Gordon-Levitt wows with thrilling walk and talk

HAIR-RAISING: Philippe, portrayed by Gordon-Levitt, walks on a high wire more than a hundred stories above Manhattan's streets in The Walk. In preparation for the movie, Gordon-Levitt learnt to walk on high wire from Mr Petit himself.


    Oct 15, 2015

    Gordon-Levitt wows with thrilling walk and talk

    LET'S get it out of the way - do watch director Robert Zemeckis' The Walk. It's a thrilling caper, not unlike a bank heist movie where the thrill is as much in the planning, preparation and the steps leading to Frechman Philippe Petit's spectacular feat of walking on high wire between the World Trade Centre towers in 1974.

    And when Philippe - 24 at the time and engagingly played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (accent and all) - does walk on the clouds, more than a hundred stories above Manhattan's streets, the treat doesn't end there.

    Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, 1994; Cast Away, 2000) and Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 2010; Looper, 2012) gift us with twists and surprises, in addition to the visual spectacle of recreating the unprecedented walk of a man in the void between the twin towers.

    To boot, The Walk is a moving ode to the now-gone towers and New York City itself.

    When I watched the film - it was the opening night movie - at the New York Film Festival at the Lincoln Centre on Sept 26, it was such a visceral, enjoyable experience. There was also a shared elation rarely experienced with other members of the audience these days amid the glut of bland, generic movies.

    The filmgoers smiled or giggled as they told each other that they experienced being weak in the knees or having butterflies in their stomachs, thanks to the film's photorealistic techniques and Imax 3D wizardry that create the illusion of being up there in the clouds with Philippe.

    The real Philippe Petit was also at the opening night screening, although he had seen the film earlier.

    "The first time Philippe saw it (the movie), he called me on the phone. I was at work," Gordon-Levitt, 34, recalled at the Crosby Street Hotel the morning after the Lincoln Centre screening.

    Then, in the French accent he used in the film, Gordon-Levitt said: " 'I just saw the film and I wanted to call you first. I wanted to tell you before I tell anybody else that I love it. I just loved the film and I thought you did a great honour to me and to the walk. Thank you'.

    "That really meant a lot to me because I don't think he would have done that if he didn't like the movie. He is a very honest guy. If he didn't like it, he probably would have just folded his arms and not called me. He wouldn't be rude but he probably would have just backed off."

    And how did Mr Petit react to the Lincoln Centre screening?

    "Seeing him get emotional, get wrapped up and excited, especially the moment when he was on the wire for the first time and the camera looks down… he got really excited and he turned to his partner Kathy (O'Donnell) and pointed at the screen," said Gordon-Levitt, who was at the screening as well.

    "You could only imagine because that is something that only he has seen. And there he was, seeing it rendered on screen. I just loved that he had that reaction."

    Gordon-Levitt also noted that there was no motion picture footage of Mr Petit's walk, so its recreation in the movie was "informed by an intense collaboration with Philippe".

    On how he trained to portray a tightrope artist, Gordon-Levitt said Mr Petit insisted that he teach the actor how to walk on the high wire. This involved an eight-day workshop and Gordon-Levitt practised more as the movie's shoot went on.

    "Not everyone who is good at something is also good at teaching it. But Philippe is a fantastic teacher. He is such a positive thinker. And because he believed that I could do it, then I came to believe that I could do it. I think it's when you believe in yourself that you are actually able to do things," he added.

    But Gordon-Levitt said that when he filmed on a 12 foot-high wire, it was still a scary experience for him because "it is way too high for you to step off".

    "I learnt on a two-foot wire," he explained. "When you lose your balance, you can just step off."

    Even so, the actor got used to the 12 foot-high wire in a matter of time and "the fear dissipated", he said.

    The new father - he welcomed a son in August with his wife, Tasha McCauley - stressed that a high-wire walk is a mental game, more than anything else.

    "It's something that Philippe really emphasised to me in teaching me about wire walking. Even more than the physicality, wire walking is a mental challenge because you have to have such focus. You can't let your mind be distracted by something over here or there, like, 'Oh look, I am way up high and what if I fall?' None of that can happen."


    The Walk opens in Singapore on Oct 22.

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