Stories about The Revenant’s rough and tumble shoot have already passed into legend. Harsh filming conditions — it was minus 40 degrees with windchill factor for much of the Alberta shoot — turned the outdoor revenge drama into what one crew member called “a living hell.”
One of the film’s stars says he was “confused and stressed” during the shoot, but wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“It is something that I am only able to analyze and realize in hindsight,” says English actor Will Poulter. “I spent the entire experience peppered with these moments of total confusion and emotional stress; in a turmoil. Now I realize that is what I needed to experience. I wouldn’t have ever wanted to really gain control because then I wouldn’t have been experiencing anything realistic or wouldn’t have captured anything we needed. I’m glad for those moments.”
The 22-year-old, hot off the success of The Maze Runner and We’re the Millers, appears alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in the gritty vengeance drama about fur trapper Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who became a legend when he trekked across harsh country after being left for dead following a brutal bear attack. Poulter plays Jim Bridger, an inexperienced fur trapper caught in an impossible situation — torn between loyalty to Glass, his responsibility to his employers and his moral obligations.
“On many occasions (director) Alejandro (Iñárritu) let me be because I was naturally confused and stressed by being pulled in many directions and not knowing what to do. He often thought the most appropriate thing to do was to allow me to be that. I would turn to him and say, ‘I don’t know what to do here,’ and he would say, ‘Why are we even having this conversation?’ The character doesn’t know what’s going on, so why should I?”
The Revenant is the cinema of misery: a primal story that puts its characters through their paces.
“I think this movie is about the human spirit and I think what Alejandro strove to achieve was a film that explored what humans are able to endure and what is worth enduring in this kind of experience. Is it family? Is it money? Is it simply the will to live another day in an environment you love and feel safe in? It’s an exploration of how much we can take as humans and what motivates us to endure these kinds of conditions.”
Poulter says The Revenant is “an emotionally affecting experience,” and adds, “there was no creating that without experiencing a lot of the hardships for real.” The gruelling outdoor shoot took place on 12 different locations in three different countries including Canada, United States and Argentina from October 2014 to August 2015. Thinking about the shoot Poulter remembers the hard times with pride.
“The moments that stick out most for me are those moments where I felt I was pushed to the brink emotionally and physically but achieving the shot or getting the take.
Ending the day was just unbelievable. There are a few of those days that stick out in my mind and that’s why it was so rewarding. It’s one thing to finish a hard day’s (work) and pat one another on the back. It’s another thing to finish a day you didn’t actually think you could get through and then pat each other on the back.”