LOS ANGELES — Playing a hiker with his arm pinned under a boulder for five days brought its own set of challenges for James Franco, who stars as Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle’s true-life 127 Hours. The first thing he had to worry about, though, was his waistline.
“He told me I should go on a diet,” Franco says of his first meeting with the director. “First of all, Aron was in great shape, but also he lost 40 pounds while he was there, from water deprivation mostly."
Of course, recreating a rapid weight loss during the film’s production wasn’t feasible, so Franco shed as much weight as he could before filming, then relied on some helpful tools to bulk back up when needed.
“We actually even built this prosthetic that we ended up unfortunately calling ‘the plumper,’” he says. “It was just this mouthpiece that would plump my cheeks out for the early parts of the film, and then as he started deteriorating we could use smaller and smaller versions until we didn’t use any.”
One useful tool for capturing Ralston’s ordeal was the extensive video diary he kept. “When we watched the real videos, one of the more powerful things about them is how simple it was and how direct and connected it was,” Franco remembers. “So to capture that, Danny allowed me, I think, some looseness.”
Sometimes the looseness had to be discouraged, though, given Ralston’s interaction with the production.
“Some of the video messages are verbatim what he actually said,” Franco says. However, as an actor, he wasn’t interested in just regurgitating Ralston’s words. “Our whole kind of approach — not just for the video messages but in general — was that we would honour Aron’s story and we would do everything that he did, but also we wanted to kind of have our own approach to the story or have the latitude to just find things on our own,” he explains. “
And so with the video messages, they were scripted, but I felt like Danny gave me the freedom to be just a little loose with the words. But every once in a while there’d be a line in there and I’d say to myself, ‘I just won’t say that because it’s kind of stupid.’ And then Danny would come to me and say, ‘Well, actually, for whatever reason, Aron is insistent that you say those two words.’”