Rock climbing rock star and Free Solo subject Alex Honnold said at TCA today he had “no intention of doing this film” and did not see it until it was finished, playing “no role in shaping the story” for the Oscar-nominated feature documentary.
The film follows Honnold as he prepares for an unprecedented climb of the 3,200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, without a rope.
Honnold recently climbed the Hollywood sign — which, one TV critic noted, is illegal. “Yes, it is,” Honnold smiled, adding that he had been given permission so it was “totally legit,” except he only was supposed to climb to a “certain height” but decided he had to touch the top. “There was no evidence,” he grinned.
As for his climbing date with Jason Momoa, Honnold explained approvingly that the actor has climbed “his whole life” and trains for movie roles that way, calling it his “mode of fitness.”
“He’s 100 pounds heavier than me,” Honnold marveled. “He’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen.”
Film editor Bob Eisenhardt was asked whether they planned to make the docu had Honnold not survived. He admitted “tragic consequences” would have been a tougher film to make.
Making the film if the outcome was success-or-death “is not the right way to frame it,” Honnold interjected, saying instead the two extremes would have been “success or not doing” the climb. Making the dlimb “with a slight chance of perishing” was the “most likely scenario,” he said, insisting the chance of “falling to my death was extremely low.”
That’s not how the venture was perceived by the people making the film. Cinematographer Mikey Schaefer, for instance, said it’s pretty obvious in the film the emotional toll it took “on me.”
“Beyond filming, it was really hard on me. I don’t think I was back to my normal state for months,” the lenser insisted.”It was probably harder on us than it was on him.”
Honnold has said he is more comfortable living in his van than elsewhere. So a TV critic wondered if he had spent previous night in the Langham hotel in Pasadena where TCA is being held.
“We did stay at this hotel last night,” Honnold said, ruling it “not as good as the van.”
Because, he complained, his room had “too much space,” which is one of the things he says “drives me crazy” because he had to figure out where were the light switches were and make the long trek to the bathroom.
“The beauty of the van, you can just reach down and grab the pee bottle,” Honnold said.
Putting questions to very matter-of-fact Honnold was challenging for TV writers seeking money-quotes.
Asked what’s next on his “bucket list” after surviving the rope-free El Capitan climb, Honnold explained his list includes going vegetarian and starting a foundation.
Another critic took a stab at it, asking more simply what is his “next goal.” Getting through the BAFTAs and making the Academy Awards, he responded.
Critics gave up on that one, moving on to asking how the boxoffice blockbuster film had changed his life.
“I honestly feel like can’t give a real answer to that for a couple of months,” Honnold said, dashing critics’ hopes. Honnold explained he’s been advised that only when the movie has hit “peak audience” via TV and streaming will he see “the real impact it will have” on his life. He suggested they check back with him after he stops touring with the film and gets back to his climbing life, and then sees how it “shakes out.”
Before the Q&A got underway, NatGeo EVP Carolyn Bernstein announced that Free Solo will premiere commercial-free on the cable channel at 9 PM Sunday, March 3. Plans always had been to debut the doc on NatGeo Channel in Q1 of this year but, given that it’s still setting box office records in this country and abroad, the decision was made to push forward the debut to later in the quarter to “take advantage of another few weeks of its theatrical run.”
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