There are times, as a young actor, that you might start to question your career decisions.
Like, for example, when you find yourself buried up to your chin in snow, your head pressed up against the fuselage of a plane and your director starts covering your mouth and nose in even more snow, so much so you can barely breath. That could be the moment when you wonder: “Maybe I should have gone to law school?”
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But not Enzo Vogrincic. It was midway through shooting J.A. Bayona’s Society of the Snow when the 30-year-old Uruguayan actor found himself in exactly that position. The Netflix drama, which will close Venice this year, tells a true, phenomenal story of survival. Of the 45 people, including 19 members of the Old Christians Club rugby team who boarded Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 on Oct. 13, 1972, from Montevideo to Chile. While crossing the Andes mountains, the plane crashed, killing 12 immediately and leaving the survivors to face the freezing cold, extreme weather and near-certain starvation. After weeks with no food, they resorted to eating the bodies of the dead in order to survive.
They almost didn’t make it. Only after 72 days in the mountains did help arrive.
Bayona, eager to make Society of the Snow as authentic as possible, made his actors relive the experience of the survivors, spending nearly four months in the mountains — a short time in the Andes, at an elevation of some 20,000 feet, and the bulk in the Sierra Nevada range in Spain, at the more reasonable height of around 11,000 feet. The director shot in sequence and slowly starved his cast —safely, with nutritionists on standby — to depict the group’s slow decline.
Enzo Vogrincic on set of ‘Society of the Snow’
Cast as Numa Turcatti, the moral and spiritual heart of the team, Vogrincic fattened up to around 154 pounds in order to thin down to 103 lbs by the final day of shooting.
“It was a very gradual process and very well controlled and supervised, but it was difficult to sustain [the low weight],” says Vogrincic. “But me and the other actors began to enjoy it. We became competitive: After filming we would get back to where we were staying, and we’d go for a run or go to the gym. It became about who can lose the most weight?”
Speaking from Uruguay via Zoom, Vogrincic looks healthy and happy. He speaks of the Society of the Snow as less ordeal than an adventure, one he says changed his life.
The 30-year-old actor has built up a reputation in Latin America, starring in Amazon Prime espionage thriller Yosi, the Regretful Spy from Argentine director Daniel Burman and playing a Ronaldo-like soccer star in Martín Barrenechea and Nicolás Branca’s Uruguayan sports drama 9. But working with Bayona, director of The Orphanage, The Impossible and Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, was on another level.
“We were in the mountains for 124 days in the open air, cold and hungry all the time. But this is what created the sensations that we needed to feel to be able to act what really happened,” he says. “When we went to the Andes for two days, it was so cold the water inside our tent froze. But it was incredible to be in the very place where these people were, to stand where they stood and really feel like there was no escape.”
The most harrowing moment in the film is when the survivors, huddled together for warmth inside the fuselage of the crashed plane, are hit by an avalanche, which buries them alive.
“Yes, that avalanche was, without a doubt, the most intense scene to film. We filmed it for two weeks,” says Vogrincic. “That’s two weeks inside the plane. The roof inches from our heads, snow up to our chins. We weren’t completely frozen. We had a change of clothes but those clothes were frozen as well. Everything was wet. Before every take, we’d have to have our faces covered with snow as well. And we’d keep doing it again and again and again to get it right. At one point, I got ill. I had a fever and pneumonia. My colleagues told me to take a break, get off the mountain and back to the hotel. But I wanted to make the most of my being sick, with red eyes and a swollen face. Now, when I see those scenes back, I love them. I wish I could have been sick the whole time.”
After two international takes on the story — the 1976 Mexican exploitation film Survive! and Frank Marshall’s Alive (1993) starring Ethan Hawke and Vincent Spano — Vogrincic says he’s proud, as a Uruguayan, to be able to tell the story of Flight 571.
“In Uruguay, we all grow up knowing the story, we have this really strong link with what happened, it’s very emotional for us,” he says. “It’s such an incredible story for so many different reasons, and I think it really deserved to be told from the inside, from Uruguay. All the survivors were involved in this film and all of the families of those who didn’t return were also involved. I think we were able to be truly faithful to these people and to what really happened.”
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