For Josh Brolin, 'Everest' Was A Test Of Acting Limits
Eight people died at the top the world in May of 1996. They were ascending Mount Everest and their numbers included two renowned mountaineers, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. Their story was made even more famous a year later by Jon Krakauer in his book Into Thin Air.
Now a 3-D IMAX film has been made about that tragedy, the people who perished and those who survived. It's called Everest and in it Josh Brolin plays Beck Weathers, a Texan who was left for dead on the mountain. Unlike Hall and Fischer, Weathers survived the ordeal when he miraculously roused himself from a freezing death and stumbled into camp.
Everest also stars Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley and Elizabeth Debicki, and it's directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Brolin joins NPR's Scott Simon to discuss the tough filming conditions and the most important thing he learned about mountaineering.
On what it was like to film a story set in such an extreme climate
Part of doing a movie like this, what makes it attractive, is when a director from Iceland comes to your door and says, "I want to do this in the way that I understand movies can still be done and are not done very often anymore." And he took us to the top of the, you know, mountain — not Everest, but a shorter mountain with just as much snow — and made it as problematic as possible. ...
We went to Nepal for about eight days, nine days, and climbed up to the base camp of Everest, or very close to it. And then once we got to London, instead of snow they started using salt that they were shoveling in front of 100-mile-an-hour fans. We were getting the great exfoliation of our lives. And it was just horrible. At that point, I was like, "I don't ever want to do a movie like this again. I'm going to fire my agent. I'm going to change careers." It was horrible.
On his conversations with the real Beck Weathers
You know, he was left for dead twice and he wrote a book himself called Left for Dead. And, you know, he was running from this depression that he was talking about and he found that he did something very well and that's [that] he could take three more steps than the normal person. Biologically, he was just set up to climb well and it became a thing for him, whether it was him running from his depression or not.
But yes, I did spend time with him. And then I asked him, I said, "Do you still climb?" ... He said, "No, Peach [Weathers' wife] doesn't want me to climb anymore so I don't climb." And I said, "Well, what do you do now?" And there was a slight pause and he said, "I fly jets now, I like to fly jets." And I go, "Well, there you go." The personality sticks, no matter what your situation, which — his consequence was he lost half of his right arm, he lost his fingers in his left hand and he lost his nose.
On how he approached the film knowing the controversy over who was to blame for the disaster
You have to understand that you're dealing with life and death stuff and they're very personal decisions. And then you're also dealing with people who are in altitudes [where it's] impossible to trust what they remember and what they — how they act. I mean, Jake [Gyllenhaal] and I went into an altitude chamber up to about 26,000 feet and it not only affected us for about 24 hours afterwards, it was impossible to do anything logically. So, you know, who was at fault, hubris, the fact that that's the first time that they had a journalist up there — maybe they made decisions based on wanting to be more successful as opposed to safe. ... Is there anybody to blame or is this just the inevitability of commercializing climbing, the inevitability of something like this going wrong?
On the most important thing he learned about mountaineering
Do you belong up there? Are you in the kind of conditioning? And then also understanding the risk that sometimes it doesn't matter what kind of condition you're in. You know, Scott Fischer, he died. He had been up there, you know, several times and yet this is the time where, you know, he got some kind of edema. And you don't know. Biologically, you have no idea how it's going to affect you.
[Actor] John Hawkes who [plays Doug Hansen] was very, very frightened about doing this movie and being in the Dolomites. ... And yet I was climbing from the suspended bridge up to Namche Bazaar and we were doing a lot of our own climbing at that point, and I looked over and I saw John just racing past me, I think even with a cigarette in hand. And I had quit smoking, I had quit drinking, I had quit all kinds of things, and I was [at] the gym twice a day. You see, this ... guy, who's obviously much more biologically set up to climb than I am, just race past me with a big smile on his face. So, you never know. That's what was interesting and what I learned most about mountaineering is not only is it the most dangerous sport out there, but you have no idea what your genetics are going to reveal once you're climbing.
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