MAKING EVEREST A THRILL
Having a “real” adventure in the biting elements was a major drawcard for Josh Brolin, who stars in disaster drama Everest
Two years ago, while getting into the swing of climbing mountains – by scaling Californian mountains Shasta and Whitney and the Eiger in Switzerland – for his role in Everest, Josh Brolin declared the film would be the perfect “swan song” for his days as a physical on-screen presence.
“It’s a daunting thing we’re about to do,” the star of No Country For Old Men and American Gangster said, “but it’s kind of perfect for a 45year-old and that can be my swan song. Then I can go do geriatric films after that.”
Two years later, Brolin can only shake his head at his past self. “Of course I said that. Of course I said that. Inappropriate, Josh,” he groans. “Maybe that’s what I needed to tell myself in order to deal with my midlife whatever ...”
So, does the geriatric phase start now?
“No, you know what? It feels like the opposite now,” says the 47-year-old. “I feel like it’s the beginning of something, I really do. It’s just a different time. I don’t know why. It is conscious – it’s like, let’s focus on great stories. The sledgehammer in the face characters, those are fine but if you don’t have a great story ... I’ve just realised I’m not interested in making a bunch of small films that nobody sees.”
Though his agent was asking “Are you sure?” when Everest first presented itself, the prospect of getting out into the elements quickly seduced Brolin. In fact, having a “real” adventure was so much a part of the appeal that, when location filming – at Everest base camp and on the Italian Alps – finished, Brolin got rather cranky.
“When we were on the mountain, I wanted to go as far as we could; then, when we got off the mountain, it was depressing. When we went to London and had to be on soundstages, I hated it. There was nothing attractive or interesting about it to me at all.”
But that, he says, was when “the real work” got done. And he’s proud of the results. So proud, in fact, that the reaction of real-life Everest conqueror Reinhold Messner can’t even touch the edges.
“I heard Messner said recently, ‘This is like the Hollywood version of a movie’. Of course it is, dude! It’s a movie, it’s not a documentary – we’re not climbing Everest.
“If we do a movie about a plane crash, we’re not going to actually crash the plane. It’s a simulation, that’s what we do. But we try to make it as good as we can.”
The film is based on survivor accounts of a real-life 1996 expedition to summit Mount Everest that went horribly wrong, leaving five members of NZ expedition leader Rob Hall and American Scott Fischer’s combined teams dead.
In the midst of a great ensemble that includes Aussie actor Jason Clarke as Hall, Jake Gyllenhaal as Fischer and John Hawkes as a Seattle postman attempting the ascent for the second time, Brolin gets to fully flesh out his climber, pathologist Beck Weathers.
At the expedition’s start, Weathers is almost offensively Texan. “Arrogance,” Brolin calls it. But, with each step up the summit, his fear becomes clearer. Even with his own mountaineering exploits, it’s a fear Brolin says he’ll never be able to understand, “not even for a second”.
“There’s a shot in the movie (that shows) how isolated one would feel being on Everest, knowing that you’re gonna die and knowing that not only will nobody find you but nobody will probably ever see your body again ... There’s something so terrifying and so lonely about that. You have horrific dreams where you wake up and go, ‘Wow, that’s what it must feel like to touch horror for a second’. But to not be able to get away from it? I just can’t imagine.
“Doing via ferratas (fixed metal climbing tracks that allow climbers to tackle mountains in relative safety) when I was in Lauterbrunnen and Wengen (in Switzerland), that was terrifying for me – absolutely, paralysingly terrifying. That’s my relative parallel but I’ll never know because I’m not on Everest.”
Though he swore he would, Brolin has not climbed a mountain since filming ended.
“That’s usually how it happens – you get so involved then the movie’s over and you go, ‘OK, so what are we doing now? We’re playing a what? A deer hunter? OK, great’.”
stars ( from left)
Jake Gyllenhaal as Scott Fischer, Michael Kelly as Jon Krakauer and Josh Brolin as Beck Weathers.