Filming a movie about the disasterous 1996 expedition to Mount Everest is not for the faint of heart. Just ask Josh Brolin. The 47-year old actor took on the ensemble film titled Everest, directed by Baltazar Kormakur (The Deep), despite a debilitating fear of heights. But that was the point. The endeavor was supposed to be a challenge, in the vein that climbing mountains or racing cars is a challenge for middle-aged men looking to overcome their fears before they are no longer physically able. “It was my Ferrari,” says Brolin. “And it worked.”
Now, not only is Brolin no longer nearly as afraid of heights as he used to be, he’s also filled with a ton of great stories about just how grueling it was trying to recreate that harrowing, awful expedition that saw eight people lose their lives. The film is based on the story initially told by Jon Kraukauer in the 1997 book Into Thin Air, and one that has been retold by countless other climbers who were there, including Brolin’s character in the film, Beck Weathers. The movie also stars Jason Clarke as guide leader Rob Hall, and Jake Gyllenhaal as competing climbing leader Scott Fischer.
Due out Sept. 18, Everest was an endeavor that was taken very seriously by the cast and crew looking to honor those who perished and also provide as much verisimilitude as nature — and insurance companies — would allow. The result is a lot of famous people being subjected to uncomfortable situations in the name of quality movie-making.
As Kormakur put it, ”You have A-list stars walking up there [in Nepal] without assistance, sleeping in unheated lodges when it’s minus Celsius, carrying basically everything. That was the beginning and that was a great, great way of introducing the cast to each other and just making them work it through. Some people were about to give up at that point.”
But not Brolin, even though he’s happy to point to one grim day in the Italian Alps when he and his costars were flown via helicopter to a precipitous crest. After they landed, an incoming storm forced them to evacuate early. While they were waiting for the helicopter to return, the actors began contemplating digging holes in the ice and staying overnight. “First you think, ‘Oh, this is cool,’ ” Brolin says. “Then you think, ‘No, this is really not cool. I don’t like this movie anymore.’ ” He laughs. “Then you hear one actor say, ‘I’m not a f—ing stuntman.’ Everybody’s true colors start to come out.”
Things didn’t get any easier when they arrived at Pinewood Studios outside London. It may have been 70 degrees on the soundstage, but the actors were bundled in subzero clothing while high-speed fans spewed them with salt. “It was horrendous,” says Brolin, adding that a few people had to go to the hospital for water-retention due to the gritty substance. Brolin, meanwhile, was left to contend with a scene that required him to fall onto a ladder over and over again, leaving him bruised from calf to crotch. “I would have so much rather been hanging 25,000 feet above a cliff.”
And that’s from a guy afraid of heights.
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