The Water Man movie—a family mythical adventure thriller—directed by David Oyelowo— is now streaming on demand. I was recently able to sit down for a virtual chat with lead Lonnie Chavis and supporting actress Amiah Miller (Jo) about their roles in The Water Man. Learn about the making of The Water Man movie from our cast interview.
Learn about the Making of The Water Man
Knowing that The Water Man was filmed in Oregon, I knew the scenery would be luscious and vibrant (it is). It's a beautiful and unique landscape, in fact, that over 500 films and movies have been filmed in Oregon over the years.
You can easily get to 4 of the state's 7 climate types within a 3-hour drive, and I was curious if they had a favorite filming location. There were certainly a few scenes in the movie that looked like familiar hiking spots from our 7 years in Portland.
Do you have a favorite filming location in Oregon?
Lonnie Chavis: The whole set throughout the entire The Water Man was mostly in the woods. There were lots of biomes that we went through in the woods. It was hot some days, it was cold some days. There were lots of days where it was raining. I mean, most of the days it was raining, and there was a lot. And there was one set that we were on. That was really, really, really steep—it was on a very steep hill. And it was raining that one day, so my mom hated coming to set that day. She was mad at everybody, especially Mr. David. But I wouldn't really say that I have a favorite set in particular, that—the whole set was pretty nice.
Did you face your own fears with anything?
Lonnie Chavis: Okay. I had lots of fears during this movie and heights were one of them. And the darkness was one of those, and I had anxiety too. So, there were lots of scenes in particular, but specifically speaking, the log scene was definitely a difficult one for me.
Because when I had gotten on the log, it's a really, really high log by the way. When I had gotten on top of it, I did not want to get down. And my mom had tried to calm me down because I felt like I was being pressured. I mean looking at everybody, they were expecting me to do something.
So, my mom tried to calm me down and she just couldn't because I just kept ranting on about how–how high this was, how scary this was. And then Mr. David stepped in and he reminded me why I'm doing this. I'm doing this—I mean, why Gunner is doing this—Gunner’s doing this for all the love and the passion that he has for his mom.
Amiah Miller: One of my fears with this role, in particular, was, it's kind of deep, but not really, achieving everything that I knew I was capable of as an actress. And I think that's something that a lot of actors and actresses face is, kind of, knowing that you're so fully capable of doing a great job, but being afraid that something will stop you.
And I think, yes, we all have our fears. And that's something that I had to kind of grow from and learn from and know that I am doing a good job, and I was challenged, and Lonnie helped me. And I think we both had many fears to face, but we came out a lot stronger.
What was it like filming scary and intense scenes?
Amiah Miller: Honestly, it was very fun. Lonnie is like my little brother. It was like going to work every day with my family. We got so close. It wasn't really intense on set. We were always joking. And when I watched the trailer, it was so intense. I was like, whoa, I don't remember it being like this.
Lonnie Chavis: Throughout the entire set, me and Amiah really actually built the chemistry as Gunner and Jo, built chemistry beyond the entire movie. I definitely say that we built a friendship at the end of it. And throughout the entire set, it was just lots and lots of fun and treating everybody with kindness and care.
I don't really think that it was intense at any moment. I mean, I feel like Mr. David really, definitely balanced between the two of us being a director and an actor and keeping everything in position. So, I don't really feel like there were any really intense parts of the set.
Are there any qualities that you and Gunner share? What were your biggest challenges taking on this role?
Lonnie Chavis: Yes. I actually do a little bit of drawing myself. I'm not as good as Gunner, but I do a little bit of drawing, myself, here and there.
Amiah Miller: He’s pretty good.
Lonnie Chavis: Stop. Stop. I wasn't as familiar with the art as Gunner does. But they had brought in a graphic artist that helped me learn how to draw Gunner’s way and it was pretty cool. He gave me some tips that I still use to this day. It was pretty cool, you know? I’m not that good, but I try. You could definitely say that there were lots of challenges facing this movie, like the one scene when I was telling Amiah how my mom was sick. I was having lots of trouble with that scene.
Mr. David had pulled me to the side, and he gave me a personal story about his life. And then he made me tap into my own and he realized that I can see myself in Gunner, and that I basically am Gunner, and that I would do everything that Gunner is doing and how far Gunner has come. And he asked me, we're going to stop now. And I said, no. And then we had gotten back to the scene and at that moment, I'm kind of actually going through it. It wasn't really acting at that point. It was kind of me just really going through what another kid would go through, playing on the TV.
