The actor talks with West Coast editor Jeanne Wolf on what compels some of us to hang tough in the face of adversity while others simply give up.
Robert Redford seems only to improve with age. The 77-year-old Hollywood superstar’s classically handsome profile has taken on a rugged and weathered look that remains as sexy as his smile and easy laugh, and his screen presence is no less alluring than it was in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In his recently opened film, All Is Lost, Redford plays a man stuck alone in a storm on a small sailboat with no help in sight. The storm sequences were physically daunting, but, though stunt men were standing by, Redford insisted on putting himself in the midst of the storm-tossed action. The hard work didn’t end when the camera stopped rolling: director J.C. Chandor recalled watching from his hotel balcony as the famed actor/director methodically swam laps in the pool after a particularly punishing day of work.
Jeanne Wolf: Your role in All Is Lost is wall-to-wall intensity. That’s a lot to ask of yourself. Was that part of the attraction for you?
Robert Redford: Yes. It took a lot of effort both psychologically and physically, and I like that. I like the challenge. You knew they would work to make that storm as real as can be. And that meant I’d go through it and see what happens. There was also a great sense of aloneness on the set even with a film crew. I think the audience will feel and relate to that aloneness. The pureness of it is a powerful element. I did worry because movies now are so full of action and special effects that we were almost daring the audience to come along. But this is a time in America when a lot of people feel lost.
JW: How the audience reacts is central to your view of the success of a film, isn’t it?
RR: Yes. That’s why I like a film that ends with a question, or really, when a question goes on throughout the story. The question for the audience is always “What would I do if I was faced with those circumstances?” All Is Lost asks the audience to think, Could I last? Could I stick with it? Some people give up when life gets unbearably difficult. Some people just say, “That’s it.” And they die; they stop because there’s no point in going on. I like to think I’d never give up. I’d hold on as long as I could. I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know if it comes from birth, what you bring to the world on your own. I just know that for me there have been a lot of times in my life where it seemed a good idea to stop or to quit. Whether it was ego–I don’t know what it was–but I said, “No. I’m going to keep moving. I’m going to try to make this thing happen.”
JW: Your character in the course of his battle for survival totes up his regrets. In a sense, I think it’s harder sometimes to total up what you don’t regret: What you’re happy for. What you’re grateful for.
RR: I guess it depends on your heritage. If you come from a dark family like I do, you don’t think that way. You just think about regret. It’s funny. I don’t know that I’ve ever stopped to count my blessings. I guess I’m afraid that if I start counting my blessings, they’ll disappear. I’m very proud of what I’ve done. But once you finish your work, it leaves you. You give it over and it belongs to the audience, one way or another. People keep asking me about awards, and I just don’t think that way. That doesn’t come to my mind. What comes to my mind is not standing on the top. I like the climb up. To me, that’s the exciting part. I’d just as soon be always climbing.