Flash floods didn't stop 'Salmon Fishing'

Emily Blunt as Harriet Chetwoode-Talbot and Ewan McGregor as Fred Jones are shown in a scene from the film "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen," opening Friday in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Laurie Sparham

TORONTO - Flash floods and a tidal wave didn't deter the cast and crew of the new Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt film "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen."

The relentless deluge in the highlands of Morocco's Atlas mountains washed out the set three times before cameras even got rolling. But the film team took advantage of the situation, using it for a flood scene near the end of the movie, which is based on Paul Torday's novel about a Sheik who dreams of fly fishing in the Yemen.

"What we did was we shot the end of the film first, when everything was messed up and destroyed and mucky," Blunt said in an interview at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere.

"Then we shot some interiors and we went to a couple of other locations while this poor production team, who were on their knees by the end of it — after rebuilding a set three times that had been previously flooded — they built it in two days and we were able to shoot the rest of the film. It was nuts."

But once the rainstorms stopped, the sand storms kicked in.

"We'd look around and all the crew were wearing these, like, retro goggles that they must have got on sale at Target or something and everyone had these crazy goggles on," Blunt 29, recalled with a giggle.

"You'd look around and we were like, 'Do we get any?' and they were like, 'No, no, because of the makeup.' I was like, 'Just give me some goggles! I don't care about the makeup at this stage!'"

Said three-time Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallstrom: "It was just a miracle that the film actually got finished on time and on budget, despite all the challenges."

"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" opens Friday in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. On March 16 it opens in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.

McGregor stars as Fred, a scientist at Britain's Department of Fisheries and Agriculture who's appointed by the government to help fly-fishing enthusiast Sheikh Muhammed (Amr Waked, "Syriana") achieve the seemingly impossible: introduce salmon to Yemen.

Blunt plays Harriet, the Sheikh's representative who bonds with Fred. Kristin Scott Thomas co-stars as the British prime minister's ruthless spokesperson, who feels the project would result in "a good news story from the Middle East" — and one that highlights Anglo-Yemeni co-operation — amid a military crisis in Afghanistan.

"One of the key interests for me in making the film was that this is such a great utopian dream about East meeting West and East being united with the West, and I thought that was really a great message, a great dream to have," said Hallstrom, whose other directing credits include "The Cider House Rules" and "Chocolat."

"Even if it's an impossible dream, one should try to keep dreaming them."

Blunt said she was also happy to see Waked, an Egyptian star, playing a kind, optimistic Arab character as opposed to the terrorist-type roles he's often pitched.

"I think it was a big deal for him to play that, because often, especially in Western movies, he's playing the baddie, he's playing the nasty Arab guy," said the Golden Globe winner, who played the spiteful co-assistant in "The Devil Wears Prada."

When "Salmon Fishing at the Yemen" was at TIFF, reports surfaced that Blunt had signed onto the film because her parents had insisted she do so. But Blunt noted she was just as keen on the material as her folks, noting the script "had such charm and wit."

"I loved that this story has turned into 'My parents flew to Los Angeles and straight-jacketed me and told me what to do,'" the English actress said with a laugh in a downtown hotel.

"No, my parents are never chest-beating about their opinion being heard over my career. They just, they read the book and I said, 'I think I might do this "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" film' and my mom went 'Oh my God, I love that book, you should do it, it's wonderful.'"

Also shot in London and Inverness, Scotland, the film features gorgeous cinematography and impressive under-water scenes made with a mix of what Hallstrom called "digital salmon and real salmon and archived footage salmon."

Hallstrom shot some scenes on an iPhone, which he'd never done before.

"It was quite a wonderful shoot and we had the best of times, really, me and the actors and it was almost like a family bond for us," said Hallstrom, noting the script by Simon Beaufoy ("127 Hours," "Slumdog Millionaire") was the best he'd read in many years.

"I really loved the experience. It was a labour of love."

Blunt, who had to learn to speak a bit of Mandarin for one scene, felt the same way.

"Everyone working on it, the cast and crew, were the happiest group of people I've ever worked with because we just loved the film, you know, we loved working on it."