Aron Ralston amputated his own arm to escape death — and lived not only to tell but to watch James Franco re-create it all on screen. The two men talk about their journey together.
On April 26, 2003, a boulder fell on Aron Ralston while he was canyoneering in Utah. The rock pinned his right hand and forearm to the canyon wall and trapped him there in an excruciating handshake that he assumed would kill him. But on the fifth day, out of water and food, Ralston, then 27, decided to amputate his own arm and free himself. Now, seven years later, James Franco is portraying Ralston in 127 Hours, a film based on his memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, that’s directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). Ralston and Franco spoke with EW about putting all those agonizing days, hours, and minutes up on the big screen.
Aron, what is it like for you to watch this movie?
Ralston: Each time it’s been with a different person: my wife, my mother-in-law, my parents, my best friends. So each time has been very emotional as I go through it with them for the first time.
Franco: Not many people can say that they’ve had a movie made about them. I can’t really imagine what that is like.
Ralston: People want to know if it was weird. And honestly, there were definitely moments along the way, like watching you walk through the set with a third arm. But it was never quite as strange as what happens now, where these moments in the film get stuck in my head since I’ve seen it a half-dozen times. For example, there’s a point where you’re fantasizing and you say, ”Hmm, Mexican beer!” So now, any time I’m reading a menu, I have your voice in my head saying ”Hmm, Mexican beer!”
Franco: That’s funny. I’m mumbling during that line and I don’t say ”Mexican beer.” I say, ”Hmm, I’ll take a beer!”
Ralston: No way! It’s like a song where you mishear the lyrics, or some crazy game of telephone. Instead of me [quoting] Chevy Chase in Fletch as it was for all the years of my childhood, now it’s me quoting you as me.
Was it hard for you to give your story to Danny Boyle and his team?
Ralston: I had to get comfortable with what they wanted to do with it, and eventually I did. But there were filmmakers who approached me, like the makers of the Saw series. I mean, can you imagine?
Franco: That’s hilarious.
Ralston: Saw VIII: Desert Blade. In 3-D!
Franco: Did they have a pitch?
Ralston: Yeah, but when I looked into them, I saw that everything they did was total gore genre.
Aron, were you on the set a lot?
Ralston: About once a week.
Were you there when they were filming the amputation scene?
Ralston: I was there for some of the attempted amputations, when he had to stab this prosthetic arm. They had it all rigged up with blood and everything.
James, how many arms did you guys have on set?
Ralston: [With mock indignation] More than I had!
Franco: We had different kinds because we had different needs. When we did the amputation, they designed these arms that were very, very intricate and detailed. The surface looked like my arm, and underneath it was all the musculature. I think we had three, and we could actually do really long takes with those, like 10 or 15 minutes, because the arms were so detailed.
Ralston: I saw the storeroom where they had all the arms set up. It was creepy.
Franco: It looked like Texas Chainsaw Massacre in there!
Ralston: Or Hannibal Lecter’s walk-in freezer. Hanging on hooks, standing up on tables, laid out in mid-dissection. Not a room you want to stumble into accidentally.
Have you heard of people fainting during screenings?
Franco: We’ve seen it.
Ralston: Out of the six screenings I’ve personally been at, I think there’s been a total of, like, seven faintings.
Franco: Danny really had to balance that scene. You can go too far and just have it be gratuitous gore, and it’s almost like a horror movie, like if the Saw people had made it. Or you can cut away and make it maybe a little more watchable. But then that takes away from what Aron went through.
James, did you have difficulty compressing 127 hours into 90 minutes and looking that exhausted?
Ralston: You were flying back and forth across the country for your schoolwork, so you were genuinely sleep-deprived.
Franco: Yeah, I definitely didn’t need to worry about looking tired.
What degree of accuracy did you go for?
Franco: We brought a lot of Aron’s life into the movie. Even some of the things that I say are taken directly from videos [Aron took of himself while he was trapped]. The clothing and accessories were very accurate too.
Ralston: I’d be walking around and see multiples of me wearing my stuff. There was a stunt double, and a stand-in for James, and a double for him. There were, like, five of me on the set, all wearing my stuff. It was very Twilight Zone. Like Rod Serling guest-hosting an episode of ”Aron Ralston: This Is Your Life.”
The Book That Inspired the Movie
Aron Ralston’s 2004 account of his canyoneering accident, the drolly titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, served as the basis for 127 Hours. In it, Ralston makes teh point that he believes others would discover a similar strength for survival if they found themselves in the situation. ”Sometimes, we need a little bit of inspiration,” he tells EW. ”But we all have something in ourselves.”