‘Everest’: 18 Things to Know about Baltasar Kormakur’s Survival Drama

     September 18, 2015


When you watch a movie like Everest, it becomes quite clear that no amount of training or preparation matters when you are going up against Mother Nature. It also makes you wonder what motivates adventurers across the globe to take the risk of attempting to summit the highest point and most dangerous place on Earth, known as Mount Everest. The movie, directed and produced by Baltasar Kormakur, documents the 1996 attempt that challenged two different expeditions beyond their limits with one of the fiercest blizzards ever encountered by mankind, and that cost some of them their lives.

During a conference at the film’s press day actors Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly and Emily Watson were joined by filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur to talk about the epic production, their physical preparation, what went into it behind-the-scenes, doing justice to the lives of these real individuals, and making sure everything felt as real as possible. Here is a list of 18 things that we learned during the press conference for Everest.

  • everest-movie-posterMaking the movie was a no-brainer for director Baltasar Kormakur. In order to make a movie on Everest that was a true story, there was no question in his mind that he wanted to do it because it’s hard to come by a story that’s real and that has such huge scope.
  • Kormakur wanted to make a movie where his cast would be in the elements and legitimately be cold and scared, and that’s something the actors were eager to participate in. He wanted to create a visual feeling for the 99% of the population that’s never going to go to Everest themselves. You can’t experience what it is to be on top of Everest, but you want to get as close to it as you possibly can, so they chose to make the film in the elements. But because the snow didn’t always look correct, they were throwing salt into 100 mph fans, which gave the actors something of an exfoliation.
  • Kormakur is a true believer in finding the movie in the elements. “You can prep all you want ahead of time, and that’s great, but the reality happens in the moment. If you can maintain the spontaneity and the reality of it, you can find it there, but you have to trust the moment. You have to have great actors and great people with you, so that they can actually deliver, in that moment. That’s when the magic happens. It doesn’t happen in the rehearsal room. The rehearsal is just to motivate and talk about it and make sure we’re all on the same page.”
  • When it came to putting together the cast, Kormakur wanted a group of people with a certain quality that made that ready for the adventure and the difficulties that would come with it. It’s all based on an instinct. He was an admirer of all of his actors and feels extremely lucky to have gotten this group together.
  • Jason Clarke was haunted by the fact that his character was on the top of the world and couldn’t get home to his pregnant wife. And then, the more he dug into it, the richer and more complicated the whole story became for him.
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    Image via Universal Pictures

    Josh Brolin knew the story and had read the book by Jon Krakauer, which really affected him. And then, knowing that Kormakur didn’t want any of the Hollywood bullshit because he wanted it to be real, made him want to work with him.

  • Jake Gyllenhaal was aware of the situation when it happened and loved the book, and the appeal of the project was the idea of the inevitable in a massively entertaining movie where Mother Nature wins.
  • Said Michael Kelly, about why he wanted to get involved with this project, “By the time I jumped on board, everyone was already attached. So, the opportunity to work with all of these actors that I very much look up to and respect, be a part of telling the story itself, which is an incredibly compelling story, was just a huge honor for me.”
  • Emily Watson wasn’t personally connected to the story herself, but the actual event happened on the day that her first film premiered in Cannes. She was having the most intense and bizarre personal moment, caught up in the hype of it all, and she heard about the story of this guy on the mountain who couldn’t get down and he called his wife. It transported her away from her own sense of importance to this unbelievable event, so she felt a connection to it when she read the script and met Kormakur. She thought it would be interesting to be a bystander in somebody else’s incredibly intense emotional story.
  • To prepare for his role as Rob Hall, Clarke tried climbing out in the elements. They rehearsed over Christmas in London and there was a massive storm, so he and Martin Henderson, who plays Andy Harris, got on a plane and got up on Ben Nevis, which is the biggest peak in that part of the world, and they did some ice climbing. Said Clarke, “It was nice to just touch the weather and to be repelling off the north face with 100 mph winds in the dark with lights and snow, and a guy who really knew what he was doing to help us out.” And then, the following month, he and Henderson went with Guy Cotter’s company to Rob’s old stomping grounds, just to see what it would feel like for 15 minutes with wind coming from every direction. Kormakur said that his preparation for the film happened when he was going to school as a kid in Iceland, just walking to school in a blizzard, every morning.
  • everest-jake-gyllenhaal-1

