UAB student makes a splash in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’

Synchronized swimmer takes a break from the books to play a mermaid.

Nearly a year ago, when University of Alabama at Birmingham senior Georgia Luch heard that moviemakers were looking for swimmers, she thought it would be fun to audition. Luch was cast and will make a splashing debut when Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens in theaters Friday, May 20, 2011.

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Georgia Luch. Download image.

The 22-year-old business student is a mermaid in the fourth installment of the popular movie series that stars actor Johnny Depp.

“I am really excited,” said Luch, who plans to dress up and see the film in her Hoboken, N.J., home town with family and friends. “I hope I will be able to recognize myself,” she said.

Luch was thrilled when she was cast in July 2010, but she had already had registered for fall classes and was planning to return to campus when the role was offered.

“Hmm…school or pirates?” Luch asked herself. “Pirates!”

Luch hopped a plane to L.A. and spent endless hours wearing a wetsuit as one of the troublesome mermaids encountered by Capt. Jack Sparrow, played by Depp, on his journey to find the fountain of youth. She was one of 10 professional swimmers — including two Olympians — cast as mermaids.

Initially, the women practiced a couple hours daily in a community pool, but when shooting began, Luch discovered movie-making is grueling work.

The first day on set she arrived at 6 p.m. and thought the day’s work would be over in a couple hours. But when she asked how long it’d take, she was told, “You know when that bright thing comes up in the sky? That’s when we will stop.” She worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day.

“I was exhausted,” she said.

While swimming above water, the mermaids were in full makeup and with hair extensions down to their waists. Underwater, Luch and the others flipped around in full-body wetsuits that would be transformed into mermaid tails in post-production editing.

Actresses were cast as mermaids, too, Luch said. They had the speaking roles; Luch and her group did the actual swimming. She met actor Johnny Depp and found him to be everything she thought he would be, she said. “He was very chill and funny.”

Luch, who will be a senior this fall, said she spent most of her youth in the water. She was a competitive swimmer, but found wading through laps a bit boring. Her mom suggested she try synchronized swimming, which combined water, music and dance, and Luch was hooked.

She was recruited as a high-school senior to join UAB’s synchronized swimming team. She fell in love with the campus, accepted the scholarship and enrolled – and stayed after the team disbanded.

After the movie wrapped, Luch returned to UAB to finish her business degree.

“I didn’t get bit by the acting bug,” Luch said. She plans to use her UAB business degree to start her own company that offers synchronized swimmers for events and private parties.

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