The actor tells Jeremy Kay how his role in stoner comedy Pineapple Express informed his tense performance as a trapped rock climber in 127 Hours

The first time James Franco met Danny Boyle to discuss the role of trapped rock climber Aron Ralston in 127 Hours, the director thought he was stoned. “I was in the middle of school [New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts ] and had a ton of homework and I guess I was tired and didn’t really have the time to study the script as much as I should have,” Franco says. After the reading he heard Boyle was having dinner with another actor. “I thought it was all over,” he says. 

Franco sent Boyle an email about what the role meant to him and was invited back to Los Angeles for another reading at 20th Century Fox. He got the part. It turned out Boyle was a fan of Franco in the stoner comedy Pineapple Express. “The way I translated that was we knew this was going to be an unusual movie and the comedic side was important to balance with the intensity.” 

Franco met Ralston and spent hours discussing his ordeal and the self-inflicted amputation that set him free. He became one of the few to see the video footage the adventurer shot in Utah’s Canyonlands while his limb was trapped beneath a boulder. “We decided this would not be a slavish imitation of Aron’s mannerisms,” Franco says. “We used the information to do it our way for an inside-out kind of performance. It’s about making this story universal.”

The spring 2010 shoot was frustrating. For one month Franco was wedged into a tiny slot in a warehouse in Salt Lake City where the actual canyon had been recreated via radar imaging. Over the course of long takes, Boyle instructed his leading man to perform survival tasks without assistance.

“But it turned out to be an incredible working relationship,” says Franco. “The most important thing about telling this story is to make the experience seem authentic.”