Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard// Film Critic
It’s perhaps one of the most fascinating mysteries and moments marked with tragedy to ever occur on Mt. Everest. Director Baltasar Kormákur’s EVEREST takes audiences on a harrowing journey, traveling to a place many of us will never venture – to the summit of that titular mountain. Starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal, the film chronicles the true-life tale of the 1996 disaster, a catastrophic event that occurred when a snowstorm befell two expeditions on the world’s highest and treacherous peak.
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, the stars and director spoke about the gripping drama – everything from the daunting task of playing real people, to the chaos of production, to what seasoning they used in lieu of snow in some shots. It ain’t oregano!
6. Baltasar Kormákur gave up directing FURIOUS 7 in favor of EVEREST. Hollywood historians! Take note. While the affable director didn’t elaborate much further on this little bit of gossip, he mentioned it, saying “I was offered to do FAST AND FURIOUS 7, but chose to do EVEREST.”
5. Playing real people was daunting for many of the cast. Hawkes elaborates, “It’s an extra weight of responsibility to the person you’re portraying and their memory. To do right by their family and loved ones is a big deal. As nervous as that make you going in, it gives you an added kick in the ass to go the extra mile to find as much essence of truth as you can find about the person you’re playing.” Kelly agrees, stating, “I wanted to bring the spirit of that guy on film. We are serving the story. You try to get your character as well as you can, but all of us are little pieces that make up the story – that’s the main character up there.”
4. The actors don’t really share a similar daring spirit with their characters. It was Kormákur’s main wish to make this film as real and honest as possible. Not only did his ensemble have to learn all about climbing, since they were shooting on location on the mountain, they also all had to brave perilous bouts of extreme weather. However, Gyllenhaal is reluctant to compare his trade with Scott Fischer’s bravery, saying, “We had maybe 25% at times – when it was the harshest for us – what they experienced in reality. There is nothing more fun than putting yourself in a situation as real as possible. I believe in the unconscious experience of a movie as powerful as the conscious experience.” Brolin adds, “We’re trying to be as respectful as we can given what we do. If we can honor this story through what we do, that’s the intention.” Kormákur says, “Part of the need to tell the story is the need to experience this story. I can’t experience what it is to be on top of Everest – hopeless. But you want to get as close to it as you possibly can. That’s the way we chose to make the film this way – to find it in the elements.”
3. Chaos was the surprising theme of the production. You read that right – there can actually be beauty in chaos. Watson says, “One of the reasons the characters work is because in real life, details don’t all add up to a nice equation. One of the principle factors was chaos – nothing quite made sense and nothing quite added up.” Kormákur explains, “On the first day, I did say to the actors, ‘We’re going to work with chaos. I’m going to create the scenes out of chaos.’ It was a conscious choice. I didn’t want to state this movie – I wanted to find it.” Brolin augments, “Conceptually that sounds great. Then there is the reality of it. Now it’s we’re freezing and I haven’t felt my feet in three days and I’m done with this whole idea. He did amazing things keeping our morale up.”
2. Financing fell through twice during pre-production. Kormákur says, “[This] took more than ten years to get this film on the screen. I wasn’t a part of it until 2011 but the financing fell apart twice during the prep. Jason [Clarke] called me, ‘Do you think we’re really gonna make the film?’ I was like, ‘No. We will make this film.’ I had to believe this would pull through.”
1. Let it snow – er, salt! Though much of the film was shot on the mountain, production did shift to London where the snow situation wasn’t very, we’ll say, situated. Brolin mentions, “Because the snow doesn’t look correct [in London], so you’re using salt, throwing salt into 100 mile wind fans and getting a nice exfoliation that day.” Kormákur jokingly follows up, “There’s nothing better for a director than an angry actor.”
EVEREST opens next Friday on September 18.