A glamorous swimming troupe is bringing the magic of old Hollywood’s water ballet numbers back to the forefront of pop culture while performing their showstopping choreographed routines alongside A-list celebrities such as
Since scoring a 17 show residency in 2009, the Aqualillies have been making a splash in Hollywood, doing everything from performing at Justin Timberlake’s 30th birthday party in 2011 to starring in two synchronized swimming
segments in a recent episode of the hit CW show Jane the Virgin.
The dynamic troupe even hit the big screen this year after Joel and Ethan Coen enlisted Aqualillies founder Mesha Kussman and her choreographer Mary Jeannette Ramsey to transform Scarlett into an Esther Williams-inspired
synchronized swimmer and movie star complete with a mermaid tail for the film Hail, Caesar!
‘It’s really interesting when you are working with an actress or someone new to wearing a tail because it can either go one of two ways,’ Mary, 29, told Daily Mail Online. ‘Either they are going to be so excited to jump into that tail
and get into the water because every girl deep down wants to be a mermaid or they’re a little bit scared of the water.’
And while training actors to give showstopping performances underwater can be a challenge, Mary insists that Scarlett was a natural in the pool.
‘I was really lucky because Scarlett fell into camp one,’ she said. ‘She was such a water baby. she was so excited to swim, excited to get into that tail. It was fun for me to see that everyone —even Scarlett Johansson — is
excited to swim in a mermaid tail.’
The duo started working with Scarlett a couple months before shooting the film, and they were delighted to learn that the 31-year-old was a ‘strong swimmer’, which made it easier for to adapt the the green mermaid tail she wore
in the film.
After assessing her ability, Mary taught her how do the mermaid kick and gracefully move her arms while keeping her eyes open underwater.
‘When you add the water element, the thing that you are also adding is this aspect of holding your breath, which is a primal need,’ Mesha, 40, explained to Daily Mail Online. ‘Your body wants you to breathe.
‘So I think that in addition to just the difference experience of being underwater I think the challenges of working underwater, which Mary is so great at coaching, is helping people feel to confident so that they can still deliver an
incredible performance while they’re holding their breath.’
Mary agreed that one of the most difficult things is to teach is how to keep your eyes open in chlorinated water especially when you are moving.
‘I think the eyes are always the key,’ she said. ‘People tend to either bug them out or shut them tight, and you need to find that natural place in the middle.
‘You can always tell a person’s character by how well they handle being submerged under water for a long time,’ she added with a laugh.
Scarlett gave birth to her daughter Rose in September 2014, and Mesha pointed out that she was ‘so impressive’ on set, especially since she had just had a baby.
Mesha explained that working on the film was different than many of their previous products because of the amount of creative liberty and production budget they were offered.
‘We’ve become quite skilled at creating something really powerful within the limitations of a matter of weeks,’ she said of dealing with both time and budget parameters. ‘But with this project, the Coen brothers didn’t want to
make any sacrifices or compromises.’To make sure none of the Aqualillies were drifting or floating away from their designated spots during filming, Mesha and Mary helped the Coen brothers design a ring with markers for each
performer so they could feel it with their toes and stay equidistant from each other.
A total of 32 Aqualillies were featured in the film, and they actually shot their scenes in the same 700,000-gallon pool used by Esther Williams in the 1940s.
Mesha said it was an honor to work in the same pool as the icon, explaining that what they do at Aqualillies and part of their mission is to ‘follow in her footsteps in terms of creating a positive image of women being both
Mary noted that one of her favorite gigs was a spot on an episode of Jane the Virgin, which aired in February because it featured two segments, one that was more ‘competitive style synchronized swimming’ and a dream
sequence that was inspired by Esther’s water ballet.
The Aqualillies have had a synchronized swimming class based in Los Angeles since 2010, and Mesha said without giving away too much detail that they are actually developing a fitness program that will be available