Maneater cast on why shark movies are a cultural phenomenon

Summer may be winding down, but there’s still danger on the horizon in the form of a killer shark in the new film, Maneater. After a devastating split with her fiancé, Jessie (Nicky Whelan) decides to attend her prepaid honeymoon with friends by her side. A booze cruise in the tropical paradise suddenly becomes a nightmare when a shark begins to hunt Jessie, her friends, and everything in its path.

Directed by Justin Lee and co-starring Trace Adkins, Jeff Fahey, and Shane West, Maneater is another addition to this popular sub-genre of horror. In an interview with Digital Trends, Whelan and Fahey speak about how shark movies became a cultural phenomenon and why they decided to join Maneater.

nicky whelan stands beside trace adkins on a beach in a scene from maneater.

Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. 

Digital Trends: I have to start with the obvious question. After making this film, do you think differently about jumping into the ocean? Are you looking for sharks on the horizon?

Nicky Whelan: You’re talking to an Australian girl who grew up in the water my whole life, jumping off my dad’s boat. No, I love sharks. I do love a damned good shark movie. I do love being scared so being a part of a movie where I can scare people is very fun. [Laughs]

Jeff Fahey: Back in the mid-seventies, I worked on a swordfishing boat, a long liner. We go out for 3 to 4 weeks at a time on a 75-footer and lay out 21 miles of gear, 1,400 hooks for swordfish, and we caught a lot of sharks. That was around the time Jaws came out so I learned my lesson a long time ago. [Laughs] I’ll walk the streets of New York, and I’ll let the sharks rule the ocean.

Why do you think the shark genre is so appealing to audiences? 

Whelan: It’s sort of the horror vibe of being frightened. I think Jaws really started this so beautifully and brilliantly. It sort of set this thing that every couple [of] years, a shark movie comes out, and everyone gets so excited and scared about it. People love to still feel something when they go to the movies. The ‘80s and ’90s made such cool shark movies, you know what I mean? Every detail is really exaggerated and extreme.

There’s something about the gore and the drama that people are addicted to shark movies. At some stage in my career, it’s fun to be like, “I’m gonna do a shark movie.” They come up every couple of years and everyone has their own take on it. It’s like this following of people so now, I’m in the midst of it.

Fahey: It’s fascinating. You probably know more about it than I do. I think it’s because there’s still so much that’s unknown about the ocean. I mean I don’t have that answer so I’m just guessing, you know what I’m saying? But when you think about it, there’s so [many] undiscovered and unexplored parts of the Earth for that matter. I just don’t know. I can’t answer that questions, but I can make some guesses.

Then again, if the filmmakers push that genre, for whatever reason, it hooks onto the audience, and they flood the market for that time. Shark films have that little niche down under the big films and shows that are out there. It’s got its audience. That is an interesting question that I’d like to get the answer to.

MANEATER Trailer (2022) Shane West, Jeff Fahey, Nicky Whelan

When reading the script, what about your characters stood out to you?

Whelan: Well, she’s [Jessie] quite fragile after going through her breakup with her fiancé. She ends up using her honeymoon trip with her friends, and they take her on that and bring life to her. She’s pretty down in the dumps. We’ve all been through breakups at a point in our lives. Then, she’s put in this hardcore scenario — life or death situation — which really makes her snap out of what she’s just been through. She goes from being this very fragile, broken girl to this badass. Get me in front of a shark and bring it on.

I don’t know how I’ve been winding up in all these types of movies. This time I’m like, “Yes, I’m going to take on a shark.” It’s quite empowering. A small-budget, hardcore, crazy shark movie with crazy conditions challenges you emotionally and physically. People don’t understand the process of making a movie like this. There’s a lot going into it especially on a small budget with 18 days. It was quite a challenge, and I just love everything. They were also like, “Would you like to come to Hawaii,” and I was like, “Absolutely.” [Laughs]

Fahey: A couple [of] reasons. It was being produced and directed by two friends of mine – Daemon Hillin producing and Justin Lee directing. And one of the stars in it, Trace Adkins, was a friend. It was more of a support team effort on my part. They asked me to jump in and play this in a couple of days. I flew over to Hawaii, and I think they shot all my stuff in one day. So I was only there for two days.

To answer your question, I was there to support friends. It’s so hard to get anything made in this day and age in film. The big artistic films with established directors and writers, it’s hard for those [to get made], so it’s nearly impossible to get these smaller films done. I’ve done so much in my career. I’ve been very fortunate that I’m always open to jumping in and helping a friend get a film made. I thought it would be interesting to play the professor and talk about things that I knew nothing about.

shane west and nicky whelan exchanging walkie talkies in a scene from maneater.

The character that becomes the folk hero of the film is Harlan, played by country star Trace Adkins. What was it like working alongside Trace?

Whelan: Trace is a badass. He is legit, and I adore him. With athletes and musicians who are at the top of their field, whenever they come over into the acting world [and] I work with them, I’m always wowed. [With] The discipline they have and the energy they show up with, you can understand why they’re the best in the world in their field. I have so much respect for them stepping into the acting world and really showing up. Trace is so naturally badass. [Laughs] He carries a shotgun and is like, “Mhmm.”Man of few words. It’s kind of ideal for this movie. For me, bouncing off that energy was so fun.

Literally, you get to set on these small movies, and I’m like, “Hey Trace. Nice to meet you. We’ll be shooting the scene together. Let’s go.” You have no idea what the other one’s going to show up doing. He was fantastic to work with. He’s got big energy. He’s really good. He’s focused, knows his lines, and everything else in between. He’s so humble. To come from his position and go into another world, he’s so humble. I’ve worked with a few people like that before and I’m always so impressed [with] how they embrace this new world. Trace is good. He’s a good one in this movie, for sure.

Maneater is now in theaters and on demand. 

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