I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Academy Award nominee James Franco for Costco Connection about his Oscar-nominated movie 127 Hours, in which he plays real-life hiker Aron Ralston, who was trapped in a Utah canyon for five days after a dislodged boulder pinned down his right hand, crushing it and leaving almost no chance of escape. Ralston had little to survive on other than his wits. Adding to the dilemma: No one knew where he was. His only way out? Well, you probably already know it, but if you don’t, you’ve already had it spoiled with this story’s title. It’s not like it’s a big secret anymore.
When I asked Franco if it was surreal to cut his own “hand” off during the film’s climactic, squirm-inducing moment, the actor replied, “Yeah, it was an interesting scene. We obviously all knew the moment was coming, but when we did that scene we had this great effects team led by Tony Gardner, who made a series of prosthetic arms. We had three of them, and they had modeled them off my arm. On the outside it was an exact replica of my arm, and on the inside they made all of the musculature, veins, blood and bone exactly the way it should be so that I was able to cut into it and [so] they could film it from any angle and it would look real. Because of that, [director] Danny [Boyle] could just allow me to just really do it and keep going. We did a series of very long takes where I just went through it. After the scene, Danny told me that when the effects guys went up to him in the middle of the scene, they said, ‘The arm’s designed in such a way that he won’t be able to go all the way through it. You know that, right?’ It turns out that I did, and I fell back onto my butt. He used the beginning of that take. I don’t fall on my butt in the movie. We used it all the way up until I fall, at least my initial reaction when I cut through it. So I was a little surprised.”
Franco’s startled expression conveyed the shock that Ralston probably felt when he first committed that act of self-amputation. No one except Ralston will ever know what that truly felt like, but this intense scene gave us a good idea.