USA TODAY US Edition
‘Everest’ pushed actors to the edge
Filming a movie about the tragic 1996 expedition to the summit of Mount Everest in which eight climbers died during a surprise storm was a challenging prospect.
Director Baltasar Kormákur led an ensemble of actors including Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and Jake Gyllenhaal through a tough four-month shoot that involved dealing with their own storms, daily avalanche warnings (and one avalanche-destroyed set) and subzero temperatures.
The effort to tell a powerful story and shoot a spectacle suitable for IMAX 3-D (where it opens exclusively Friday; in theaters nationwide Sept. 25) was enough to impress even Method-mad star Gyllenhaal, who portrays Everest guide Scott Fischer.
“There’s a difference between pain and injury. Balt hired people who knew the difference,” Gyllenhaal says. “He assembled a group excited about getting in the elements for real.”
Gyllenhaal says one moment when he particularly “pushed the edge” was during a key scene in which his perilously frozen Fischer pulls off layers and even his glove because of the severe mental effects of hypothermia. It was shot 10,000 feet high in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, the only mountains Kormákur felt could represent Everest, the highest point on Earth. Temperatures plummeted to minus 22 degrees. Kormákur urged the crew to overcome freezing equipment and get the shot, quickly.
“The hardest thing to do was just not move in that weather,” Gyllenhaal says. “Then (Kormákur) is like ‘Let’s go!’ and he’s throwing ice and snow on me. And we shoot it.”
Gyllenhaal’s discolored and frozen mucus-filled features were photographed as the cold ideal for the rest of the shoot. “They took reference pictures of my face. It was like, ‘We want the snot like that every time.’ ”
Clarke still feels some numbness in his hand after a radio literally froze to his gloved appendage during multiple takes in frigid weather.
“I couldn’t let go. I had been up there too long,” says Clarke, who plays Rob Hall. “I had to get some help to get it off me.”
Even creating full Everest storms and night scenes in London’s Pinewood Studios, which required 100-mph wind fans and blown salt as snow, had its perils. Brolin spent a day and a half 35 feet above the ground shooting the scene where his Beck Weathers falls off a ladder bridging a crevasse.
“I fell no less than 150 times. From every different angle. It was like, ‘Let’s do it again,’ ” Brolin says. “The bruise on my thigh was huge and pure black.”
Kormákur says it was vital to depict the mountain, the elements and the struggle of each climber.
“I wanted to make a movie with scope and a unique view of Everest,” he says. “I’m very proud. I pushed all the limits I could on this.”
“You can see the snow blow over us as the storm comes in. The side of my face is in the snow for the shot.”