If the Best Actor award was purely about suffering for your art, Leonardo DiCaprio would be a shoo-in this year. In his blockbuster The Revenant he plays Hugh Glass, a legendary 19th-century American fur-trapper who survives a bear attack. It’s a western set in a stunning wilderness – and was no walk in the park to film.
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“For over five years, this project was a dream for me,” says director Alejandro Iñárritu. “It’s an intense, emotional story set against a beautiful, epic backdrop that explores the lives of trappers who grew spiritually even as they suffered immensely physically.
“Though much of Glass’s story is apocryphal, we tried to stay faithful to what these men went through in these undeveloped territories. We went through difficult physical and technical conditions to squeeze honest emotion out of this incredible adventure.”
“Difficult” is an understatement. Iñárritu spent nine months filming in remote corners of Alberta (a western province of Canada) and kept the cameras rolling through blizzards and when the temperature dropped as low as –27 ̊C. He says that the icicles in DiCaprio’s beard were sometimes real.
Frostbite aside, there was the threat of avalanches and bears. The terrifying grizzly that mauls DiCaprio is one of the film’s few pieces of CGI but the avalanche is real – although one that was orchestrated by Iñárritu.
He also decided to use only natural light, which meant moving his cast and crew around over a dozen national parks to find the right light. In deepest, darkest winter, they only had a two-hour window each day and unpredictable weather often curtailed it further.
Ironically, a warm spell caused most problems. “Alberta is susceptible to radical climate changes,” he says. “You can have seven different kinds of weather in a single day. In the beginning, we struggled with blizzards. Later, we struggled with no snow. It was a winter of record high temperatures, and we went from chasing chinooks to chasing ice.” In the end, he had to finish the shoot in southern Argentina.
So were his obsessive methods worth it? Without doubt The Revenant captures nature at its most raw and brings home the hardships endured by the fur-trappers and indigenous tribesmen of America’s West. Iñárritu certainly thinks so. “Today, we’ve really lost touch with the natural world that these trappers had then,” he says. “Yet the wilderness is always a part of us – we are clouds, we are rivers, we are formed by the same elements.
“I think when you see these places, there is a connection there that reminds you where you come from and where you are going. One of the blessings of the film was being able to bring environments that do that to the screen.”
Adventure in Alberta
During the warmer months, Albertans love to go camping, hiking, fishing, climbing, bear-spotting and biking in their national parks. But you can enjoy them in deepest, darkest winter, too…
Northern lights: From September to April, the aurora borealis lights up the night sky. Alberta is home to the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves: Jasper and Wood Buffalo National Parks.
Ice walks: In Banff and Jasper, you can explore frozen waterfalls on an ice walk, or spot elk, deer and wolves on a wildlife tour.
Go sleighing: In Banff, you can enjoy dazzling views of the Rockies from a sleigh or dogsled.
Skating: The glacier-fed waters of Banff and Lake Louise freeze over in winter, creating the most scenic ice rinks in the world.
Radio Times Travel offers
With everything from striking snow-capped scenery to quaint Canadian villages, this week-long tour shows off the very best of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Enjoy the mesmerising blue of Lake Louise before taking in the unforgettable sights of Jasper National Park. You’ll stop off at the Columbia Icefield Visitor Centre where you’ll step on to the Ice Explorer, which will take you to the Athabasca Glacier. Explore the town of Banff, enjoy an after dinner chat with a retired Mountie, try out your skills at ice hockey and perhaps choose to take a helicopter tour of the Rockies. Click here for more details.
This holiday combines “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”, the Calgary Stampede, with stays in charming Banff and picturesque Lake Louise in the magnificent Canadian Rockies. You’ll get to relive the cowboy days of the old frontier whilst in Calgary, then experience the annual Stampede, which showcases the best in rodeo with numerous events like Bareback Riding and Bull riding, exhibits and diverse entertainment. You’ll also have a chance to take an exhilarating gondola ride over Stampede Park. After this event you’ll head to the wonderland of the Rockies to explore the delights of Banff and stay at the iconic Fairmont Lake Louise. Click here for more details.
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