54th BFI London Film Festival: Aron Ralston Interview – The Man Whose Real Life Story Danny Boyle’s Upcoming Movie ‘127 Hours’ Is Based On
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Aron Ralston, the man who’s moving story of strength in the face of adversity is chronicled by Oscar Winning director Danny Boyle in his new film ‘127 Hours. The film is a complete triumph and boasts an Oscar worthy performance by James Franco as Ralston. Check out the interview below.
…..see I had this vision when I was trapped about this little boy that changed everything, I was already at this point five days into it where I had calved my epitaph into the wall of the canyon, I had made my will and testament on this video tape, I was standing in my grave. So I knew and I was at peace with the idea of me dying. But then I saw this vision of this little boy and it shifted me, it gave me hope to get out because this is my future son, I could see me interacting with him without my hand at some point many years down the road and I realised if I’m going to have that son then I have to get out of here, I WILL get out of here, it got me through that last night…..
As someone who’s gone through an experience like this, did you feel anxious about handing it over and entrusting it to someone else?
Aron Ralston: The first time that me and Danny Boyle met in 2006, there was actually a large gulf between our visions for this film. I was seeing doing a docudrama and doing something very factual, while Danny at that time was presenting a drama, a based on a true story kind of a film. And I basically said thanks but no thanks (laughs). Then he went on to do ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and after that fortunately he was still interested in telling the story, by that time I had come around to understanding his vision as well. We discussed A LOT about how you tell the truth about something, through at times a fictionalised devise. That experience of trusting, handing over and to some degree a kind of healthy un-attachment to it was an important part of this process because they know how to make movies, they’re an incredibly talented group of people. I did not want to give them the story but at the same time hold on to it, pulling it out of the creative vision of what they wanted to do. It was giving it to them and understanding and trusting that there is more than one way to this one goal, you can take this completely factual path and probably bore everyone to death (laughs), or you can go and tell it in a compelling story manner that still reaches that same goal of conveying utterly the experience I went through in a very genuine fashion….sometimes with the hard truth and sometimes fictional adaptations in a sense. I felt very at ease with trusting them, but that was a process to get to that point.
What was your personal reaction when watching the film? It’s an incredibly intense experience.
Aron Ralston: My experience of watching the film for the very first time was incredibly intense, I was in an audience in a theatre watching it and I was crying from about twenty minutes into the film all the way through to the end. And not because of a pain that I felt, but because in a lot of ways it reminds me so effectively of what was so important that I got out of that canyon for. It’s the scenes like when you watch the father take his little boy to the edge of this vast canyon landscape to watch the sun rise, which is what my Dad did with me when I was twelve year old, we watched the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. It was like in some ways watching your family’s collective memory being put up on the screen. I was just sitting there sobbing and thinking, ‘I love my Dad, my Mum and my Sister (laughs).’
You see these little vignette’s of my life that the character is going back and recalling and THAT’S what kept me alive while I was in that canyon. Those touch stones of experience and love that from surviving that experience I learned it’s not just this will to live that we have, it’s this will to love, that’s what I was questing for, these connections, so whenever the film touches on that, it touches me in a very very deep way. Contrary to that you have the very gripping arm chair holding ‘whoaaaa I can’t believe we’re watching this’ moments as he goes through this liberation and the smiles that James shows. I was ecstatic to get out of there. To me the sacrifice of losing this hand was nearly inconsequential, it just amounted to me being able to get out and get back to my life and those people that I love.
We see you’re married and you have a son now, what’s your life like today?
Aron Ralston: It’s a big shift for me going from this very self centred, somewhat solitary guy who appreciated his relationships….but at the same time one of the big lessons from coming out of that canyon was expressing that gratitude more to my friends and my family, my loved ones, which I did while filming the tapes you see in the film. Putting those lessons in to practise in my life didn’t come very easily for many years, I was very focused to maybe prove to myself that I was still capable of adventures and indeed I went on to larger adventures than I ever had done before the incident.
There was then kind of a shift about four years ago where I had three friends I had lost who all within a short space of time had committed suicide, none of them knew each other, but their depressions kind of shocked me to re-evaluate where I was and whether I was doing what I really needed to be doing with this story and with me having been given this glorious second chance had I actually learned anything? It started to recalibrate me around that time. I started doing a lot more wilderness advocacy, seeing this as a story the wilderness gave to me to share, not just for my own benefit and growth, but for everyone, to give back to that landscape both in Colorado and in Utah, these wild places that are basically unprotected.
That was a shift trying to do something for a cause, and then as it worked out…..see I had this vision when I was trapped about this little boy that changed everything, I was already at this point five days into it where I had calved my epitaph into the wall of the canyon, I had made my will and testament on this video tape, I was standing in my grave. So I knew and I was at peace with the idea of me dying. But then I saw this vision of this little boy and it shifted me, it gave me hope to get out because this is my future son, I could see me interacting with him without my hand at some point many years down the road and I realised if I’m going to have that son then I have to get out of here, I WILL get out of here, it got me through that last night, but as I’ve realised in the years following I didn’t see what the Mum looked like (laughs). But I did meet my wife Jessica about three years ago now, she and I got married just over a year ago and we had our baby boy Leo – the courageous little Lion who helped very truly save my life in the canyon from his future existence, he drew me through that last dreadful night. With my life today the big adventure is as anyone who’s a parent can attest to, the biggest adventure in life is being a parent! That’s where a lot of my focus goes too, as well as to the film right now.
Did you have any idea which actor you wanted to play you?
Aron Ralston: There was no pre-conceived notion for me from my perspective, but I’ve looked at it in hindsight now and realised that it couldn’t have been anymore perfect. As much as James is not doing an impression of me, he still captures all these little qualities or nuances, like my exuberance or whatever charm I might be able to muster at times, there’s this sociability and also the solitary introspection, self-criticism, moments of delirium. It all comes through. I don’t know if you know much about James’s career but he’s hyperactive – that may be an understatement, and that’s me too (laughs). When my friends found out what had happened to me, they were flabbergasted, not that I had cut my arm off in order to get out of this canyon but that I’d been able to survive standing still for six days not doing anything (laughs), that’s a apart of me, there’s a lot of parallels. Not to say I have any kind of talent with film making or acting, or poetry, or art, or any of the different directions James’ interests lie, I channel my interests in a different direction, but along very intense lines. I think I’m better looking (laughs).
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