UPDATE with details from gala screening: Jan and Sarah Arnold-Hall, Helen Wilton, David Breashears and Sherpa Ang Dorje were all on the Lido this afternoon, attending the press conference for Baltasar Kormakur’s Everest which opened the Venice Film Festival tonight (after a false start in the gala screening). Each of them is depicted in the Working Title film, with real and tragic events from their lives playing out on screen. Being true to them was one of the major responsibilities the filmmakers had — especially the cast who discussed that with reporters after the press screening. The visually stunning film that packs an emotional punch, in general has been met with positive reactions (see Pete Hammond’s review) if not the roof-raising reception that has greeted the previous two Venice openers.
For Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Scott Fischer, a leader of one of the expeditions that was attempting to summit on May 10, 1996, it’s “a tremendous responsibility when trying to recreate something that actually happened. I wasn’t fully aware when I took on the role how the story had impacted Scott’s children who contacted me directly and were worried about how their father would be portrayed.” So, Gyllenhaal sat down with them and was able to “feel him through them… That ended up being my responsibility, to try and find the aspects of him, the energy.” Fischer is a bit of a rebel in the film with a distinctly different mountain guiding style to that of Rob Hall, the film’s main character played by Jason Clarke.
Clarke previously told me how important it had been for him to meet and spend time with Hall’s family, including wife Jan and daughter Sarah. Today, he recalled how he had hiked with Jan, who he said, “put me through my paces. Ms Arnold really hikes hard and fast.”
For Emily Watson who plays Base Camp Manager Helen Wilton and is the “emotional conduit” of the film, “I love playing real people. Pretty much everything I say in the movie is verbatim. I had the privilege of being able to speak with Helen and Skype she was extremely generous.” Wilton offered audio recordings of what went on up on the mountain which Watson said were “The most incredible resource for an actor. It’s like touching the truth.”
Josh Brolin, who is Beck Weathers in the movie, called the responsibility “too big to think about. It’s such a huge story, you almost have to take that responsibility and put it aside even though you’re living with it inside cellularly. Ultimately, so far we’ve gotten quite an emotional reaction in that Balt very much in every way respected the lives of everyone.”
Brolin also spoke of the relationship between the cast members as they were cloistered together in harsh conditions in the Dolomites. “We didn’t know what Balt was getting us into. A lot of directors say ‘We want to do this real’ and most of them aren’t telling you the truth and you get up there and there’s a warm trailer and it’s pretty cush.” That was not the case on Everest.
The close proximity and “trying to express as much fear and discomfort” meant they were fighting their “own little war.” It also created a comeraderie amongst them, yet sometimes “one of us wouldn’t want to be around each other,” Brolin continued. Their “big” personalities, as Gyllenhaal termed them, were evidently liable to clash.
Brolin then elaborated, “When we went to London something broke and it perfectly paralleled where we were in the film. At that point, the romance had worn off, that’s when it got very real and that’s when the film gets very good. Balt created a manipulation that helps in seeing your guys’ reaction to the film. It seems to be visceral and not just spectacle.”
The press conference was held prior to the opening-night world premiere screening. A hiccup with the 3D projection resulted in a slightly late start: Attendees say the film wasn’t in sync for the first three minutes at which point the audience began clamoring. The projection then found its sync and cheers went up. In an effort not to lose those first couple of minutes, however, the film was reeled back and shown from the beginning. One attendee said “Was it a big deal? No. Was it unfortunate for the opening night? Yes.” The film was met with applause at the end.