Slumdog Millionaire boasted a cast of thousands and won eight Oscars. So how do you follow that? By making a movie about one man and a rock. Franco’s director, Danny Boyle, talks 127 Hours...
So Danny Boyle, you’ve just won the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire – what are you planning to do next? We never expected the exuberant Brit behind Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and Sunshine to get all hoity-toity on us just because he’d joined the hallowed ranks of Spielberg, Mike Nichols and Oliver Stone by bagging Academy, Bafta and Director’s Guild gongs for the same film. But there’s still something perverse about following up a global feel-good smash with the true-life tale of one man trapped in a canyon who [spoiler alert!] cuts o! his own arm.
“When Slumdog took o!, I thought, ‘We’ve got a chance now to make this film,’” explains Boyle, who’d first approached hiker Aron Ralston back in 2006 to secure the rights to his astonishing story. “We had credit in the bank and I felt we could persuade the studio to back what must have been a terrifying prospect. But I never saw the film that way – I saw it as compelling beyond belief.”
Like its hero traversing Utah’s jagged, unpredictable terrain, the director yanks us through an extreme emotional assault course, with 127 Hours zig-zagging from adrenaline-junkie exhilaration to unbearable visceral distress via euphoric deliverance. “All the things you want cinema to be, right?” laughs Boyle, who admits that winning the Oscar gave him a hearty confidence boost. “But listen, I’m 54 so I’m no virgin lad suddenly thinking, ‘I am tops!’ I’ve seen it come and go, not once but a few times. I can keep a perspective on it. But I did use the confidence to take this through other people’s skepticism and caution.”
Finding an actor who could keep the audience gripped every step of the way led him to James Franco, although Boyle encountered a monosyllabic space cadet at their first meeting. “I thought, like a lot of people do, that he was stoned,” he says. “It wasn’t a great meeting. But then I spoke to someone at Fox who said he was just sussing us out. And he wasn’t high – he’s abstemious, he doesn’t even drink.”
Shooting in the claustrophobic canyon fissure (both the real one and the exact replica in Salt Lake City), Boyle found that Franco responded better when they did long takes. “I think it helped him immerse himself in the rhythm of life in this space. We’d do 20 minute takes of him trying to move the rock... This film would’ve been crap without a good actor in the role. He’s a serious contender to take on the mantle of Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.”
Having famously turned down Alien: Resurrection, Boyle admits that studios have come pounding on his door now that he’s Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle™, trying to lure him with mega franchises. But besides having the National Theatre production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony on his plate, he’s happy where he is. “I like that pressure of limitless ambition against a capped budget,” he muses. “That dynamic really gets me going because it makes me angry and it makes me push people. It’s the Alex Ferguson school: create a siege mentality and then you can fucking do anything…”