Interview: ‘Everest’ Star Jason Clarke

Jason Clarke’s career as a Hollywood hardcase is blowing hot and cold, but mostly the former. Born in Winton, Queensland (where The Proposition was shot) he hit the big time Stateside with Zero Dark Thirty (2012), in a role no A-lister would have dared touch; then held his own against an army of CG simians – and, even riskier, veteran scene-stealer Gary Oldman – in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Although the film didn’t deserve him, Clarke was a ballsy choice to play John Connor, another leader of men, in Terminator: Genisys, the fallout from which could scupper plans for a trilogy. But things are about to get hotter – and colder. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest, based on the 1996 climbing disaster and co-starring Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin, sees Clarke scaling something even bigger than the giddy heights of blockbusterdom: a Himalaya.

FLICKS: You play Kiwi climber Rob Hall in ‘Everest’, a role another former John Connor (Christian Bale) was eyeing for a while. How does it feel to step into his shoes again?

CLARKE: I’m happy to take something that Christian was going to do, he’s a great actor who makes great choices… plus John Connor’s a fucking super-cool role!

You traveled all over the world to make ‘Everest’. What can you tell us about that?

We started off in the Himalayas, shot right near Everest, at 6,000m, then we went to the Alps and we shot some amazing stuff there. It was super-cold and we were able to put ourselves on some pretty exposed ridges, which gives it immediacy. You’re there on the Alp with a couple of dudes and a camera, so you really get to see what it’s like to be exposed to some hard, cold, high altitudes. And then we shot in Nepal where we did a lot of the base camp stuff, then we finished in the studio in England. We built the summit of Everest and scaled it. It was a very intense experience.

How dangerous did it get?

The hairiest moments were when I was training. I went to New Zealand to do some mountain climbing with one of Rob’s close friends, and we went up some really exposed mountains up there. It was some of the scariest stuff I’ve done in terms of cramponing down ice at 12,000ft…

[During filming] We had some hard days, where we shot in minus-33 temperatures. It’s fine when you’re climbing or hiking, but when you’re trying to shoot a film and having to do things like taking a glove off to use the radio, it gets a little hairy. That also helps it look authentic.

The opposite of that is when you go into a full studio, and it’s hot and white: you’re wearing full downs that are made for 28,000ft, sweating like a demon, and instead of snow and ice coming at you, their blasting salt at you with massive aeroplane fans. Salt looks like snow at high altitudes. It looks fantastic on camera, but it really hurts your face, your eyes and your skin.

Talk about suffering for your art…

Haha yeah, but you know that’s part of the reason you do it. To have these experiences. You find yourself in these extraordinary positions – I mean, we helicoptered to 23,000ft up Mount Everest: an extraordinary thing to do.

You know, I wouldn’t get the chance to do that unless I was acting in this film. Audiences demand bigger and bigger action sequences and more realism. They want to be there and feel what’s it like on a mountain or what it’s like to be surrounded by 100 apes. It hurts, and you get beaten up a bit, but it’s part of what’s needed to deliver a great film these days.

‘Everest’ is out on 17 September. (Also in 3D)