One of the most interesting aspects of the new adventure drama, Everest, is just how well the film sticks to the true story its based on. Not even just in terms of historical accuracy, but how the movie never seems to dramatize the action or the tragedy in order to make their film more “thrilling” or “entertaining”. You get a real feeling watching the film that director Baltasar Kormakur and the rest of the creative team had enough faith that the story itself would be more-than-enough. Which is something you rarely seem from filmmakers creating a big, blockbuster movie nowadays.
So when I arrived to speak with the film’s cast and director, I knew that was what I was the most curious about. I wanted to know how the actors managed to balance the characters created with the script, as well as making an honest portrayal of the real people they were playing. How much of the research that they perform themselves about the people, informs their crafting of the character? Compared to playing a fictional character?
And that’s exactly what I asked them.
For Jason Clarke, who plays Rob Hall in the film, the research is the most important part:
“Everything. I mean it has to, maybe Balt will use it or won’t use or it will find a way in the script, but when these are real people and you’ve met them, and they have a daughter and they’ve opened up their lives to actually, to give you little bits to help you make it, you know, after holding onto it for twenty years – yeah, you do your homework. And you come with everything you have and eventually, you submit to the director and the film that he’s making, but yeah, you fight to maintain the integrity of the person that you’ve gotten to know and understand.
You know, and you try and put the little things in there, but that’s what kind of makes this story interesting as well, there’s been so much thought on what happened. Who made what decision where, Lopsang dying in an avalanche and just changing his story right at the end, as he saw Doug and Rob and Scott, and he was the last person, and he just said ‘No, this is what I think happened, this is what happened now.’ You know, it’s just, I think that’s what keeps you focused on this thing, that they are real people there are real events and we really put a lot in there, as well as made a film.”
However, Kormakur didn’t feel restrained or controlled by the script in any way, saying that having all of the information available made him confident enough to change things here or there in order to service the story:
“Yeah, as much as the script is important, there is a certain luxury to having this kind of information. All this stuff to go to, all these books, talking to the real people, so maybe you lean a little less on the script, and use it as a backbone, but allow the actors, allow everyone to bring the truth to the table.”
One of the more interesting and complex characters in the film goes to Jake Gyllehaal’s Scott Fischer though, a real-life mountaineer who hopped on the guide bandwagon after Rob Hall. His Fischer is driven throughout the film by the competition that the mountain offered. But for Gyllenhaal, who doesn’t resemble the real Fischer in almost any way, wanted to make sure that he had captured the spirit of Fischer as well as humanly possible:
“Well, there’s also, there’s all these choices you make when you’re trying to create a character, which is obviously their backstory and where they’re from, and that’s all written for you in a way. But also physically how they behave, how they look, you know those types of things. What’s interesting with Balt, particularly with Scott Fischer, was that I don’t particularly look like Scott, you know, but the essence of who Scott was, was very important to capture because I think in other stories about this expedition, Scott had been sort made into the antagonist. I think really for the purpose of trying to create tension in any story, you know you need someone like that.
You know whatever was said about competition on the mountain, and this and that between, particularly Rob and Scott, you know I think what I discovered was that he was truly a free spirit and an incredibly loving and positive person, and his children contacted me because they were worried that they didn’t know how he was going to be portrayed, and Balt, and particularly also Jason, was very respectful of Scott as well.
I mean what was interesting too was it wasn’t just us, specifically looking after ourselves, it was all of us looking after all the characters and people who were on this expedition, and just double-checking that nobody was put into a corner of cliche or caricature, and just finding the essence of who these people were. That was the most important thing because none of us are ever going to get who these people are, you know we’re not doing imitations, we’re trying to create the experience of this adventure, and that all came from Balt.”
For Emily Watson though, who’s Helen Wilton is mostly left helpless as some of her closest friends battle for their lives, the reason the movie and the characters work is because of all the fine details they had about them:
“I think one of the reasons that the film, that the sense of the characters works is because in real life details don’t all add up. They don’t add up to a nice equation of who somebody is and because we had so many real details, it just feels like you know, I felt that one of the principle factors in this film was chaos, and nothing quite made sense, and nothing quite added up, and you just had to go with that. Working with Balt is an extremely chaotic experience.”
As far as Kormakur was concerned though, the most important part of the movie was to recreate a chaotic tone on set that was something akin to what the mountaineers might have experienced:
“Yeah, and I did say to the actors I think on the first day, we’re going to work from chaos, we’re going to create the scenes out of chaos, so it was a conscious choice. I didn’t want to state this movie, I wanted to find it you know? That was a very important part of it.”
“And in the beginning, that sounds great, conceptually. Then there’s the reality of it, and then there’s, ‘Okay, now I’m freezing. Now I haven’t felt my feet for three days and I’m kinda done with this whole idea,’ and then that’s what he’s looking for, and that’s as an actor, as a director he did an amazing thing in being able to keep us, keep moral up, and keep it okay for month after month after month. When, even when we came from the snow we went to London because the snow doesn’t look correct so you’re using salt and throwing into 100mph fans and getting exfoliation that day. You know after a while, the romance of it is gone, and then you’re going, ‘Okay, I am feeling an irritation that I have a feeling, and I hope, will look good on film,’ because it’s there for sure. For you [laughs].”
For John Hawkes though, making sure that he honored Doug Hansen the best way he could with his portrayal, was just added motivation in regards to his performance:
“Playing a real-life person, it’s an extra weight of responsibility for sure, for the person you’re portraying and then their memory and to do right by them and their family and loved ones is a big deal. For me it’s, and for everyone, it’s as really as nervous as it makes you going in, I think it gives you a really, kind of, needed kick in the ass to go the extra mile. To try to really find as much as truth, or essence of truth, as you can find about the person you’re playing. So I guess it’s helpful on some level.”
Out of everyone on the cast however, Michael Kelly may have had the most to go off of though, as he played surviving author Jon Krakauer who went on to write a novel about his experience on the expedition. Kelly explained how he tried to capture the same outlook and spirit that the real-life author has in the film:
“I pretty much agree with that, you know Jon wrote, in my opinion, it’s my favorite book about what happened. Although I didn’t get to talk to Jon, I learned as much as I could about him, and I wanted to portray him and like Jake said, to bring the spirit of that guy, to put that on film. To do that you know is all you can hope to do, is to portray him as honestly as you can. Like what John said, really we are serving the story. You know you try to get character as well as you can, but all of us are just little pieces that make up the story, that’s the main character.”
While the movie makes a few stumbles along the way, and doesn’t quite reach the awards height it might have – the film could just be one of the best biopics made out of the past few years in regards to its respect and accuracy. Kormakur was able to simply present everything that happened without twisting the story too much, which is something that I don’t personally think many other biopics have been able to do over the past few years.
For more information on the film, and more of my thoughts on it, find my full review here.
Everest is in theatres now.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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