Smile. It’s snow business – SMH

Author: Sacha Molitorisz
Date: 12/12/2000
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald

They’ve survived cliffs, bombs and blizzards, but today they face a different sort of avalanche. Cameras flash and notebooks rustle as Chris O’Donnell and his Aussie co-stars Ben Mendelsohn, Steve Le Marquand and Robert Taylor take their seats.
A publicist starts proceedings. The venue, The Summit restaurant on the 47th floor of Australia Square, he says, is appropriate: “If you didn’t know, The Summit was launched by Sir Edmund Hillary in, I think, 1968.”

It’s Monday morning, and about 60 members of Sydney’s media are attending a press conference for a big-budget action thriller from Martin Campbell, the director of GoldenEye and The Mask of Zorro. It’s called Vertical Limit. Campbell sits beside O’Donnell, and beside Campbell sits Lloyd Phillips, one of the film’s producers. You can tell he’s the producer because he’s the one wearing a coat. And a smile. He has just learnt that Vertical Limit has taken $US16 million ($30 million) in its debut weekend in the United States. It has some climbing to do, however, to recoup its $US100 million budget.

“It’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of action film,” says Campbell, his clipped British accent belying Kiwi origins. “It’s an ensemble cast with Chris as the lead and they all did a terrific job. And Terry is a very fine writer.”

The author of Mad Max 2 and 3 and Dead Calm, Terry Hayes, was called in to rework Robert King’s original screenplay.

The plot? Well, after O’Don-nell’s character loses his nerve for mountain climbing, he has to scale the Himalayas to save his sister. It’s spiced up with bombs and megalomania. The drama is set on the slopes of K2, Everest’s treacherous sibling, but was shot primarily on Mount Cook in New Zealand.

Despite a month’s training, the cast and crew were still afraid. “We were all terrified,” Mendelsohn says. “The climbing wall was bad enough. It got pretty high up there.” So, Ben, what was the most terrifying moment? “The audition.”

In the film, Mendelsohn and Le Marquand play the Bench brothers, larrikin Aussies with a disarming wit. At the press conference they play a similar role.

Even O’Donnell starts tossing about witticisms. The former Batman sidekick looks like a clean-cut college kid. In fact, he and his wife had their first baby during filming of Vertical Limit, and their second six weeks ago.

Bizarrely, no-one asks the predictable “so, what do you think of Sydney?” but O’Donnell answers it anyway. “This is the most unbelievable city I’ve ever been to. I’m really having a good time.”