Rock stars – SMH

Date: 15/12/2000
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald

Two Aussies get all the best lines in the mountain thriller Vertical Limit, writes SACHA MOLITORISZ.
Reclining in a pair of armchairs, Ben Mendelsohn and Steve Le Marquand look warm and snug, happy to be miles from the blizzards and trials of New Zealand’s South Island. That’s where last year, on location for Vertical Limit, the duo survived the worst weather Mount Cook could throw at them. Where they survived six months with a demanding, driven director. And above all, where they survived the scene in which Mendelsohn’s character had to say “Won’t everyone want their own bomb?”

“How many f—ing days did we spend on that?” Mendelsohn chuckles. “It was this particular line we had to do again and again. It was like The Twilight Zone. Or Groundhog Day.”

Le Marquand is chuckling too. “Marty [director Martin Campbell] must have line-read it about 300 times. He’d be like [adopting a prim, proper English accent]: ‘No, no darling, listen to me, listen to me: “Won’t everyone want their own bomb?”‘ And you’d say it back exactly the same way. But it wasn’t right.”

Starring Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton and Temuera Morrison (the fearsome Kiwi plays a Pakistani!), Vertical Limit is a big thrill, big budget extravaganza from the director of GoldenEye, The Mask of Zorro and Minder.

Thrust into the limelight as Batman’s sidekick in 1995’s Batman Forever, O’Donnell plays Peter Garrett – not the lead singer of Midnight Oil, but a former rock climber who has to face his fears and save his sister from K2, the world’s second-highest peak. In true Aussie style, Mendelsohn and Le Marquand provide the light relief as Cyril and Malcolm Bench, two adrenaline-addicted summit conquerors.

“These characters were initially English,” says Le Marquand, previously seen in Two Hands. “But Terry [Hayes, the co-writer] came in and said they’re not funny enough, let’s make them Australian. They’re bound to be funny that way. And wasn’t he right?”

He was. Cyril and Malcolm get all the best lines. Compared with the other climbers, they are funny and irreverent. Their characters are not unlike the Aussie film industry as a whole.

“I like that analogy,” says Mendelsohn, whose former credits include The Year My Voice Broke, Idiot Box, Sirens and Cosi.

“Yeah,” adds Le Marquand. “We’re the Aussies on the periphery, saying, ‘Let’s just do it.'”

And do it they did. Sure, these days they’re kicking back, smoking cigarettes and tucking into pastries. Back in New Zealand, though, the Aussie pair were lean and keen.

“There was a month of intensive training beforehand,” says Le Marquand. “Rock climbing, ice climbing and altitude training. It was a shock to the system.”

Was the shoot dangerous? “Yeah, there were a few hairy moments,” nods Mendelsohn.

“There was a time I was up there,” interrupts Le Marquand, “when the weather came out of nowhere. And the safety guys were saying, ‘I think we should go.’ But Marty was like, “We just need this one shot.’

“We couldn’t get the choppers up at 10,000 feet, so we had to tie ourselves together and walk three or four kilometres down very deep snow through an absolute blizzard.

“I got some great photos actually. But they didn’t come out. They were all white.”