Ralston's story has psychological repercussions

Nothing James Franco endured on the set of “127 Hours” could possibly compare with the real-life travails of his character, Aron Ralston.

On an isolated hiking trip to Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, Ralston learned the ultimate meaning of being caught between a rock and hard place, when after a fall he was forced to amputate his right forearm to survive.

To play the trapped hiker, Franco had to remain largely static, with his arm immobilized, during the shoot. And though Danny Boyle was a supportive and encouraging helmer, the actor was haunted by something he’d seen while prepping for the role. He had been meeting with Ralston, on whose book the movie is based.

“Aron showed me the real videos,” Franco says, referring to the series of tiny films Ralston made as a last testament while trapped. “He doesn’t show those to many people. He thinks he’s going to die. He even talks about where his family should bury his ashes. Seeing those messages was incredibly powerful. They were personal, intimate.

“They weren’t a Shakespearean character giving a great soliloquy. They were the real thing, pure behavior, because he didn’t know he would live. I remember thinking, that’s what a guy looks like who’s going to die. That was an eerie moment.”

On the shoot Franco seemed to be coping well, or so he thought.

“It was the cumulative effect,” he says, referring to the impact of the whole process. “Danny took that into account before we started by having me work six-day weeks, and he worked seven days. That way we got in three-and-a-half months of work in two months’ time. That was so people didn’t go crazy.

“The material was intense, and so was going back to that set every day. That took a toll. I didn’t think it would, but a friend of mine came from NYU to film a documentary, and she shot me saying, ‘I think I’m losing it.’ So I guess it did.”

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