The biggest challenge in making the grueling “127 Hours” was finding the right actor to play Aron Ralston, the film’s protagonist and basically its sole character.
That role “is everything in a film like this,” says director Danny Boyle, “because if he cannot compel you to go on this journey, then you’re dead.”
James Franco eventually landed the part, even though Boyle’s initial meeting with him didn’t go well.
“He was so relaxed, he seemed almost stoned,” the helmer recalls. “It was like he was in a Romanian art film. But it’s a technique — he’s as sharp as anything — and when we met the second time, he was remarkable.”
The story of a man trapped in a canyon and forced to amputate part of his arm to survive might have daunted other directors, but Boyle was inspired by Ralston’s harrowing adventure.
“I couldn’t get it out of my head,” he says. “I had a kind of instant vision of how to do it. The key was to stay with an actor in the canyon the whole time.”
Though Boyle, Franco and company filmed at Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, the scene of Ralston’s ordeal, it was impossible to shoot there for any length of time.
“The longer you have 40 people in the middle of nowhere, the more likely they could got lost or killed,” Boyle says. “So the production designer did an amazing job replicating the canyon in a furniture warehouse in Salt Lake City.”
The sealed set’s walls were immovable, as a real canyon’s would be.
“The restrictions were absolute,” the director says. “Otherwise, you cheat a fractional amount to achieve something, then you keep doing it, and pretty soon people don’t believe they’re in a canyon anymore.”
Boyle also made sure that Franco had only the equipment Ralston had — and similar restrictions.
“It had to be like it was for Aron,” he says. “We wouldn’t let James use his right hand or let anyone help him do things. I know he was cursing me. But it gives you a little glimpse of what it was like for the real Aron.”