The Timaru Herald

Kiwi star’s brush with disaster

Kiwi star Martin Henderson talks to James Croot about adventure, accents and the perils of method acting.


Martin Henderson discovered firsthand just how dangerous mountainee­ring can be while preparing to shoot his new movie Everest.

The 40-year-old Kiwi actor plays Adventure Consultant­s guide Andy Harris in the dramatisat­ion of the events of May 10, 1996, when eight people died on the world’s tallest peak.

Speaking from rural Georgia recently, where he’s shooting Miracles From Heaven with Jennifer Garner and Queen Latifah, Henderson says he and Australian actor Jason Clarke (who portrays Adventure Consultant­s co-founder Rob Hall) got caught out more than once during ‘‘training’’.

‘‘We spent a few days up Ben Nevis, which is the biggest mountain in the UK, and there was one day when we had to make a decision whether we were going to go to the summit or not. It was already getting dark, but we made the call to go and made the summit, but as soon as we got there, this blizzard just hit.

‘‘We didn’t think too much of it and then, all of a sudden, the ice is coming in sideways, smashing in your face and you couldn’t really see.

‘‘We then made it back to this little overhang and the guide went down 150m to 200m. I went after him and we were waiting for Jason to come down and as he is clipping into his ropes, this section next to him breaks off and starts this avalanche.

‘‘I felt the guide grab me on the back of the head and shove me face-first into the snow. I’m thinking, ‘what the heck is going on?’ and within seconds I hear this rumble – snow comes screaming over the top and I can feel it trying to tug my pack off my back. I’m like, ‘just try to keep calm – I’m with a guide, it’s okay’.

‘‘Eventually, the snow moves on and he pulls me out and everything’s okay. I think he lost a climbing axe. Jason kind of makes his way down and we all go, ‘okay, that could have been worse’.’’

Henderson says it gave both he and Clarke a tiny taste of how quickly little things lead to one another and how precarious mountainee­ring can be. ‘‘How unpredicta­ble the weather can be, how you deal with the danger and respond appropriat­ely and not get freaked out.’’

It wasn’t long before they had the opportunit­y to put what they learned into practice on another ‘‘training expedition’’ into the South Island’s Tasman Glacier. ‘‘We were doing a few descents of small peaks when, one day, all of a sudden, the weather turned and we were in a whiteout where you couldn’t see more than two metres in front of you. For about half-anhour, we didn’t know where we were, except that we were surrounded by giant crevices and cliffs.’’

While it left both of them questionin­g their sanity for their ‘‘method acting’’ approach, Henderson says he could also feel his adrenaline pumping.

‘‘At the end of the day, you get in the hut, have a cup of tea and a biscuit and are so grateful to be alive – and then the next day you just want to do it again. I just really realised how addictive the sport is. There’s something incredibly primal about facing something treacherou­s, but doing it anyway. It’s quite appealing – much to my mother’s disappoint­ment.’’

The former Shortland St actor, who is about to return to surgicalba­sed soap with a regular role on Grey’s Anatomy, says he first read a script for what became Everest a decade ago. ‘‘I’d always been super keen to be involved and I initially auditioned to play Guy Cotter [who took over Adventure Consultant­s after the events of 1996], but I was just super stoked to have anything to do with it. I think the writers have done a really good job of fleshing out all the characters.’’

He says it was an honour to portray Harris. ‘‘I went to Queenstown to meet old friends of his and it was so evident how wellloved this guy was. Paying tribute to someone like that is a big responsibi­lity and all the actors felt we had a duty to somehow be very authentic.’’

To that end, Henderson also had another role, as unofficial New Zealand-accent coach for Clarke. ‘‘I was always on him about the nuances of his accent,’’ Henderson laughs. ‘‘His favourite comeback was – ‘Rob didn’t have a very strong Kiwi accent’.’’

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