RT Interview: Philippe Petit on Crossing the Twin Towers on a Wire

The Man on Wire star on his incredible stunt.

by | August 4, 2008 | Comments

Philippe Petit

On August 7th 1974, New Yorkers peered upwards into the gap between the World Trade Centre towers to watch Frenchman Philippe Petit, a week shy of his 25th birthday, dance on a thin piece of wire. The stunt was mind-blowing and just one of many similar “coups” Petit had accomplished all over the world. Today, he tells his story to documentarian James Marsh in Man on Wire and has captured the imagination of an entirely new generation. RT sits down with Petit to learn more.

The film is becoming quite the phenomenon, which this moment really was for you and for a lot of people. What was it like reliving that in such minute detail from the very beginning?

Actually it was exactly as you said, I was not remembering, I was reliving it, and I have a little barn in upstate New York, and I have a little theatre there, and I was re-enacting almost every scene from my book “To Reach The Clouds” from which Man on Wire was taken. So you see one scene in the film, but we spent days and days re-shooting and it was very nice to go through the whole story in my life.

How fresh was the whole event in your memory?

Oh, extremely fresh, mostly not when I just remember, but when I get back into telling the story, acting all the characters, and making theatre out of it like a one-man show. It’s so vivid.

Do you think thats part of it, the experience, that it has become so vivid, that it was such big thing, a an attempt really?

I think its my way. You know the who want to talk about it, who want to jump back and say “do you remember this?” Again it becomes almost theatre; I think it’s my way of reliving. Yes the story is full of surprise, it’s full of dramatic moments, and full of miracles. It’s easy to dive into it, and to relive it.

You talk about it in the film with a great deal of passion, you talk about it being an act of poetry, did you see it as an artistic statement that you were making?

Actually I should not say what it was, it’s for the people to decide what it was, but obviously it was something that was a poetic moment. Obviously it was an artistic event. But its not for me to say what it was – I was busy doing it. The people who watched it decide what it is. If I had been walking briskly to the other side, and claim I did it, and go down, and become rich and famous, then it would have been a completely different event. The fact that I stayed there, dialogued with the seagulls, I stayed forty-five minutes, I did eight crossings, and I did all those choreography, laying down, forgetting where I was, makes it obviously some kind of strange theatre in the sky.

Man on Wire

How would you describe yourself as a person?

Well that right there is the tough question, because I was not born in the circus world, I taught myself at an early age, wirewalking. Earlier I taught myself trampolining. Earlier when I was six years old I was crazy about magic, and I taught myself magic, and then I became a man of theatre, directing plays, writing, I became a writer, I wrote 6 books.

So who am I? I don’t really know, I’m certainly not a wire walker, the way you see that in the circus, I actually wrote one day a text, the title was “I am not a wirewalker,” because I am not, except it’s what people know me for, my famous works. So I would say I am – the nice expression in America is – a Renaissance Man. Somebody who does many things, who is passionate about many things.

Are you completely fearless?

There is not an element of fear for me. For the others, yes, certainly, but for me no. There is an element of joy, of profound elation. On the wire, I don’t fear anything; I have no reason to fear anything. On the ground I have human fears like everybody else. I recall forty-five years of performing on the wire around the world, and I don’t think I was ever afraid.

There are moments where things are very delicate, or that the elements are against me, a strong wind or some problem with the installation of the wire, and so I have to be very careful, and I am conscious of what is about to go wrong, but I cannot be fearful that it will be very dangerous for me to be fearful. I have to be fully aware of whats going on, and fully involved in a way that people on the earth do not carry their life. I have to hold my life in an absolutely intense way.

Man on Wire

Is that something that comes with the experience of having done it for so long, or is it something that was always there, when you first got on the wire?

Well, neither. The way I am immensely concentrated, doesn’t come from having done it for so long, and it’s not something that was there my first walk. It’s something that I immediately saw from the beginning as a necessity for me to walk on that wire, and I started assembling elements of a very special way of being concentrated, and focussed, and yet very aware of everything. I started building this state of being from my very first walk, but I was not mastering this at the beginning, as a young wire walker of 18, 19, 20. When I was 20 or so, I did Notre Dame, without permission. In ’73 I did Sydney harbour bridge. In ’74 at 24 years old, the World Trade Centre, I was not really the master that I am today. I was still learning, and yes I was building this very strange state of being, that allowed me to be very solid, in a world that is very fragile up there.

What’s your relationship like with death?

I have a very good relationship with death, it’s leaving me alone. But its not only the act of wirewalking, but in the art of living itself there is no better place to feel yourself living intensely than on the edge of life. So I’ve never pronounced the word “death”, it’s not part of my vocabulary; I pronounce the word “life” all day long. There is this expression “death wish”, but mine is “life wish” and that says it all.

Is there still a hunger in you for another big coup like the World Trade Centre?

