*In 2010, 33 Chilean miners’ lives came into question after the collapse of a 100-year-old gold and copper mine.
Over 69 days the 33 entombed drew global attention and an international team worked night and day to rescue the trapped men.
The miners’ ordeals have been captured in “The 33,” a scintillating story that delved into their darkest hours. The film stars Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, and Lou Diamond Phillips, and is directed by Patricia Riggen.
In an interview at the Waldorf hotel in New York, Banderas, who plays the real life Mario Sepulveda said it was an inimitable role and an honor to play the part.
Is there is one thing you want audiences to walk away with?
ANTONIO BANDERAS: One of the things people might think when they come to see this movie is that we know the story. I think faith is a big issue in the movie. Faith is normally thought of as just a religious concept—that you have to believe in what you don’t see, but I think it’s fundamental in our movie. The faith of a politician that stopped being a politician and becomes a human being or a real politician, the one that actually cares about people is represented there and his faith was fundamental.
The faith of all those woman and the faith of, first Mario and then all 33 to get out of there. And the question I remembered talking with my fellow actors when we were down there in the mines—how many of these stories happen in the world, with miners specifically, with people with no faith, who have political agendas, how many people have died that we don’t actually know.
Besides being an important role for you, what’s the importance of its message?
AB: It became important to me even before I thought of the possibility of it becoming a movie, the story we all saw on television. We understand, we reflect through the movie that the most simple things are the most important for all of us. It reminds all of us outside of the mine that we are involved in this crazy world where if you don’t have a car that you’re not going to be happy, this new thing that is coming, this new phone are all reduced to the most simple things. And I think that’s the lesson you get out of the movie .
What was the challenge of shooting above and below ground?
PATRICIA RIGGEN: We shot the mine below in Columbia and the above in the desert in Chile. It’s two miles away from the place where it actually happened. So it’s like making two movies, because the cast is different, the men were below, and the women and rescuers above and they only see each other on Days 1 and 69. Basically, two different casts and crews and no time to prep them, so we jumped straight into the other movie. Everything was challenging.
People have remarked how great the sets were. There were no sets. We walked into the mine 35 times, 14 hours a day, six days a week with all these men—33, hard hats, boots, and working under very dangerous conditions—no food, bad air, no bathrooms. It is the real thing. I have such an appreciation for all the actors, that were so brave, so talented and all they endured down there. Because of the decision to make it there, I think it informed the actors what it is to be a miner and also the community they make, which we’ll film later.
Did all the miners go back to being miners?
PR: I think this group of men are still really hurting, the wound is open, very raw. Some of them are old and kinda retired, but they do need the money still. Some of the younger healthier ones are in the mines out of necessity, but they can’t work in the ground, they work in open mines. And others would love to go back to the mines, but no one will hire them because they are famous, and famous miners are not good to have because if your mind collapses, the New York Times finds out. So they really are struggling trying to find jobs.
In the past there have been others books and projects, but they’ve never been part of it. They have never been considered as part of the rights to that. This is a very different case. From the beginning the producers gave them rights and made them partners. And they’ve been along with us through the whole process, through the development of the script and hired in different capacities. Mario was handling all the extras.
What were some the physial demands?
AB: More than losing weight, for me the most physical demanding was that the mines were very toxic with a lot of methane gas, breathing it leaves you with this metallic taste in your mouth for days. We were also operating heavy trucks that produce a lot of carbon monoxide, so we were breathing that the entire day, and rocks that were coming on top of our heads.
And even the showers at the small motel was at times grueling?
AB: There was screaming. It was like a horror movie. It’s funny even with that cold water, we are very decent people and we used the soap, that the miners said is the best soap to take off all the dirt from our bodies with these brushes. After an hour and a half of brushing you’re all red. Two months after the movie I was still getting dirt out of my ears.
Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]
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