On the Set of 'Everest'
During the making of the new film Everest, about the 1996 storm that killed eight climbers, further tragedy struck on the world’s highest peak. In April 2014, 16 Nepalese guides perished in an avalanche. The film is dedicated to their memory. Then, this past April, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake took 19 lives on the mountain and more than 9,000 across Nepal.
“On a personal level, the earthquake was devastating,” says director Baltasar Kormákur. He hopes Everest can help disrupt the pattern that often follows natural disasters, where the world watches raptly for a week or two before moving on to fresh news. To that end, Universal, the film’s studio, is encouraging audiences to donate to Oxfam International in support of earthquake relief.
Kormákur shot Everest, which stars Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Josh Brolin, in Kathmandu and at Everest Base Camp, before heading to the Dolomites, in northern Italy, which stood in for the treacherous Lhotse Face. The deaths during filming reinforced the movie’s underlying questions. “We want to know, What can we achieve?” Kormákur says. “But the commercialization of nature is a risky thing.”
Despite avalanche warnings in Italy and frigid nights throughout, the cast and crew knew their circumstances were vastly easier than those of the people they were portraying. In the end, Clarke says, he came to understand what drives people to climb the mountain. “The summit? You know the shape of it. It takes your breath away.”
Everest opens in IMAX 3-D September 18.
Jason Clarke (pictured here) trained with Guy Cotter, the CEO of the mountaineering company Adventure Consultants (he’s played by Sam Worthington in the movie). Cotter was at Camp One leading an expedition last April when the ground started shaking. “If they’d happened to be out that day heading up to Camp Two,” Clarke says, “they would have been wiped out.”
Clarke fondly recalls the morning light when he woke up for early call times in Namche Bazaar, near Everest. More than two weeks after the first Nepal earthquake, the tiny village was the victim of a magnitude 7.3 aftershock that killed 48 and caused extensive damage.
During the film’s first 30 minutes, audiences actually see Gyllenhaal (pictured here) and other cast members acclimating as they climb toward Base Camp. “Everybody has to deal with altitude,” Clarke says. “It doesn’t matter how strong you are. You find yourself drinking a lot of sweet tea. Your body needs it.”
To re-create some of the most difficult aspects of the Everest ascent, the production headed to Cinecittà, the legendary Rome studio once used by Federico Fellini. “We had to fill it with Base Camp gravel,” says Kormákur (pictured here). The conditions of the Hillary Step, the 40-foot wall just before the summit, were replicated with jet engines blowing salt at the actors.
Prayer flags memorializing climbers who have perished on the mountain, like these hanging near Base Camp, are a common sight on Everest.
Josh Brolin, who quit smoking so he could tackle the project, is seen here on the streets of Lukla, the village where most expeditions begin. In Nepali, lukla means “place with many goats and sheep,” but according to Kormákur, things have changed—there’s even a café dressed up to look like a Starbucks. “It’s the last place you get a coffee on the way to Everest.”