James Franco is an impressive individual and he has only increased that sentiment with his astounding portrayal of Aron Ralston in the inspiring outdoorsman’s true story as told in the upcoming film 127 Hours.
Franco is Aron Ralston, the Utah mountaineer who set off for a weekend jaunt into the desolate solitude of the great outdoors, hundreds of miles from civilization. After a hiking accident, he finds himself at the bottom of a canyon with his right hand trapped under a boulder. Five days later, he would emerge from the canyon after cutting off his arm in order to secure his freedom.
Franco sits down for our interview and immediately we are struck by his pencil-thin mustache.
James Franco’s finest film
SheKnows: Hello James, is the pencil mustache for a movie?
James Franco: Yes! It’s for a small movie that starts shooting next week. It requires a 1920s mustache [laughs].
SheKnows: I just talked to Aron Ralston, what an inspiration. He said that 127 Hours is truly a gift to his family, especially with showing the real Aron and his family at the end.
James Franco: We didn’t have that scene in the beginning. We added it later and I think it works in that we are handing the film to Aron and his family. It’s an unusual kind of ending and part of that is really acknowledging the way Danny (Boyle) wanted to approach it — but still honoring Aron. I think because of what I’ve been told by people who have seen the movie, one thing I often hear is, “Wow, that is an experience unlike any movie I’ve seen the way it makes you feel.” When we showed the film for the first time to an audience in Telluride (Film Fest), it was weird for people because we were there, Aron was there, and it’s seven years later. [Laughs] It was almost like he had just gone through it after watching it. There he was, it was a very strange blur for him. I think that ending is a way to acknowledge the different levels of the story.
James Franco goes solo
SheKnows: Were you at all apprehensive about tackling a role where the entire film rests on your shoulders? Much less a story that is deeply personal to all those involved…
James Franco: The way it was approached in the film was very appealing to me. Certainly, it was one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I loved the idea of examining a person by stripping everything away and having everything that he’s used to and takes for granted taken away so that he is just faced with the essentials: What is life made up of? Also, having to stare death in the face and that, I thought, was a powerful piece of material. As far as performing that, there are a lot of different levels to that. I actually got to see the real videos that Aron made and in that sense I got a closer feel of what he went through. Plus, we spent days with him and he told me what he felt every second of the way. He told the story to hundreds of thousands of people. Almost more than anything he could say, seeing those videos, is more pure because it’s not Aron telling us the experience, it’s Aron in the middle of the experience and not knowing he will get out.
SheKnows: How did Aron’s real-life videos affect your performance?
James Franco: On those videos, he thought he was going to die. As an actor, you can observe and see that is how a person behaves when they are facing death. He believed he was going to die. He made those video messages right up until an hour of escaping, so he believed he was going to die. There was one of the keys to capturing his essence.
SheKnows: Were you astounded at Aron’s stoic nature on the tapes?
James Franco: It’s very simple, but you could tell there was a lot going on underneath. He was determined to put up this dignified demeanor so his mother and family could watch it. They wouldn’t have to watch him crumbling in front of the camera. That, as an actor, was one of the major keys I took into making this movie. Other things too, and you can feel petty, but you have to just use every little experience you have as a person and amplify that. I’ve never been in the situation he was in, but things like I got a pilot’s license three years ago and I remember thinking when I started going up in those little planes, I would ask myself, “I guess if this goes down, that is it James. Are you OK with that?” I really had those conversations with myself [laughs]. It’s not the same as Aron after five days stuck in a canyon where it’s a reality. But, you have those conversations with yourself as a person. You take those things, and just amplify them.
James Franco is squeamish too!
SheKnows: Now, the scene where you actually cut off your arm, I’ve read that you are squeamish, was it difficult for you to make it through?
James Franco: [Laughs] One of the challenges I’ve had all my life is having my blood taken.
SheKnows: You and me both.
[We both laugh].
James Franco: Yeah! I don’t like it, period. Why can’t we just get over it [laughs]? We’re adults, right? I just can’t. I pass out at blood drives.
SheKnows: So, how on earth did you do that scene?
James Franco: Aron actually is squeamish too, he told me. So, there’s something that you can work up inside yourself to get past that when you need to. Obviously Aron’s situation was real, mine was a fake arm. The crew did such a great job with this prosthetic arm that it looks real. So, the scene in the movie is really intense and for some people it’s very hard to watch, but I can say there is a lot more Danny could have put in there and it all would have worked. The arm in the movie looked exactly like my arm and inside they built all the musculature, all the veins, all the nerves, blood…everything. But we could just go at it. We had three of those arms and we just did these long takes. [Laughs] I would just work away at it and film it from various angles. In hindsight, I thought I just did it and whatever. But, my friend from NYU came to Utah with me. She was hired by the production to make a behind-the-scenes movie of it. Danny and I just watched what she put together, she has some film of that sequence. [Laughs] Danny comes over and after the first take — and I forgot this — made sure I was OK. I was getting really light-headed [laughs]. We have it on video!