quaid immediately felt a kinship with Tom, who was in the hospital about to undergo knee surgery when he got the news that his vibrant, young daughter was in the emergency room, fighting for her life. He understood Tom's driving desire to see his daughter return to the surfing world as soon as possible, and developed an even deeper admiration for Tom's go-for-it attitude after getting to know him.

"I found Tom a real inspiration,” Quaid says, "and I wanted to capture the essence of the man. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He's very honest, hard working and true to himself, his family and his faith. He went through a lot, but I loved that Soul Surfer is a story of a family overcoming adversity as well as the story of Bethany.”

Quaid was also drawn to the way the film is anchored in spiritual questions. "We all need somewhere to turn that's a deeper place than just our ego,” he says. "Speaking personally, I've seen the power of this in my own life. The Hamilton family really leaned on their faith and I think that's what kept them afloat through all of this. That's when faith actually comes to mean something in your life – during the hardest times.”

Although Quaid was not a surfer before taking the role, he was ready and willing to get out into the water and try anything. "When you're out there, you forget about everything else that's going on,” he observes. "I'm a true beginner but I think I've caught the bug. Surfing can be a very spiritual experience. I was enjoying it so much, I didn't want the production to end.”

Known for her engaging portraits of women in complex situations in such films as As Good As It Gets (for which she won the Academy Award® for Best Actress,) Pay It Forward and What Women Want, Helen Hunt also dove into the role of Bethany's mother without hesitation. "I'd heard about Bethany's story, which was a heart wrenching event, and I was so impressed by how she moved right through it,” says the Oscar®-winning actress. "I thought, what could be better than getting to act in a beautiful story with wonderful actors in a spectacular place?”

Hunt's decision to join the cast was a coup for McNamara, who welcomed her input into the script. "Helen was always my number one choice for the role. I so wanted her to be in this movie, I started tracking her two years before production began,” he says. "I knew she would really put herself out there and give it all the depth it needed. From the minute we started talking about it, she was incredibly intelligent and had a real sense of all that she wanted the role to be.”

The very title of Soul Surfer spoke to Hunt. "Any title with the word soul in it is always going to catch my eye,” she admits. "I'm always try to bring my soul to everything I do and I feel that's a big part of what the movie is about: soulfulness, even in the toughest of moments.”

Soulfulness is also a big part of what Cheri Hamilton gives to her daughter as she battles to get her life back on track after losing an arm. Hunt describes Cheri as "the one voice who is telling Bethany, ‘yes, you need to get back in the water but not too quickly.'” She continues: "Cheri is the one who really wants to let her daughter take her time and find the path to healing and moving on in her own way. That's what I like so much about her. She wants Bethany to find what's true for her even in her darkest hour. That rang a big bell for me, because it's what I want for my daughter.”

An experienced surfer, though an admittedly mellow one, Hunt took the time to get to know Cheri personally, surfing with her on the Hamiltons' home turf in Kauai. "The whole family was incredibly sweet and generous and welcomed me completely,” Hunt notes. "I liked being around Cheri a lot. She's someone who's very grounded to the earth, relaxed and open and I wanted to get those qualities into the movie.”

The chance to work again with Dennis Quaid was also a draw for Hunt. "I already knew what a great guy and what a wonderful actor he is,” she says. But the real surprise was AnnaSophia Robb, who amazed Hunt. "AnnaSophia is so smart and did such a beautiful job carrying this movie on her shoulders,” she says. "The whole experience was really a pleasure.”

One of the most exciting moments in casting Soul Surfer came when Grammy Award winning singing star Carrie Underwood chose to make her feature film debut as a character vital to the story: Bethany's church youth group leader, Sarah Hill, who sees Bethany for her heart, not her athletic talent, and encourages her to use it to help others. "I think people will be really surprised by Carrie,” says McNamara. "She was so honest and real on camera, it just blew us away.”

Underwood right away felt a connection to Hill and was thrilled to get to know her personally. But she also brought her own touch to the role. "I definitely got a sense of how much Sarah meant to this family,” she says. "I didn't try to capture how she dresses or the way she talks, but rather to show her strength and the way in which she was a rock for this family. It's hard to know someone else's faith because their relationship with God is theirs alone. But the thing about Sarah that I hope people can see is that she does have that strong relationship with God that a lot of us strive for. I felt blessed to be able to share that.”

She goes on: "I wanted to do this movie because it was a chance to reach out to people with an amazing story. I never set out to be an actress, but I always said if something came along and it was for the right reasons, I would do it. And this script just felt right. I cannot wait for people to go to the theater with their family, with friends, with a youth group and get a chance to learn about a family who we could all be more like. I think it will be impossible for anyone to see this story and not b

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