Were the bugs real?
Amiah Miller: They weren't real. But Lonnie, didn't you have a scene at the end of the movie, and they used real bugs?
Lonnie Chavis: Yes. Yes. I had a scene at the end of the movie. Okay, when I had first stepped on the set that day, where I was going to do the scene, they're called Madagascar hissing cockroaches or something. And apparently, they hiss.
Amiah Miller: So bad.
Lonnie Chavis: Yes, exactly. And they're like this big. And they hiss when they feel threatened or something. So when I had walked into the set that day, I heard hissing, and I thought there were snakes. I mean, they're huge. They're literally huge. And I had to interact with them to make sure that I felt safer around them and I hated it. I wanted to go home, dude. They’re so huge, it's creepy. I don't mess with bugs like that.
What does it feel like being a leading man?
Lonnie Chavis: Man, everybody's been telling me that. I got to tell you, all the interviews with Amiah, I've been called that once and I just keep saying the same thing. I don't feel like I'm a leading man. I feel like Mr. David really set a tone on the set, because—let me just say this, first of all. You feel like it will be hard for somebody who's not only an actor but also a director of a film because of how many things they have to control.
They have to control the camera angles, they have to control somebody else's lines, their lines, their makeup, his makeup is there are so many things that you have to manage, but Mr. David had a grip on every single one of them and he did everything smoothly, patiently, made it like a walk in the park. I mean, he never bumped into transition. He was always considerate of everybody else on the set and collaborative with everybody else on the set. He handed out a plate to everybody when they needed something. I always say that a movie is only as good as its director. And the outcome of this movie was all led by Mr. David. I don’t know why people keep calling me a leading man.
Did you do all of your own stunts? Or as many as you could? And what was that like?
Lonnie Chavis: Okay. So, Amiah actually put me in a headlock. In the audition room, she actually put me in a headlock, and man that day changed my life.
Amiah Miller: In the log scene, we had a real log, and it was huge and really long, but it was a blue screen underneath. But it was elevated, and we were on this high long, but there was no rushing water. But I mean, it was fun, Lonnie, don't you think?
Lonnie Chavis: Yes. It was really
Since you have both done a lot of TV and film work before, do you prefer one over the other?
Lonnie Chavis: I definitely think that I like movies more, especially roles like this. I feel like this role challenged me, not only as a person, but as an actor, and pushed me beyond my limits of what I can actually do and portray on the screen. So, I feel like I'm going to do a lot more movies now.
Amiah Miller: Yes. And same for me. I love doing both. I'm so passionate about acting, but movies are definitely very fun. Because you go to film somewhere, and it's for a few months, and then you wrap, and then you can move on and do other things. And then it comes out. And it's like, you can constantly get these new roles and these new challenges. And with TV, it's kind of like—
Lonnie Chavis: —you're stuck—
Amiah Miller: —you get to play the same role, which I mean, that's also fun, but I enjoy playing the different characters and all of that.
At the end of the movie, we find out that the Water Man is just a story. If you had to write your own story, what kind of story would you choose—comedy, drama, thriller, etc.?
Lonnie Chavis: That's a good question.
Amiah Miller: A very good question. My life has kind of been all over the place, recently. So, it would probably be a comedy.
Lonnie Chavis: Yes. Mine would probably be a comedy too. My life’s just been kind of funny the past few weeks, so it’d definitely be a comedy. I don't know what the story would be, specifically. But it would definitely be a comedy.
Amiah Miller: Yes, definitely.
Do you have any favorite moments from filming or onset?
Lonnie Chavis: You know, filming with Amiah, she was like, my big sister throughout the entire film. We had so much fun together. In between every single take, we would laugh about the dumbest things. And then as soon as they said, action, we would both snap right back into character.
Amiah Miller: No, it’s like, ah.
Lonnie Chavis: Exactly. It’s just like an attack dog. Yes. Amiah, she's honestly a true professional, one of the sweetest people ever. I love Amiah so much. But I mean, not only Amiah, everybody, as being Mrs. Rosario. I mean, Mr. David, everybody, I think, yes, and especially Mr. Alfred. Mr. Alfred is such a cool guy. I had no idea he was in the film until I got to set and saw him. Yes, I mean, it was honestly a really cool production to work with.
