This interview was originally published during indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. James Franco has since gone on to garner an Oscar nomination for his work in “127 Hours.”
“It’s an amazing story,” James Franco said of “127 Hours,” Danny Boyle’s take on the story of Aron Ralston (Franco), a mountain climber who had to amputate his own arm after becoming trapped under a boulder. Franco stopped by the Toronto Film Festival Filmmaker Lounge this afternoon to chat about the film, which previewed at the Telluride Film Festival last week and is making its official premiere this Sunday night in Toronto. He told indieWIRE‘s own Eugene Hernandez – who moderated the discussion – that beyond that, Ralston’s story offered both him and Boyle a distinctive opportunity.
“[Ralston’s story] created a very unique and unusual structure for our film,” he explained. “And a challenging structure. For the majority of the film, there’s a single character in one location. Conceptually – as an actor and a filmmaker – that sounds really interesting. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to turn into something people want to watch or that it is going to be exciting. So that challenge was one of things that was attractive to me.”
Another challenge in playing the role was that his character was based on a living, real-life person.
“I play a lot of characters that were based on real people before,” he said referencing everyone from James Dean, “Milk”‘s Scott Smith to “Howl”‘s Allen Ginsberg. “But the only other one I played that was based on someone who was still alive was in this movie that I’m sure none of you saw called “The Great Raid,” where I played a World War II soldier named Captain Prince. But he wasn’t involved in the movie like Aron Ralston was. So it was the first time I really had the real person around.”
Franco said that the main difference between playing real-life characters – dead or alive – is the person directing his performance.
“I believe that movies a director’s medium, so I was always looking to the director,” he said. “I was really taking Danny’s lead on this one. And he’s always talked about the project as a borrowing of Aron’s story. We worked with Aron intensively in pre-production. Aron approved the script, and I worked with him and I got all the information from him that I could. He walked me through every physical thing he went through and how he did it, and why he did it. But then after that, Danny and I were going to go off and have our own experience from that material.”
In some ways, Franco said that the movie is very loyal to Aron and his story and his life. But in other ways, he explained that he and Boyle would give themselves “the freedom and the leeway to find things that weren’t necessarily exactly how they happened.”
Franco had many kind words for his “Hours” director, and it was clear their relationship during making the film proved quite successful.
“Danny is a filmmaker who both loves to experiment and find new approaches to cinema, but also likes to entertain,” he said. “So he knew he had a situation that was difficult to portray, especially if he wanted to make it entertaining. So one of the things that he did is he hired two DPs of equal stature… There was a ‘red unit’ and a ‘blue unit,’ we called it. One run by Anthony Dod Mantle, and the other by Enrique Chediak. The idea was that since there was no antagonistic character, there would be antagonistic DPs or antagonistic looks to the film”
Franco said that Boyle’s initial hope was that there would be two distinct looks to the film that would be jarring.
“It didn’t quite work out that way,” Franco said. “I think even Danny would say that those guys would have a hard time telling each other’s work apart. Because things changed. And that is because Danny is so experimental. He works on movies of a certain size so he has a leeway to try on things in the middle of a project.”
Previous 2011 Oscar Nominee Profiles:
“Blue Valentine” Actress Michelle Williams
“Incendies” Director Denis Villeneuve
“The Social Network” Composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
“True Grit” Actress Hailee Steinfeld
“Waste Land” Director Lucy Walker
“Winter’s Bone” Actress Jennifer Lawrence