Toward the end of the exhaustive Moab, Utah, shoot for “127 Hours,” James Franco found himself on the edge of a cliff. Portraying a real-life hiker forced to amputate part of his arm to escape a fallen boulder, Franco was in the midst of repelling down the steep face when he slipped and experienced the terrifying sensation of falling.
He was rigged with safety lines, of course, but as the actor himself admitted to MTV News, “I was scared for a second.”
The shot actually made it into the film. Again and again throughout the shoot, Franco and director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) strove for such moments of authenticity. At another point in the shoot, Franco found himself struggling for 15 minutes to tie up a harness with just one hand.
“I yelled out a couple times, ’Eff!’ ” he said. “That was the character and me blurring at that moment. It really showed that the way we approached the performance is authentic on a real level, blurring the line of acting and experiencing.”
The entire production was a challenge, but it’s one Boyle always wanted to take on and which, fresh off the Oscar-winning success of “Slumdog,” he was not going to pass up.
“We had a small window in which to strike, when people really believe in you,” the director said. “I’d always been fascinated with this idea of trapping someone. In a medium that’s all about movement and change and constant vibration of images, I thought it would be wonderful to challenge that and make an action movie where the hero doesn’t move.”
The majority of the film takes place within a tight, rocky crevice, when Franco is pinned in place by the boulder. Only the actor and a cameraman could fit in, and Boyle had to watch from above via a video link. They’d shoot very long takes, as Franco went through a variety of experiences, from desperation to macabre escape.
“It wasn’t like we’d cut and ask props to rig a pulley while James relaxes,” Boyle said. “He had to rig it. He had to do everything.”
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