Hollywood Has A Mollusk Man, And He Tracked Down 1500 Snails For Deep Water

Every great, memorable icon of cinema needs a unique obsession. Gollum had the One Ring, Indiana Jones was driven by the need to recover priceless artifacts and place them in museums (though I suspect he got more pleasure out of punching Nazis than absconding with cultural relics, understandably), and Batman, predictably enough, is all about justice. So what about Vic Van Allen (played, amusingly enough, by previous Batman Ben Affleck), the protagonist of Hulu's recently released "Deep Water" with a certain kink for cuckolding? Well, he has his snails.

Even beyond the real-life drama of the erotic thriller — which famously brought stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas together for a brief period of time and captured the attention of locked-down movie fans suffering from a collective case of cabin fever at the beginning of the pandemic — the murderously jealous character's little sanctuary of snails ended up grabbing the lion's share of attention once the film finally made its way to Hulu earlier this month. /Film's Danielle Ryan even went out of their way to put together a bona fide snail explainer for all of us left slightly confused by the film's rather intense focus on the little critters.

That some of us would come away a little distracted by that is probably no surprise, given just how often those snails are featured throughout the movie, gently caressed by Affleck in loving (and weirdly intimate?) close-ups. Vic doesn't hesitate in bringing people over to his transformed garage/shed to gawk at the shelled gastropods, matter-of-factly accepting comments about how "weird" he is and all but overtly threatening one of his wife's suitors who blithely suggests the utterly unthinkable: actually eating those snails for dinner. But whether they're pets or fixations or just some really bizarre, symbolic extension of his own sexual fetishes, the practical nature of filming these snails meant that director Adrian Lyne had to hunt down some sort of snail wrangler who could find all the snails needed for the production.

Luckily for us all, a self-proclaimed Mollusk Man swooped in and came to the rescue, providing the whopping 1500 snails used to adapt the original Patricia Highsmith book into the gloriously entertaining (if extremely goofy) movie that it became. Trust me, I'm not just saying this — you're going to want to read on for all the details about how this came together.

Slimy, yet ... satisfying?

Okay, so maybe "Deep Water" didn't end up kickstarting a long-overdue return to the trashy adult fare that Adrian Lyne made himself known for in years past. On the bright side, it's given us an excuse to spend hundreds of words focusing on snails. The Independent has all the juicy (slimy?) inside info for us, detailing (de-snailing? Okay, I swear I'll stop now) the fascinating origins of all those snails. First of all, we can thank author Patricia Highsmith for the concept in the first place. Her original book of the same title is just as focused on them because, as it turns out, Highsmith herself was as well. She apparently kept "hundreds" as pets of her own and, in one case (according to The Guardian), "smuggled her cherished pet snails through French customs by hiding six or eight of them under each bosom." Simply incredible stuff.

Anyway, The Independent spoke to the Mollusk Man extraordinaire, Max Anton, who the production recruited to, ah, shell out and hand over the ridiculous amount of snails for the filming of "Deep Water." As Anton put it, he got involved when, "[One day] I get an email from a guy who says he's a prop master with a Hollywood film and he needs a thousand snails on set. I thought it was a scam. Like someone is tailoring a scam just for me? That's flattering. But it turns out it was legit and amazing. And that was 'Deep Water.'" The story only gets better from there, as he explains how he went about collecting so many snails:

"[The director, Adrian Lyne] wanted big snails, like massive, unrealistically big snails, and they exist but to get them we'd have to go overseas or shell out a lot of money and that wasn't feasible at the time. There are also illegal means, but we didn't want to go down that route either. So we settled for domestic species that we could get in the United States fairly quickly.
I flew to California and ended up in San Diego and Los Angeles, probably collected 600-700 of the brown garden snails that trip. I even collected some from the hill where the Hollywood sign is only to take them all the way back to New Orleans."

Snail Mail

You didn't think that was the end of the saga of the snail (rumor has it that "The Saga of the Snail" was a proposed alternate title for "The Power of the Dog" before everyone woke up and came to their senses, but you didn't hear that from me), did you? Anton goes on to describe exactly how he managed to fly hundreds of snails back to New Orleans. We kindly request that anyone reading this who may or may not be affiliated with TSA look away now.

"To the best of my knowledge, it is not illegal to transport snails that are already established domestically inside the United States. I also know from experience that the TSA gives people trouble about stuff like that. So, I got creative and was able to get them through the x-ray machines without detection... The specific methods I will keep proprietary."

He goes on to briefly explain how the absolute worst creature he snuck through security ended up being black Widow spiders and how one, horrifically, hatched all sorts of tiny eggs that — yeah, I'll stop there. You'll have to click through to the original interview if you want more on that.

In slightly more wholesome news, the Mollusk Man also explains the difference between Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas' approach to the snails.

"If you haven't handled snails before, sometimes it's easy to make a mistake and pick them up wrong, or squeeze in the wrong spot and the shell can crack or something like that. Ben [Affleck] could take instructions. He listens. He was patient, even though I don't know if he liked the snails or not; I don't think he was a fan of the slime. He took it very slow and was very gentle and I really appreciated that about him."
"I actually felt bad for [Ana de Armas] because [the director] was like, 'Get your hand all the way in that pile of snails,' and she was like, 'No!' I was kind of mean to her. I snuck a couple of extra snails inside the wallet that she had to pick up. So when the wallet fell open snails were just tumbling out."

Happily, no snails were harmed in the making of the movie and Anton even kept a few from the shoot!

"Deep Water" is currently streaming on Hulu.