In a presentation to buyers delivered at the start of the Pre-Cannes Screenings on Monday, director Doug Liman described his new movie “Everest,” set to star Ewan McGregor, Sam Heughan and Mark Strong, as the “ultimate adventure film.” HanWay Films is selling international rights at the virtual market, while UTA Independent Film Group handles U.S.
“‘Everest is about the first attempt to climb Mount Everest in 1921,” Liman explained. “It resulted in the first 11 deaths on Everest.” The film charts the intense rivalry between and driving obsession of English mountaineer George Mallory (McGregor) and the eccentric Aussie climber George Finch (Heughan). Strong plays the arrogant Arthur Hinks of the Royal Geographic Society, who selects Mallory to scale the mountain.
“;The Bourne Identity’ sort of changed how we shot car chases. My intention here with ‘Everest’ is to give the audience the experience, through Mallory and Finch, of what it’s actually like to climb Everest. This will be a thrill ride for the audience,” Liman said.
McGregor added: “I’ve wanted to play Mallory for years. I think it is because it is so very real. The adventure of it is quite hard to find these days.”
Heughan said that Finch “had all the ability” that Mallory had. “In fact, the two of them, if they had gone together, I think they would have conquered it.”
Describing Sheldon Turner’s script as “really brilliant,” Liman said “Everest” is “truly a four quadrant movie because it is so character driven and every character has such a powerful story.” Referring to McGregor and Heughan, Liman said: “They are such charismatic stars that it really will allow me as a filmmaker to show the darker sides of the obsession of climbing this mountain, and what they’re each willing to give up and sacrifice in an attempt to be the first to get up this mountain.”
Turner added: “What really galvanized me was this idea of untraditional obsession and addiction. And certainly, addiction has been covered ad nauseam by Hollywood. But we haven’t seen a sort of obsession like this before.” Mallory’s obsession about the mountain was to “the detriment of everything in his life,” which could only end in triumph or tragedy.
McGregor described a dramatic scene in which Finch and Mallory scale the outside of the Royal Geographic Society building “to decide who’s the better climber.”
Liman said: “I love the rivalry between Finch and Mallory. They’re sort of helping each other but ultimately rooting against each other because they want to make sure the other one doesn’t get there so that the opportunities are available to them.” He added: “I just feel like the characters, in some ways, are so modern. I don’t think of ‘Everest’ like a period movie. It’s as modern as they get.”
Turner said: “It’s also a modern story because what the Royal Geographic Society did is they decided to monetize this – to go and sell the film rights, the book rights and profited from it and we chronicle that in the movie.”
Liman is a climber himself, he said, and there is “an element of wish fullfilment” in going back to 1921 and recreating the first attempt to climb Everest. “I intend to make Everest a dangerous, dangerous foe,” he said. “The world’s most deadly mountain is a character in this movie.” McGregor added that Everest “is going to be terrifying. We wanted the mountain to be the villain of the piece.”
McGregor concluded: “There is a certain beauty to the fact that we still don’t know whether Mallory made it to the top or not.” Liman underscored the point: “There’s something so poignant of not knowing whether Mallory made it to the summit or not. It adds a poetry to the whole story that really will set this film apart from all the other movies I’ve made […] We’re celebrating the fact that these guys attempted the impossible.”
The film, which is produced by Jennifer Klein (“Pearl Harbor”) and Liman, will start shooting in the U.K. and Italy January 2022.