Turturro Swims

December 19, 2023
In Box of Moonlight, the script called for Al (John Turturro) to jump into a pool of water and swim leisurely while acting in several scenes. John had never learned to swim and confessed he was a little uneasy being in water over his head.
I was hoping to find a local swimming hole or mountain stream but ultimately scrapped the whole idea because every one of the streams had rushing water that was freezing and very loud. So, I decided on an abandoned rock quarry, which solved a lot of problems. It was quiet and secluded, and the water was warm.
However, on the downside, the water was 350 feet deep. I had originally told Turturro he would never have to be in water deeper than six feet. He asked me one day how deep the quarry was, and I said, “Twenty-five feet—in some places.” Which was not strictly a lie. I had instructed everyone on the film to repeat the same thing if asked.
John began taking swimming lessons.
On the first day of shooting at the quarry, John arrived carrying the local newspaper. I had seen the same paper that morning. The headline was: EXPERT SWIMMER DROWNS IN 350 FOOT QUARRY. The details were pretty gruesome. The rescue diver who went down to bring the victim up from the bottom was bitten by a water moccasin and died too.
I carefully watched John sit on a rock and read the paper in silence.
To my astonishment, we shot all day, with John even jumping off the high ledge into the water. I believe he was somewhat motivated by seeing Catherine Keener and Lisa Blount instantly leaping in like gleeful penguins.
I was so excited it was going well that I asked Turturro to walk a little faster over some rocks. He stumbled sharply during the shot but went on to finish the scene. As soon as I yelled “Cut,” he exploded. He had broken two toes. One of my greatest directorial achievements was keeping him from getting on the next plane back to New York.
When we resumed shooting the next morning, he happily did all of his swimming scenes with no signs of nervousness, which was great for me because with him in the water, you couldn’t see the big bandage on his foot.
He never mentioned the article in the newspaper.
Watch Box of Moonlight here.

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Independent Filmmaker & Musician