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October 11, 2013.
If any movie suggests both the pleasure and
torture of solitude, it's J.C. Chandor's NYFF main slate entry, All
Is Lost. Only such a seasoned actor as the 77 year old Robert
Redford could propel such a simple narrative — of what happens when
marooned at sea in a boat that may never reach land — and offer insight
into this character's trauma with a nary a word of dialogue or other-
But the dynamic actor/producer/director is the
ideal person to handle such challenges. He's won Oscars, launched the
bedrock film festival Sundance, fought for noble progressive causes and
been a longtime sex symbol as well. For all those accolades, nothing
really prepared the physically fit elder statesman for this unique role.
In addition to being the only one actor in the
film, Redford has no dialogue, and only a few spoken lines. Because of
this, the shooting script was only 31 pages. Being shot within the
confines of a sailboat and life raft, the film was technically difficult
so, if for nothing else, it joined the ranks of other water-drenched
films such as Jaws.
Ironically, though the movie offered few words
it provoked lots of questions and conversation — enough so that Redford
made an appearance at a press conference before its premiere at The Film
Society's Walter Reade Theater.
you ever think, "I'm going to be totally alone on the screen for an hour
and a half, just as the guy is alone in the boat." Was that scary or
No. For me, it was very quick. I didn't know
J.C. I only knew him from a film that I saw at Sundance called Margin
Call, which I liked. When I got the script from J.C., it had a lot
of things that I was very impressed with. There was no dialogue. It was
bold. I'm attracted to that — being alone, having no filter of dialogue.
As an actor, you can be completely absorbed in your character. The
silence would allow the audience to come in with you and be part of your
It was also detailed in a way that I felt this
person really knew what [he was] doing. It was, "Okay. As long as the 31
pages are very well defined, that's great, suggesting that you have a
very strong vision." What is interesting for me, on a personal level, is
you're in one of those rare situations where you go on drive and
instinct and put yourself very quickly in the hands of someone else
because you trust them.
These days, there are so many players in the
kitchen. You have agents, publicists, trainers, all these characters who
can sometimes get in the way of the direct relationship between you and
the artist you are going to be working with. So when we met, I was
already inclined, I just needed to know he wasn't nuts. This all
happened really quickly, and we didn't have a lot to say to each other
because I was inclined to go with it and trust him. I'm glad I did.
discuss the details of your character's back story with him?
I went through the normal motions that an actor
would with a director about what's on [his] mind or anything you want to
talk about with the story. He was pretty evasive. He told me not to
worry about fundamental questions, which I wasn't happy to ask anyway. I
just thought that I had to. There was a reason why — it was because what
he had on the page is all he wanted. Once I hooked into that, I liked it
a lot. Getting that freedom was really great.
Another thing that was attractive was that the
plot was existential, which meant that you could allow space for it to
be interpreted by others. An audience can come in and decide which way
they felt. They all know something but there is something missing.
Whatever effort he's made in his life, there is something missing. Maybe
this journey has something to do with him trying to figure that out or
accomplish something that fulfills a need that wasn't satisfied. I like
The final thing that I like is that he was not
a super human. He was not a super hero. He was not a super sailor. He
was a good sailor, but not one of Mary Ellison's crew members. A good
sailor but not a perfect sailor. I had space to work with and did some
improvisation, because once things got really bad, then there were
things he didn't know to do. He had to go on instinct. He had to learn
on the job, so to speak. I found all of that very interesting.
you talk about the research you did for the role, in any nautical sense?
Have you ever had to put your own survival skills to the test?
I did some research, but a lot of it wasn't
really necessary because it was so detailed and filled out by the
writer. I've had to apply survival skills a few times in my life, On
film, the closest is a movie that I made a long time ago, Jeremiah
Johnson, which was a character in the wilderness who ran into
similar situations [such] as this. And he had to learn. That's probably
the only research [I've done]. I was guided by the detailed writing of
J.C. as the sailor.
up in southern California so did you deal with the water?
I grew up in Santa Monica, California, in a
lower working-class situation. For me, the nearest thing to recreation
was the ocean because it was nearby. I spent a lot of time in the water
and surfing. The time I spent in the water was near the shore, not in
the deep sea. As a little kid, I remember going in and out of the water,
I would look out and saw the vast expanse of the sea. I was hit by how
vast it was and what's out there. That's a lot of water to be messing
Then while we were working, that vast expanse
of ocean was as far as you can see. It was endless. The horizon ended,
but what was underneath you was this vast depth of miles and miles of
deep sea. And you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. It's just
you. I asked J.C., "So much of this is going to be grappling with the
physical part of the storm. Can he at least have some moments to think?
Just a respite, or a moment for the character to just be."
the crew worked for three months getting this thing ready. How did you
physically prepare for this — was there anything that you yourself did?
No, there was no research. There wasn't a lot
of time to prepare. J.C. and the crew had been there and done such a
fine job prepping. It is an independent film — very low budget, which
means very little time. All I had to do, which was actually helpful, was
just to be there and go with what came.
I trusted myself in the water, but I didn't
know what was going to happen in the water. To fall overboard and be
twisted and turned and so forth, I wasn't afraid of that. The same thing
that attracted me to play this character with no dialogue, is that [I]
just had to be with [myself] as that character, dealing with the things
that come moment to moment and be as honest as [I] can about it.
before the storm arrives, our man decides to shave, which is a
wonderfully endearing moment. What did you think of that when you first
read the screenplay?
I had mixed feelings about it. I like the
eccentricity of it but I wanted to understand it. When I got to
understand it, I really liked it a lot. That scene is bizarre and I'm
sure a lot of people will find it weird and off-putting. What I like
about it was that the character is confronted over and over again with
the choice of either panicking or dealing. Sometimes, to avoid that, you
try to reduce yourself to as much normalcy as possible, even if it seems
weird or "off." Shaving in that crisis moment was a chance for our
character to re-align himself and to keep things as normal as possible.
I like that.
I think what this film satisfied for me was the
larger philosophical question. At a certain point where things seem
impossible, where all is lost and there is no chance to survive, when
all the odds are against you, when you look forward and see things are
impossible, [some people] give up. For whatever reason, others just keep
going. There is no other reason than that. They just continue because
that's all there is to do.
very beginning, the boat is destroyed by garbage floating in the ocean.
You do a lot of work for the environment. Is there any hope?
This question seems to be moving in the
direction of environmental considerations. I did not think about that.
When it was happening, I thought, "Oh, that's what's on these
carriers." But I was too busy trying to survive. I was too busy dealing
with the fact that water was rushing in. That's what I really like about
what J.C. has constructed here. He works in films how I like to work in
films. Whatever it is for you, he's completely okay with. I like that a
With films that have been in my control, I always like the
idea of ending with a question mark. I like the idea of the audience
having to come up with [answers] on their own, without having everything
spelled out and put into their face. That brings the audience in. When
it's all said and done, I think this film belongs solidly to J.C. It's
his vision. His attention to detail I thought was really great, because
there was so much detail, so specific that it stood on its own. I was
there to fill that out.
HERE TO SEE WHAT ROBERT REDFORD HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2005!
HERE TO SEE WHAT ROBERT REDFORD HAD TO SAY TO US EARLIER IN 2013!
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