Interview – Danny Boyle – 127 Hours

BN: I was curious how this project came about?  Was this something that came to you, or did you seek it out?

DB: I heard of the story in 2003.  I lived in London, but it was a big story worldwide.  It’s one of those that just logs in your brain.  It’s just pure story, like the Chilean miners.  There’s something about it that’s so pure.  You ask, “What would I do?”  There’s a lot of that.  Then I read his book [Between a Rock and a Hard Place] in 2006 because Francois Ivernan, who runs Pathe, one of the studios involved in the movie, sent it to me.  I read the book and then I met Aron.  I had a very clear idea that I wanted to do it like you’ve seen it; a very first person experience with one actor, and not doing all the other stuff that’s in the book about his family looking for him, or the illustrations from his past life.  There’s a lot of that in the alternate chapters.  I said, “No, you’ve got to just stick in the canyon.”  He wanted to make it a documentary, like a Touching the Void type of thing, where he’s interviewed and guides the voice of the film.  We couldn’t agree.  I had a very, very clear way that I wanted to do it, which you don’t always have.  When you have it, you know it’s good, or it might be.  You don’t really know if it’s good, but you think, “That’s what I believe in.”  We agreed to meet another day, which I thought wouldn’t happen, but we did in 2009.  Slumdog helped, and proved to him that we were decent filmmakers and that the film, should he entrust it to us, would have a good profile and that it would maybe get financed.  I think they tried to finance the documentary for a few years.  It was very difficult to set it up.  I think he changed as a person.  He was able to trust us.  I said to him, “For us to do this properly, so you’ll be proud of it, there’s going to be a valley that you can’t cross, where you have to trust somebody with it on the other side of the valley.  You’ll have to let it out of your hands.  It’s very difficult Aron.  You have to trust me and an actor to do it.  We promise you we won’t disfigure it.”  But how does he know we’re telling him the truth?  We promised him we would turn the story back to him in the end.  We’re temporary custodians of it really.

BZ: Thatʼs a great way of putting it.

DB: Yes, but we really are.  You think a year’s time, what will James Franco and I be doing?  We won’t be doing this, but Aron will.  To be fair, he sees it as his role to pass the story on; to tell this story because it helps people.  It’s his purpose now.

BN: It’s a very hopeful story.

DB: Yes, even though it’s so appalling, you can dig out of that something hopeful.  It’s not a feel good movie.  It’s way beyond that.  Feel good is kind of a cheap thrill basically.

BZ: How do you feel about the fact that in regards to your last few films, Sunshine as an exception, carry that emotion?  Millions was the first one you made that really seemed to shed so much of your previous work’s darkness.  Plus, there were so many reviews of Slumdog that said it was, “The feel good movie of the year.”  There’s similarity for 127 Hours and how it enriches your life.  It makes you want to go out and do things with those close to you.  How do you balance those uplifting themes with that darkness and keeping that message from coming across wrong?

DB: We don’t really think of it is as separate things.  Critically people talk about it like that, but you don’t think of that really.  You think of the story itself and its ingredients.  You try to service those and make them as vivid as possible, whatever they are, whether they are what you call darkness or light.  You want to make them as intense an experience as possible.

BZ: Is there anything that is drawing you to these particular types of stories, where there is such darkness that has to be overcome?

DB: Only in a sense that I love that dynamic; having a character have the odds stacked against them.  I think that’s something that is really wonderful in cinema; somehow being able to dig something out of appalling circumstances.  That’s what links it to Slumdog, a guy having the odds against them and coming through in the end.  I like that story.  It appeals to me obviously because I keep remaking it even if they are in different places.  There are connections I find that are really powerful in the cinema.  I like the odds to be visceral really, to be tangible.  I like for you to be able to feel them, experience them.  I love that thing in cinema where a movie can leave you breathless.  You don’t often get it, but when you do it’s like [wide-eyed], “What!?”  I love feeling it like that.  I think they’re trying to do it with 3-D, but that’s a technical way of doing it.  The greater way to do it is to do it through an actor.  You don’t need special glasses.


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Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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