127 Hours sought honest account amid drama
James Franco praises survivor for courage
Last Updated: Monday, September 13, 2010 | 9:08 AM ET
By Jessica Wong, CBC News
Outdoorsman Aron Ralston, left, poses with actor James Franco at the 127 Hours press conference Sunday during the Toronto International Film Festival. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)Among the biggest challenges facing the team behind Danny Boyle's kinetic, heart-pounding 127 Hours was how to recount faithfully the tale of Aron Ralston, the outdoorsman driven to amputate his hand after being trapped in a remote Utah canyon for nearly a week.
Aside from what star, James Franco, described as an intense, difficult shoot, the filmmakers wrestled with telling Ralston's real-life tale.
"It's his story," said Simon Beaufoy, who co-wrote the script with director Boyle, said Sunday in a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival. "Somehow you have to balance the actuality of what happened with the demands of drama, which are often very different, and yet somehow present an authentic experience.
"It's being able to be honest about the depths, the different layers of a person's personality — the flaws of that person's personality — while he's still with us. We could only do it because Aron was so incredibly open about himself."
Ralston, whose horrific yet triumphant ordeal in 2003 propelled him to re-evaluate his life and renew his relationships with his friends and family, revealed that he initially turned Boyle down in 2006 because he preferred a more factual retelling, versus a drama.
After some thought and seeing what Boyle did with his 2008 indie blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire, he changed his mind.
"It was giving [my story] to them and understanding and trusting, too, that there is more than one way of getting to this goal … of conveying utterly the experience of what I went through in a genuine fashion — sometimes with the hard truth and sometimes with fictional adaptations," said Ralston, who also admitted crying through much of 127 Hours the first time he watched it.
Franco, on whom most of the 90-minute film is intimately focused, lauded Ralston's bravery in sharing with him the camcorder videos he filmed while trapped and anticipating death. The personal messages had only been shown to family and close friends, Franco said, as Ralston nodded in agreement.
"That was gold for an actor because I got to see him in that situation, in the moment when he was in the middle of it, not knowing he was going to get out," said Franco, who portrays Ralston as an outgoing and charismatic, but somewhat foolhardy, adventurer ultimately saved by his courage and will to survive.
"I was watching a guy accepting his own death, but not wallowing in self-pity. He held this respect for everyone he addressed. … It was very, very powerful and it was one of the things that guided me through."
Franco is earning acclaim for his intense, dramatic turn in 127 Hours, following his roles in Judd Apatow comedies such as Pineapple Express, the Spider-Man franchise and Apatow's cult high school TV series Freaks and Geeks.
Danny Boyle gestures during the TIFF press conference for his film 127 Hours. (Jessica Wong/CBC)The actor and budding filmmaker, who balanced 127 Hours with studies at New York University and Columbia University, praised his experience working with Oscar-winner Boyle, who tells Ralston's story in a fast-paced, colour-saturated, music-infused manner.
"[Boyle] really does love the search and the experimentation and finding new approaches to moviemaking," Franco said. "It was really exciting. I felt like we were really discovering things together."
Boyle had urged his actors to be "constantly moving," recalled co-star Amber Tamblyn, but there was a reason for infusing the shoot with a feverish pace.
"I believed it would affect the texture of the film, the feeling of the film. Because obviously the film is incredibly inert in one sense, and I thought it'd be absolutely catastrophic if it remained inert," Boyle said.
"We forced everybody to keep working — pushing, pushing — in the hope that it would bleed into the film. That sense of restlessness would bleed into the film and make it bearable to watch."
127 Hours has its TIFF debut Sunday evening. It will also screen again Monday and next Saturday, ahead of a wider theatrical debut this fall. TIFF continues through Sept. 19.
Corrections and Clarifications
- An earlier version of this story said Aron Ralston amputated his left hand after being trapped in a Utah canyon. In fact, Ralston amputated his right hand. Sept. 13, 2010 | 9:05 a.m. ET