As you might imagine, making a film about climbing the highest mountain in the world poses a few logistical challenges. The cast and crew of Everest, which hits theaters Sept. 18, learned this firsthand: They spent weeks among the jagged peaks of the Italian Alps (which doubled as Everest for much of the film), traveled to Nepal to capture the chaos of Kathmandu, then trekked for days across the peaks of the actual Himalayas. The production’s second- unit crew was even on Everest when a deadly earthquake-triggered avalanche plowed through the mountain’s base camp in April 2014.
Thankfully, the danger wasn’t all for naught, and the resulting movie reconstructs—with dizzying and deadly accuracy—a notorious moment in Everest’s history, when eight people were killed during a monster storm in 1996. A half-dozen books have been written by those who survived, and director Baltasar Kormakur adroitly weaves all their stories into one cohesive tale. And where other climbing films routinely fail, with their overreliance on CGI avalanches and cheesy dialogue, Everest succeeds in breathing life into real, fleshed-out characters. (The killer cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, and Josh Brolin.)
Of course, that’s not to say Everest lacks adrenaline: The film transports you to the icy flanks of the deadly mountain, where climbers gasp for oxygen as they hang perilously above 2,000-foot crevasses. Even more harrowing, though, is the gut-wrenching decision-making that goes on when guides are hired to bring (very rich) average Joes to the top.
In Everest, actor Michael Kelly plays writer Jon Krakauer, whose book Into Thin Air became the most famous account of the disaster on the mountain.
Men’s Fitness: What was it like shooting in the Italian Alps and Nepal?
Michael Kelly:The first time I climbed the Alps and got to the top, all I could do was look around and say, “I want to get to the top of that now, and that, and that…” It’s this feeling of accomplishment. In Nepal, we did parts of the Everest Base Camp trek, which meant we had to fly into [mountain-perched] Lukla, with the world’s most dangerous airport.
What did you think of the altitude?
Every time I woke up, it felt like Josh Brolin had been taking the palms of his hands and squeezing my temples all night. But when you see Mount Everest for the first time, it’s just, “Oh, my gosh.”
Did you identify with Krakauer?
It’s funny; each of us identified with our character, and each character had written a book about these events afterward, from their own points of view. But for me, my guy actually was a writer—he went there to write, and he wrote a lot. During filming, Balt [the director] got frustrated with all of us coming to him with story suggestions. He joked, “Enough of your books! We’re making this movie!” But I was like, “I’m Krakauer! So my version’s right!”