Amiah Miller: My favorite thing is the relationships that I've formed, I still talk to almost everybody. I talk to Lonnie all the time. When I say that I truly gained a little brother, I really mean it. Just the relationships that I formed and the things that I've learned, that's something that's irreplaceable.
If you could choose a short life with lots of love or long life with no one left to love, what would you choose and why?
Lonnie Chavis: I'd take a short life with lots of love with my mom instead of long life without her. Because, as I said, my mom—I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for my mom. My mom has encouraged me to so many heartbreaking times in this world. And not even in the world, like in the acting industry. I mean, in this movie, my mom and my–not even my mom, I had my whole family with me on set that day. And I was praying with them every single day because this movie really challenged me sometimes. And I felt like I couldn't do it. And then I would just sit down with my mom and then she would just, literally she was just picking up as a superhero and just fly me to the clouds, honestly. I'd rather take a very, very short life with my mom than a long life without her.
Amiah Miller: And same. I mean, I think love is the driving force of humans. And if you don't have love, what do you have? So, I would take a short life any day.
What drew you to these roles, and what made you want to be a part of this film?
Lonnie Chavis: You know, when I had gotten the script, I was 11 at the time. And what made me interested, is what would make any 11-year-old more interested, I wanted to be in it for the action, and the adventure and the graphic novels and the supernatural thing on the set. But when I dug deeper into it with my mom, I realized that I am basically Gunner and that this is a really cool idea. And that I can relate to Gunner. And that a lot of kids will be able to see themselves on TV. I mean, this is all about representation in this movie.
Amiah Miller: What initially drew me into Jo was just how different she is from me, and just how challenging the role is—I’ve never played anyone like her. And I think she also shows kids that do go through similar things that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All you need is one good person, one person to believe in you, and you can turn your life around and become a better person. And I think that's such a beautiful story, and I'm honored that I got to play it.
What is up next for both of you, where will we see you at?
Lonnie Chavis: I'm not spilling any beans today. I can't tell you how many spoilers I've given over the years of something I can't say. So, if I do have some stuff coming up, I'm not saying, you're just going to have to see, but it's going to be good. Oh, I already almost gave it away. But yes, you're going to have to see.
Amiah Miller: I’m currently in Georgia. I wrapped at 2 o'clock this morning. When I say my life’s a comedy. But yes, this—I can't say much about this film, but it's very heavy. And I'm very excited for everyone to see it. It's going to be crazy.
You got to wield that sword. What was that like on set?
Lonnie Chavis: That was awesome. I felt like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. That was literally awesome. That was literally one of those things that I only thought of growing up, watching all these cartoons. That was one of the things that I wanted to do. I wanted to be a ninja. So, this was like my dream goal, just to hold the samurai sword walking around in the woods fighting back evil. This is awesome. That was one of my favorite parts.
This had so many emotions that came up and it's just is terrific. What would be one sentence you would use to describe this movie?
Lonnie Chavis: It's really hard to describe this. I mean, this movie identifies with a lot. I mean, there's love, there’s sacrificial love, there’s family, there's hope. There's faith, there's sacrifice. But there's a lot of things that come back to this movie. Not only with that, but that there's a lot of genres that come inside of the movie as well. But what I hope a lot of people see is that you shouldn't take time for granted. And that love has no limits, especially after COVID. That's a lot of things that people need right now.
Amiah Miller: Yes. My word would be powerful because this film opened my eyes to Gunner’s relationship with his mom and how I love my mommy and I've taken her for granted and that we have to enjoy life while we're living it. And I think that's one of the most powerful life lessons we can learn. And I think I'm so fortunate to have learned it at a young age. So, yes. Powerful.
About The Water Man
Gunner (Chavis) sets out on a quest to save his ill mother (Dawson) by searching for a mythic figure who possesses the secret to immortality, the Water Man. After enlisting the help of a mysterious local girl, Jo (Miller), they journey together into the remote Wild Horse forest—but the deeper they venture, the stranger and more dangerous the forest becomes. Their only hope for rescue is Gunner’s father (Oyelowo), who will stop at nothing to find them and in the process will discover who his son really is.
Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosario Dawson, Lonnie Chavis, Amiah Miller, Alfred Molina, Maria Bello
Directed By: David Oyelowo
Screenplay By: Emma Needell