Details: This film is nothing like Slumdog Millionaire.
Danny Boyle: It actually predates Slumdog. We took advantage of Slumdog's success to make it, because it's not the kind of film that makes a studio say, "A guy in a hole? And he cuts his arm off? Oh, that sounds great!"
Details: So this is your freebie?
Danny Boyle: Yeah. We were very fortunate to be in the position that Slumdog put us in. I heard the story, and it stuck. Then when I read Aron Ralston's book, I found the chapters in the canyon had that touch that's bestowed on people who are not necessarily writers to begin with but whose experience turns them into angels. What's extraordinary about cinema is, if you can immerse people in there with him, they will somehow go through the experience with him. It's only in this kind of film that you will ever be able to watch him cut his arm off. In any other film it would be unwatchable.
Details: Could you have done what Ralston did?
Danny Boyle: My belief is that we would all do it. When you talk to people about it, they go, "Oh, I couldn't do that." There's something that connects us all that pulls us through things like that.
Details: But man, the snapping noise when Ralston breaks his own bone is pretty intense. Did you turn up the volume on that?
Danny Boyle: Have you read his book? We are so faithful to what he did. The way he describes the noise is unbelievable in the book.
Details: It took 44 minutes to do the deed, right?
Danny Boyle: I said to the studio, "Look, it's not going to be a pretty slash and I cut away." These are amazing machines we live in, and you cannot just chop them off quickly. It takes him 44 minutes, and he has to get through the nerve, which he describes in the book, and the description is one of the most remarkable pieces of writing that I've ever read. The whole idea of the film is that you go through that whole journey with him. You will get through it.
Details: And there's surprisingly little blood. Is that accurate, or were you just trying to avoid overkill on the gore?
Danny Boyle: No, it's accurate. One of the ironic things that saved him was if he had actually succeeded in cutting his arm off after Day 3, he would almost certainly have died on his way out. But his blood had thickened so much by the end, he was on the verge of a heart attack. That's why James Franco keeps rubbing his heart the whole time. And ironically, that stopped his blood loss.
Details: James Franco was an unusual choice
to portray the athletic mountain climber Aron Ralston.
Danny Boyle: Yeah, James looks stoned half the time. He gives the impression of being half asleep, and yet he never seems to sleep. We'd give him a day off, and he'd fly back to New York to go to class.
Details: Did he ask you to read his new book of short stories?
Danny Boyle: [laughs] After we'd been together for the most intimate, intense experience you can have with an actor, his publisher rings me up and says, "Could you give me a quote for James' book?" And I said, "What book?"
Details: You're a city guy. Did you enjoy shooting in Utah?
Danny Boyle: It was 33 years since I'd been camping. And I'll be quite keen if it's another 33 before I have to go camping again.
Details: Did Ralston have any criticisms when you screened it for him?
Danny Boyle: He was distressed, deliriously happy, in tears. I said to him, "I know it's upsetting, but do you have any notes?" And he said, "Yeah. When he parks his bike, it's not dirty at all. It would be filthy from riding through the desert like that."
Details: Your movies are so diverse. Is there a through-line connecting your work?
Danny Boyle: It's trying to put people against extraordinary odds. I love that in cinema. Weirdly, I think that's why my films sometimes work better in America than they do at home. Deep down I'm not a cynic about the human spirit. I really believe in it.
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