Rough Cut: Where did you shoot the crevasse scenes with Bill Paxton and Robin Tunney?
Nicholas Lea: In a specially built studio. The original idea was that it was going to be a refrigerated studio, so you could see breath and everyone would have to wear all their gear. It didnít work properly, because they werenít able to see the breath, so they just never turned it on. So instead of it being Ė15 degrees Fahrenheit, it was about 77 degrees. I had two sleeping bags and all my gear on; it was about 110 degrees and I was probably sweating off five pounds every day. I was drenched with sweat the whole time. Iím supposed to be freezing to death, and I was doing the exact opposite, losing liquid to death. It made for intense circumstances nonetheless.
RC: Was some of the movie shot on location?
Lea: Yes. Those scenes at high altitude. One of the hardest parts of making the film was being at the whim of the weather all the time. Youíd work for a day and then not work for a week, and then youíd pick up a scene that youíd done the previous week. It was a strange setup, but it was the only way we could do it. Thereís a great shot of Bill climbing. Itís one of the very few climbing scenes, because we fall in the crevasse so early. The camera comes up on a crane past Bill as heís cabled in and comes back and does a big shot of me. It was an intense situation, because they were bringing huge dollies and a dolly track and huge cranes up on a chopper, up to 12,000, 13,000 feet, to these little tiny precipices. The chopper would come in and drop the dolly right onto the dolly track. It was a great equalizer because everyone -- director, producers, actors, grips, hair people -- would have to huddle in a big group because the spindrift off the chopper blade is intense.
RC: What do you do when youíre on the side of a mountain, waiting for them to set up a dolly shot thatís going to take three hours?
Lea: They were very fast in those situations. We would only have a certain amount of time to do what we needed to do because the sun was always a factor. I remember it would be super loud, because the choppers would be right there, taking off, and then, all of a sudden, they would just disappear and it would be dead quiet. Then weíd go into action and orders were being shouted and things were being set up and shovels were going and it was just like a little army, literally, and [director] Martin Campbell was the general.
RC: Were did you shoot the opening sequence?
Lea: We went to Utah. We had mountain safety guides there who had climbed Everest and had been there during the 1996 disaster, some of the best climbers in the world. They would take us ice climbing for training, and it was pretty tremendous. It was a great experience.
RC: Would you say you learned how to climb?
Lea: Iíd done some prior to that, but it was definitely a refresher course.
RC: Would you want to climb Everest yourself?
Lea: No, not really. Itís not that big an allure.
RC: Izabella Scorupco has said that she was scared every day of the shoot. Did you have the same experience?
Lea: I had a different type of experience, because weíre in that crevasse so long. The moment we start the crevasse work, Iíve got a broken leg and crushed ribs...I was dying over a month and a half slowly every day. I didnít have to hang off anything. For me, it was all about trying to die with some dignity over a month -- as an actor and as the character. Iíve died in shows before, but usually you die and itís over.
RC: How did you research the role?
Lea: I did a lot of research while I was in New Zealand about the mechanics of dying at high altitude -- what happens to your body, to your lungs. Your lungs fill with liquid and your brain shrinks. And I watched an interview with Beck Weathers, who was one of the Everest climbers in 1996, and he said that you donít think about how much money you have or how much money you owe on your house -- you think about the things that are closest to your heart. So I took a picture of the person whoís closest to me and put it in my pocket. I took it everywhere I went and thought about what it would be like never to see her again. And that was hard. All the shit you have to go through as an actor...when itís evened out by experiences like that, it makes the job so much more worthwhile.
RC: What scene was the most difficult for you?
Lea: All of the scenes in the crevasse were very hard. Everything else sort of took care of itself, because it was physical work: you were climbing, you were running through a storm. When youíre in the crevasse, itís so small and there are all the lights and cameras. Believing that youíre really in a crevasse and that youíre dying was a challenge every single day. The hardest thing for me was to...this character was very underwritten in the script because there was so much more going on with Chris and Bill. I wanted to bring more dignity to this character because the movieís about redemption, about redeeming yourself of your past mistakes...so that was hard, to have the guy have some dignity.
RC: What was it like to work with Bill Paxton?
Lea: Bill and I became really good friends. Bill Paxton, heís very professional. I liked working with him because he investigates everything in the script, he asks every question he possibly can as opposed to just going in and saying the lines and then leaving. Nothing is left unturned by the time he gets to the set.
RC: Youíve also worked with action director John Woo. Was his directing style similar to Martin Campbellís?
Lea: Martin, I think, winds himself up in the morning and then goes really hard all day. Johnís approach is still intense but more...thereís a calmness to it. Heís very quiet, but he is also very communicative when he wants to be. I really enjoyed working with him. He has a tremendous amount of charisma, quiet charisma.