In my mind, yes, in my heart there is a constant cultivation of this young rebellion, a disregard for authority. And it’s in my nature – I think of creating something, and unless the phone rings, and it’s somebody who wants to hire me to do a beautiful show in a city, that will follow.

But when it’s something that comes from me, when I look at some place that I would like to put a wire, it’s almost impossible. I have to get the organisation together, I have to get permission, I have to find the money, and I can’t. I’m sure you can imagine, its more than impossible today, in Tokyo, Moscow, Paris, New York, London, to sneak into buildings, and to, at night, put a wire. I would probably get shot first, ask questions later. But it doesn’t matter, even if it’s impossible, I am still thinking that way very much.

Tag Cloud

Super Bowl witnail First Look Holidays cops Nickelodeon Paramount Network blaxploitation PaleyFest festivals quibi hispanic composers richard e. Grant Comic Book Crackle Sneak Peek Heroines ghosts 20th Century Fox Acorn TV Syfy political drama 2017 cults Nat Geo zombies crime adaptation Masterpiece book ABC anthology mutant psychological thriller Amazon Prime American Society of Cinematographers streaming Arrowverse El Rey CBS police drama The Witch History Mudbound cancelled TV shows Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt SDCC true crime romance anime Reality Sci-Fi Emmy Nominations miniseries Writers Guild of America Podcast HBO MSNBC The CW ABC Family series Thanksgiving Disney Channel Star Wars Starz Sony Pictures 24 frames biography Spring TV Marvel Hulu Food Network Black Mirror Kids & Family Star Trek dc TV Showtime 45 21st Century Fox LGBTQ HBO Max Britbox Certified Fresh Grammys teaser Polls and Games SundanceTV Oscars facebook disaster stand-up comedy WarnerMedia Teen MTV 2015 Lifetime Pixar Tumblr Netflix Infographic Nominations Lionsgate 71st Emmy Awards free movies Shondaland Mindy Kaling Rom-Com 2018 unscripted Interview Photos Vudu crime drama children's TV kids See It Skip It Freeform Creative Arts Emmys Comics on TV Video Games Chernobyl Tarantino RT21 FOX Bravo BET GLAAD spy thriller justice league TruTV sports medical drama golden globes OWN Biopics PBS tv talk Captain marvel Horror Premiere Dates transformers Red Carpet Turner Classic Movies Toys mockumentary what to watch Fall TV finale slashers Family DirecTV zombie The Arrangement dragons cancelled singing competition First Reviews Song of Ice and Fire TV Land Quiz green book Election spider-man dramedy Cartoon Network Western SXSW Anna Paquin Opinion revenge VICE Trivia Summer President ESPN Rocketman travel YouTube Red Drama spain Watching Series Spectrum Originals LGBT Tomatazos Pop Christmas Film romantic comedy Walt Disney Pictures Mary Poppins Returns dceu Rocky Reality Competition Box Office Comedy Central zero dark thirty Shudder cancelled television based on movie RT History space award winner USA natural history Valentine's Day harry potter The Purge BBC America YA WGN strong female leads Mary poppins television Disney Plus Year in Review diversity Lucasfilm comic cooking DC streaming service technology GoT FX Character Guide Winter TV TCM DC Comics jamie lee curtis Set visit foreign politics National Geographic toy story Chilling Adventures of Sabrina crime thriller TCA DC Universe historical drama Dark Horse Comics X-Men docudrama crossover Television Academy Fox News discovery Schedule Rock Film Festival MCU social media Spike spanish language FXX Action YouTube Pet Sematary Mary Tyler Moore ITV 2016 Epix Countdown The Walking Dead doctor who sitcom canceled 007 south america nature comiccon Apple game of thrones E! Women's History Month breaking bad Elton John aliens Fantasy TCA 2017 Stephen King Trailer New York Comic Con Classic Film supernatural Ghostbusters elevated horror Peacock TNT hist Martial Arts CW Seed talk show Apple TV+ Superheroes batman TBS animated E3 Sundance Now Adult Swim NBC video cars IFC game show Superheroe Musical A&E spinoff Country Ellie Kemper joker Esquire CBS All Access vampires CMT CNN BBC Marathons Music boxoffice Columbia Pictures Pride Month San Diego Comic-Con Cannes GIFs Universal movies IFC Films theme song TLC Crunchyroll Brie Larson war ratings NYCC Pirates Calendar YouTube Premium casting TV renewals psycho period drama Musicals halloween renewed TV shows Warner Bros. Amazon Prime Video Turner robots adventure 2019 Extras latino Paramount binge Animation APB Disney sequel cancelled TV series Mystery canceled TV shows Emmys thriller Disney streaming service Sundance cinemax Cosplay serial killer AMC Logo Awards Tour VH1 Binge Guide DGA Winners Ovation Best and Worst Trophy Talk Comedy TIFF science fiction Awards cats Amazon USA Network