Currituck Beach Lighthouse takes a star turn in ‘Breakwater’

By on March 16, 2024

Dovey (Darren Mann) atop the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in a scene where he sees Eve, the woman he was sent to find, for the first time.

When film director James Rowe visited the Outer Banks on vacation a few years ago, he discovered the star of his next film. It was tall, captivating and mysterious—the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Rowe went back to Los Angeles and wrote Breakwater, a neo-noir thriller inspired and centered around the historic landmark.

The film, which had an exclusive film screening event at the Pioneer Theater in Manteo and opened in select theaters last Dec. 23, was just purchased by Hulu and is set to be released on the platform soon. It took home the Audience Favorite award at the Boston Film Festival as well as a Best Actor award at that festival for lead actor Dermot Mulroney. It is currently available on demand, Amazon, and Apple TV+.

It centers around the story of Dovey (Darren Mann), a young, impressionable ex-con who breaks his parole to do a solid for his prison mentor, a conniving inmate by the name of Ray Childress (Dermot Mulroney). Dovey crosses state lines to go to Corolla to track down Ray’s estranged daughter (Alyssa Goss), but soon discovers her past may be more dangerous than anything he ever faced in prison.

Originally from Asheville, North Carolina, Rowe has always been fascinated by the haunting allure, rugged, isolated landscape, and history of pirates and shipwrecks ever since he visited the Outer Banks as a child. Rowe pictured its violent seas and battering winds as the perfect setting for a thriller.

“I just remember how evocative that place was and how kind of windswept and mysterious and as a child thinking, ‘This is a place where there were pirates.’ And I just remember feeling a sense of adventure there being with my dad and my brother,” Rowe told the Voice. He said the idea for the film was sparked when he came back a few years ago and stayed near the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and saw the historic village.

“And I thought, ‘This would be a great place to make the movie,’ and it was sort of getting to all those things that I had sort of remembered as a child as feelings I had for the place feeling isolated and mysterious and yet really beautiful at the same time,” he added.

Rowe stumbled into his first opportunity in the film industry at age 18 when he played a British Red Coat in the Michael Mann epic The Last of the Mohicans when it was shot in Asheville.

He then went on to UNC Chapel Hill where he wrote and directed the jazz-inspired short film Sax Man, which was bought by PBS. He went on to direct Blue Ridge Fall, which premiered on HBO in 1999, and wrote the screenplay for Ijé: The Journey under the pseudonym Samuel Tilsen. That film starred African movie icon Genevieve Nnaji (Lionheart) and won the Melvin van Peebles Award for best feature at the San Francisco Black Film Festival.

According to Rowe, he’s always had an interest in weaving a story around a central architectural character where the setting becomes a character of its own and plays a key role in the story.

The first scene in Breakwater when the lighthouse makes an appearance in is when Dovey first arrives on the Outer Banks and sleeps on the sand dunes, waking up to see the lighthouse towering over him.

“So we feature it pretty early on. And then from there on, as it becomes more of a thriller, we keep returning to the lighthouse and the weather turns and it starts to rain and the lighthouse itself starts to feel a little colder and more foreboding. And it becomes a kind of lookout tower for somebody who may be coming to try to find him,” says Rowe.

Rowe explained that there were many other elements which added to the setting’s character and were metaphors for many themes in the movie—including the idea of coming to a new place to hide from your past and have a second chance, only to find that your past always eventually catches up with you. Specifically, Rowe was intrigued by the live oak forest that extends nearly to the beach and around the back part of the sound in many parts of Corolla.

“There’s something wonderful and then sort of mysterious about all of that because it feels like a place where you can hide things very easily,” says Rowe, adding that even the lighthouse itself is surrounded by trees. “So it’s sort of the idea of something hiding, but unable to completely hide because it’s shining out from this place. I think that was a great representation of one of our main characters played by Alyssa Goss, who was the daughter who is living in this place, and we don’t know why she’s there, and we soon find out that she’s there probably because she doesn’t want to be found.”

Rowe had to advocate to get production moved to the Outer Banks for the lighthouse scenes because economically and logistically, it would have been easier to film them in Wilmington, NC, where a majority of the scenes were filmed. Once the crew actually went to film in the lighthouse, that presented its own challenges.

“So, you’re shooting in a real lighthouse and you’re not rebuilding any of it on the soundstage. There are probably some productions that would have taken the whole top of the lighthouse and reproduced that on a soundstage and scale model and shot all of the stuff around the top of the lighthouse against a green screen inside of a stage right. But on an independent film, you don’t have the money to do that.”

Film director James Rowe on the docks with Darren Mann who plays the main character, Dovey, in the film.

Rough weather, rigging up equipment with cables to film certain angles down the lighthouse stairs, carrying equipment up and down the lighthouse, and a cinematographer with a fear of heights were just a few of the challenges Rowe and his crew faced. According to Rowe, the film crew worked closely with John Wilson and Ladd Bayliss of Outer Banks Conservationists and Currituck Beach Lighthouse Site Manager Meghan Agresto to make sure they didn’t damage any part of the lighthouse in the process.

“But really, I think it paid off in a big way because the lighthouse is such a character in the film and one that was an inspiration for the movie to begin with. So I’m so glad that the producers allowed me to do it and got us three days and figured out the logistics and put everything together to actually be on the Outer Banks instead of being somewhere else and pretending to be on the Outer Banks,” says Rowe.

Rowe worked with producer and ex-Navy Seal Matt Paul, who he says was critical to navigating the complex maritime and underwater sequences. And he used local photographer James Clower to shoot environmental footage for the film. Rowe also worked with casting agent Tracy Kilpatrick to find local and regional talent for the film, along with their casting team in Los Angeles.=

“I felt that there was an authenticity to the place that could really only be captured there,” says Rowe.

This story is reposted to correct an error in the previous version. 


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