“There was a day that we had to stop filming because there were too many poisonous snakes around,” says Daniel Radcliffe, completely serious. “That was the first time I have experienced anything like that.”
Having new experiences on movie sets is a rare occurrence for Radcliffe, who has been acting professionally since he was a mere 10 years old and spent his teenage years starring in one of the most successful franchises of all time. But that is exactly why he signed on to star in survival thriller Jungle, based on adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg’s harrowing true story of being stranded in an uncharted territory of the Bolivian Amazon for three weeks.
In order to bring a visceral authenticity to the screen director Greg McLean opted out of the green-screen studio system, instead taking production into the rainforests of Colombia and Australia. For seven weeks the crew crawled through canopy to find locations that captured the ecosystem as a place of infinite beauty and unrelenting terror, as conveyed in Ghinsberg’s best-selling memoir.
“Let’s be honest, there is a lot of dramatization in Hollywood when it comes to true stories,” says Radcliffe. “But what is even more horrifying about this movie is the fact that we actually had to tone it down from what Yossi actually went through out there.” Now, with Jungle currently in theaters, the actor, 28, reflects on his most challenging project to date.
What were your thoughts when you first heard Yossi’s story?
The story was so insane. I went in assuming that some of it had to be bullshit. I just didn’t know how much. I am a skeptic in that way. If I see “based on a true story” my guard goes up immediately. Sometimes you look at a script like that and want to ask the writer, “Are we sort of lying here?” Then I read Yossi’s book and found that if anything the script is actually just a taste of what actually happened. There are events that happened that you couldn’t put into a film because first of all, there is probably a limit to the punishment you are allowed to put onscreen, and there are things that happened to him that you wouldn’t buy at all.
What was the most shocking part of the journey to you?
There is a moment in the movie where I become aware that there is this ever-growing bump on my head, which I am forced to lance and cut my skin open. I pull out this creature that has been burrowing away in my skin. In the script that was stomach churning to read and just awful to think about, and then you read the book and find out that Yossi had about 20 of them under his skin that he had to take out. That is insane.
Did you speak with Yossi before starting the role?
I got to chat with him over Skype for hours. If you talk to Yossi about his time out there, he will tell you that he did not sleep for the entire three weeks. Now you and I can’t believe that. How can you not sleep? And to communicate that level of stress in a film is incredibly hard.
How did that translate into the filming process?
Listen I don’t want to go on talking about how much I struggled, because I was on a movie set and this actually happened to a guy. I got to go back to a nice hotel at the end of the night. That being said, it was a tough shoot for the cast, the crew, and myself. Going in I don’t think anyone expected for it to be a walk in the park.
How were able to get into the character’s mindset?
I was trying to make myself uncomfortable the entire time, and I mostly did that by eating virtually nothing. I knew that there is a psychological effect that happens when hunger become a permanent state, that allowed me to understand what he was feeling. I would have felt horrible doing these scenes, and then going back to the hotel for a steak dinner.
How little were you eating?
There was a three-week span where I was having one protein bar and a skillet of white fish with an unreal amount of hot sauce. For the last two days I didn’t eat at all. I don’t know if it truly shows on screen, but I was feeling it and that helped me get to where I needed.
What was it like to shoot in the locations you traveled to?
The places where we were filming were very difficult to get to, especially with camera equipment. Trucks couldn’t get there, so the only way to get our gear up there was by hiking it up or by donkey. It was crazy. The group got close very quick because of this experience in Colombia and Australia.
Did you take precautions for being in those environments?
One day we were filming near rapids, and we hired a group of guys who were part of the Colombian national kayaking team. They were probably the fittest people I have ever seen in my life. If a piece of equipment fell into the river they would jump from a waterfall into the river, chase down the equipment and then paddle against the current back to our location. It was amazing to watch. Then we had a safety supervisor on set, named Sam Elia, whose job was to jump in and take care of dangerous creatures when they were around. So on that day that there were snakes around, or any other sort of threat, he would just jump in and take care of it. I was glad we had him around. [Laughs]