Marzena Godecki got the starring part in a weekly television series in a rather unusual way.
The producers took her out in a boat, more or less tossed her into a somewhat dangerous patch of ocean and watched to see how she would react."The audition process involved me showing them if I could swim or not, especially out in the ocean," said Godecki, who stars as "Ocean Girl" on the Disney Channel. "They wanted to see if I was comfortable or not."
Godecki survived not only the ocean, but an audition process that began with more than 700 candidates for the part.
"When we got down to the top 30, we started to look at their physical and psychological profile," said creator/executive producer Jonathan M. Shiff. "Mainly because we're filming in open water where there are real sharks in deep, cold sea. And we wanted someone who was both an athlete, and actress (and) was very steady under pressure in case sharks came and had a look around."
"Ocean Girl," which begins its second season tonight at 8:30 p.m. on Disney, is a delightful Australian show that's become a hit in countries around the world. Designed to appeal to youngsters, it mixes adventures, science fiction and environmentalism.
Sixteen-year-old Godecki stars as Neri, the "Ocean Girl" whose best friend is a 40-foot humpback whale named Charley, with whom she both swims and communicates telepathically.
The young actress said that most of the questions she gets from young kids have to do with her relationship with Charley: Does she really swim with him? Can she really talk to him?
"No, I wish," she said with a laugh. "There's a model that we actually swim with because you can't get so close to humpback whales."
Neri was befriended last season by a couple of young boys who live in an undersea city, and her adventures are intertwined with that duo and their friends. There are, of course, the requisite bad guys - including an evil scientist who capture Neri in tonight's season pre-miere.
In the course of the 13 episodes, Neri will learn more about herself, her origins (which turn out to be extraterrestrial), why she's on Earth - and that she has a younger sister.
"In the first series, she didn't know much about her background. She didn't know about the outside world," Godecki said. "She'd never come in contact with it.
"And in the second series, she's quite comfortable with the outside world. . . . And she starts finding out about her past, about her father, about her sister. You see Neri mature a lot more."
"Ocean Girl" is filmed on some astoundingly beautiful locations, including Australia's Great Barrier Reef and rain forests in Queensland. Despite all that beauty, Godecki will tell you that the water is still plenty cold - but it didn't scare her off.
"I'm one of those people who's willing to have a go," she said. "And I guess that's what they were looking for. They wanted someone who wasn't afraid of the water, wasn't scared of trying new things and doing things that most people don't get a chance to do, like filming underwater."
Godecki, a dancer who immigrated with her family to Australia from Poland when she was 3, takes pride in the fact that she's now a better swimmer than she was when she started.
"I'd trained between the first and second series," she said. "I found it a lot easier to do the swimming in the second series. And I did most of my (on-camera) swimming - practically all of it. The double was mostly needed for things like jumping out of trees."
Although she downplays the skills she needs to play Ocean Girl, her executive producer is full of admiration for his young star's willingness to do all those underwater scenes.
"It's just like a a different planet and Marzena's being modest," Shiff said. "She spends like five or six hours a day (in the water). It's a very courageous pursuit, swimming down there with the camera guys. We do have stunt doubles . . . but Marzena is down there with the sharks, with the turtles, with the stingrays, for six hours a day and it's a very courageous, athletic achievement."