Five years on, as the movie based on their plight hits screens across the United States, the 55-year-old actor told AFP, in a Spanish-language interview, how the men’s story affected him.
Q. Some of the miners have been struggling since their ordeal. Several feel they were cheated of the money being made from their story, and have taken legal action. How do you view their fate?
A. They are not well. Mentally they are deeply affected. They made very little money from the rights to their story since these are split between 33 of them.
The Chilean government should have taken better care of them, it should have given them enough of an allowance to live with dignity. (Older miners among the 33 have been awarded a state pension, of $450 a month).
In economic terms, they did the Chile “brand” a huge favor. To make global headlines as the country that managed to save these workers against desperate odds — that is priceless.
Q: What did you learn on the shoot? What drew you to your character, Mario Sepulveda — who has since prospered, launching his own business?
A: The film’s central message is that we believe we’ll find happiness in material riches — but that is an illusion. One scene clearly shows the images filling the minds of these men, who only have one tin of tuna left to split between 33.
They are staring at death in the face, and they are thinking of the things they miss most dearly: the embrace of a sister, a wife, a mother. A dish of food.
In Mario’s case, without knowing quite how it happened, he became their leader, and at the same time he helped them keep hoping. What he did, in real terms, was to manage the passing of time by setting a certain discipline surrounding meals, and how to do things. Without him the oldest men would not have made it out alive.
Q: Were you affected by the shoot, psychologically?
A: No, but it was a very tough shoot. No Hollywood glamour at all. We spent up to 14 hours in pitch darkness, breathing in methane that made us feel nauseous. All of that helped to convey the full experience of the miners, to create a certain realism.