Taylor John Smith had to share the water with an alligator while filming a key scene.

Making a movie always comes with challenges — but filming Where the Crawdads Sing on location in Louisiana came with floods, alligators, and a host of unexpected natural obstacles.

Set in the rural marshlands of North Carolina, Crawdads follows Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young, orphaned woman who has spent her adolescence alone in a marsh communing with nature. A romance with friend Tate (Taylor John Smith) and the murder of local golden boy Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) send her life into a tailspin.

Filming on location made the events of the story come to vivid detail for the cast. "The wild was definitely on Kya's doorstep," Edgar-Jones tells EW. "Actually her doorstep, because the set flooded and the lagoon got to her doorstep."

"I'm from London so I'd never really been in an environment like that," she adds. "Hearing the cicadas, the Spanish Moss everywhere, these beautiful birds and dragonflies — it was just gorgeous. But I've never heard thunder and lightning like it. We would have to sit in our cars while lightning passed."

Smith says the reality of the environment made everything click. "It gave [us] a soundtrack," he says. "It felt like you were really in it. When I read the book, you put in little sounds and pictures and ideas about what it's going to feel and look like. Then you get to film in New Orleans and it's perfect. It's exactly what people are going to expect."

Where The Crawdads Sing
Credit: Michele K. Short/Columbia Pictures

Occasionally, things got too real. Like the time Smith realized he was sharing the water with an alligator while filming. "One of my favorite memories is Taylor doing a scene where he was getting specimens in the river and this humongous alligator swam past," recalls Edgar-Jones. "Taylor was being so polite being like, 'Excuse me — sorry. Is this okay?'"

"I have waders on up to here," Smith adds, "and I see this log-looking thing, this large log go by. I'm like, 'That's funny.' They said, 'If it looks bigger than five or six feet probably hop out.' I'm like, 'I can't tell from here. He's underwater. I just see his eyes looking at me. I don't know if he's hungry or he's trying to say hello, but should I hop out?' They're like, 'Uh, rolling.'"

Alligators weren't the only creatures they had to contend with. Edgar-Jones once tumble-dried a cockroach. And David Strathairn, who portrays Kya's kindly lawyer Tom Milton, even got in on the fun with the animal crews. "One of my favorite memories is seeing David Strathairn on his day off come to set where Kya's house was built," says director Olivia Newman. "He was out in the woods with one of the snake capture teams. They have these long poles with clips on the end to pick up snakes. He was out there looking for snakes. He just wanted to be useful."

Much of Tate and Kya's love story takes place on the water, with the two of them fishing and spending time boating together. Smith and Edgar-Jones bonded off-set by taking fishing trips together, and they both learned to drive motorboats like their characters. But the elements proved taxing in that regard too.

"It was a bit challenging dealing with the rising and lowering tides," explains director Newman. "Because we would scout a location where we were going to shoot some scenes on boats, and then we would get out there in the morning and the water was too low and the boats would be getting stuck in the mud. So then ,we would have to quickly look around and find another area where the water was deeper, where we could actually move the boats and not have them get stuck. The marshes are so flat. There's no shade. Finding just the right time of day to shoot where you're not being beaten on by the sun was also challenging."

Executive Producer Reese Witherspoon was impressed by the cast and crew's ability to weather the natural obstacles. "They were all troopers because I only visited one day, and I was dripping with sweat," she says. "But it's all on film and you can see it out there. You can't fake stuff like that. It's so beautiful and textured, and it's a part of the world a lot of people have never, ever seen in their whole life. It's this dreamy experience of going to the movies and seeing this world you've never seen."

Where the Crawdads Sing hits theaters July 15.

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