127 Hours/ James Franco Interview

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127 Hours
An Interview with James Franco
By Max Evry

November 3, 2010

Danny Boyle, who gave us the Best Picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire”, takes us on an entirely new kind of ride with “127 Hours”, his new film based on the miraculous true experiences of climber Aron Ralston, who while climbing in Utah got pinned to a canyon wall for nearly 6 days. Ralston had to resort to extraordinary measures in order to save his own life, and that’s exactly what he did.

In the film Ralston is portrayed by James Franco, who got his start with the Judd Apatow company on TVs “Freaks and Geeks”, then transitioned into film with roles in “Spider-Man” and “Pineapple Express”. This role requires him to spend nearly the entire running time alone, and much like Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” he takes command of every moment.

Franco came to New York to discuss the film, meeting Ralston, and the challenges of the role.

What went on at the first meeting between you and Aron?

James Franco: A lot of things happened there, a lot of important things that ultimately guided me through the performance. I’ll talk about a few. We had discussions, Aron did some of the early work of walking us through and showing us some of the things he did. Most importantly, we were at the Four Seasons in LA, it was the first time I met Aron, and he brought this ratty VHS tape that had the original real video on it. We all sat there and watched it. For me it was incredibly powerful, for a lot of reasons. I think one of the main reasons why it was so valuable as an actor is every iteration of the story you hear from now on you know Aron made it out. Aron can tell the story, we can tell the story, but you know what happened. On the video it’s Aron in the middle of the situation not knowing he’s gonna get out. He made the messages up until, within an hour of figuring out how to get out. By the end, I was saying to myself while we were watching it, “There’s a guy who thinks he’s gonna die, and in some ways he’s accepted it.” It’s not in our film too. In some of the messages he goes on for a long time, details where his ashes should be spread. It’s a little arrogant, ’cause the places he said to put the ashes are like on top of a peak, all over the globe. (laughs) 100 places! I thought he said something like, “it’s weird to watch this with a director and actor in the room ’cause it’s such a poor performance.” We thought he was crazy to say that! (laughs) But for me as a performer what I saw on those tapes were a guy with the knowledge that he’s probably going to die, but the way he delivered the messages was with such dignity and strength knowing that, and a real simplicity. These are very intimate tapes, we were very privileged to see them, and it’s video so it feels very immediate. It was just a guy talking to his friends and family in a very intimate way, but not wallowing in self-pity, doing it with dignity. That simplicity combined with that knowledge of death behind it was incredibly strong for me, and showed me a way to do the part.

Did you ever have to put your own survival skills to the test?

JF: No. (laughs) I’ve been lost, I got lost in Paris. I had to find a taxi, there weren’t taxis at a certain hour. It was really hard. (laughs) No, nothing.

Has this experience changed your adventurous spirit at all?

JF: If I hike I’ll be sure to tell people where I go. It’s given me an appreciation for my life, the people in my life, certainly. This is another thing that went down at that first meeting, Aron asked me why I wanted to play the role, and I still believe this, I love the way it strips down this character and this person. Everything that is familiar in our day-to-day lives, with other people, that we can get food from a restaurant or a store, just emotional dependence. Everything that is familiar to us. Also the day-to-day activities that keep us from looking at ourselves in a very intimate way. All of that is taken away, and it’s a man alone, facing death. I imagine what we had was a real way to study what it is to be human, what’s important in our lives, what we hold onto from our outside life, and what pulls us out, really gives us strength. I said in the first meeting, “Aron, I love all that, and I also like that you had the strength, the will inside you to get out and do that.” Aron corrected me a little bit, Danny believes this as well, that it wasn’t just himself. One of the main things that gave him the strength to get out was his connection to the outside world, and those videos weren’t just a last message, but a way to connect with those people. Obviously Aron knew they weren’t listening at that moment, but that he felt a real connection to those people and that gave him the strength to survive. It’s given me an appreciation for people in my life.

Did your meetings with Aron prepare you adequately for the role?

JF: We thought we could serve him and the story best if it was an inside-out approach. I always had faith as an actor that if you do a lot of work beforehand and then proceed in a certain way that you’re generating the performance from the inside-out that actually you will hit the right beats on the outside.

The film could have been very static on multiple levels. What impressed you about the way Danny set things up so there was motion in the movie?

JF: I was attracted to the set-up, the amazing story and Aron’s incredible true story aside, just as a performer looking at a script like that was very exciting to me and frankly I don’t mind a slow movie, so if this had turned out to be an incredibly slow-moving movie I probably would have been okay, but Danny decidedly does not like those kinds of movies. I think that’s one of the things that gives it a great power. There are a lot of contrasts in this movie. An incredibly intense situation, but there’s humor. The character is static but the cameras and technology they’re using is cutting edge. I believe this is the most cutting edge mainstream movie you can find based on what they’re doing with the technology, how they’re using the cameras, but to serve the film, not to show off. To serve the experience. In that way you get Beckett on speed. One of the most common things we hear is, “I’ve never had a movie experience like that.” It’s because you’re drawn into the character and that really speaks to the way Simon and Danny structured the script, told the story through behavior, and then when the character does speak its as if he’s speaking right to the audience, so you get incredibly close third-person delivery, and then almost first-person. He’s talking to his friends and family, you never break the fourth wall, but it’s as if Aron is talking right to the audience. That gives it an energy.

127 Hours opens on November 5, 2010


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