    Image via Universal Pictures

    When asked if their life as actors felt at all similar to the mountaineering spirit and sense of adventure of the people that they’re playing, Gyllenhaal said, “I find it hard to compare acting to anything in the real world. What we’re trying to do is mimic what these guys did, and continue to do, which is legitimately risk their lives. At the time that it was harshest for us, we had maybe 25% of what they experience in reality. But there is nothing more fun, at least for me, than putting yourself in a situation that feels as real as possible. It’s fun for me to think of an audience watching that and feeling those feelings, as well. I believe in the unconscious experience of a movie, along with the conscious experience of it. That is all in there. It’s all over the frame, and everyone who’s in the movie.” And Brolin added, “I think that we’re trying to be as respectful as we possibly can, given what we do. We fake it. We simulate it. We’re not mountaineers.”

  • For the actors, when you’re playing a real person, especially one whose family has opened up their lives to give you little bits to help you make it, you give everything you have to the role, and then you submit everything to the director and the film that they’re making. As much as the script is important, they had the real people and books to turn to and could look at it more as the backbone.
  • Playing real people gave the cast the desire to go the extra mile to find as much essence of truth that they could find. Gyllenhaal said that the actors didn’t just look after themselves on the shoot. They all looked out for all of the characters who were on this expedition. They double-checked each other to make sure no one was turned into a cliche or a caricature.
  • Gyllenhaal doesn’t look like Scott Fischer, but the essence of who he was, was important for him to capture. In other stories about this expedition, Scott Fischer had been made the antagonist for the purpose of creating tension. Said Gyllenhaal, “What I discovered was that he was truly a free spirit and an incredibly positive, loving person. His children contacted me because they were worried. They didn’t know how he was going to be portrayed.”
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    Image via Universal Pictures

    When it comes to his character, Beck Weathers, leaving behind his family to get to the top of Everest, Brolin said that he gets why people see it as an incredibly selfish thing. “I’ve always had a family. I graduated high school, and then I had kids. I don’t know what life is like without having a family. My whole life has been saturated with it. I started sky diving when I was 21, and then, within a year, he was doing it five to six times a day. It wasn’t until I asked my wife about jumping with the year-and-a-half old that she said, ‘You have to stop now.’ I don’t think I meant it, but I think it’s very selfish. People climb or do other things for different reasons. With Beck specifically, he talks about a depression that he was running from. That was the one thing he could do that was productive. He could step that extra step when most people couldn’t, therefore he could touch the extraordinary. And if he felt like he was one of the exclusives that could touch the extraordinary, that propelled him to live further and gave his life more meaning. I do think it’s a selfish act, but I think our lives are a selfish act, on different levels. It’s up to you how you want to live it.”

  • According to Watson, one of the principal factors in the film was chaos. Nothing made sense and nothing added up, but you just had to go with it. Said Kormakur, “On the first day, I told the actors that we were going to work from chaos and I was going to create the scenes out of chaos. I didn’t want to state this movie. I wanted to find it. That was a very important part of it.” Brolin added, “In the beginning, that sounds great, conceptually, but then there’s the reality of it. Then, you’re freezing and you haven’t felt your feet in three days, and you’re done with the whole idea. That’s what he’s looking for. He did amazing things to keep morale up and to keep it okay, for month after month after month.”
  • It took more than 10 years to get this film to the big screen. He wasn’t a part of it until 2011, but the financing fell apart twice during prep. He was not going to give in to make the film have a more heroic ending than what actually happened. Tim Bevan, the producer from Working Title, stood by Kormakur and said that he would allow him to have his final cut. Said Kormakur, “There’s nothing in the film that I didn’t want to be there, and it’s rare to get that possibility in Hollywood. I was offered to do Fast & Furious 7, but I chose to do Everest. I had to believe that this would pull through.”
  • When the 30th anniversary of The Goonies was brought up to Brolin, Gyllenhaal jumped in to declare what a fan he is of the film. Said Gyllenhaal to Brolin, “Why didn’t you wear the red headband in this movie? I’m just wondering. And what about the shorts and the shirt?” Brolin replied, “That was a fucking good choice, if you think about it. We’re still talking about it 31 years later, unfortunately.”

Everest opens in IMAX today, and nationwide on September 25th.


Image via Universal Pictures

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