By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It may be hard to believe but Robert Redford and Paul Newman only appeared in two films: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting.” But the two legendary actors will forever be linked even now that Newman is gone.
For a period, the two actors were supposed to co-star in “A Walk in the Woods,” based on the Bill Bryson bestseller. Complications arose and the project with the two actors never happened. However, an adaptation of the book is finally hitting the big screen with Redford co-starring opposite Golden Globe winner Nick Nolte (“The Prince of Tides”). The gray-haired dramedy is directed by Ken Kwapis (“Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”) from an adapted screenplay by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman.
Redford, 79, has received two Academy Awards: one for directing “Ordinary People” and a Lifetime Achievement Award. He also founded the Sundance Film Festival, now a mainstay of the indie film business, and the Sundance Institute, which helps burgeoning filmmakers realize their dreams.
Redford plays an accomplished author in the sunset of his years. When a friend dies, he decides he needs to hike the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. Finding someone to join him on this foolhardy mission isn’t easy. Out of the blue, he gets a call from an old acquaintance that volunteers to go. As Bill (Redford) and Stephen (Nolte) go on their adventure they learn more than they ever knew about each other and themselves. Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen and Kristen Schaal have supporting roles in this mostly two-handed adventure dramedy. Redford previously directed and co-starred with Nolte in 2012’s “The Company You Keep.”
Redford spoke about why he wanted to make the film, working with Nolte again, ageism in Hollywood and what’s left on his pretty full bucket list.
Q: When you first optioned the book, it was for you and Paul Newman to do. Can you talk about that and how Nick got involved?
Redford: I’ll leave that short because this is about me and Nick, but Paul and I had a great friendship and we had done two films and we were looking for a third. When I read this book, a lot of time had gone on since “The Sting” so I was looking for something and he was looking for something and I found this and thought this could be it. But I hadn’t thought it through carefully enough to realize that a lot of time had gone by and when we got together, he’s a good guy and very honest and very practical. He said, “Look, I think there may be too big an age difference between us now—14 years. Secondly, physically, I’m not sure if in my later years, I can do this stuff.” So yes it was an idea but when I thought it through, it really wouldn’t have worked because of all the changes had taken place since. Immediately, I thought of Nick and the more I thought about that, it felt more right than anything because we were the same age and we have similar backgrounds.
Q: You previously co-starred with and directed Nick in the 2012 drama “The Company You Keep.” Can you talk about working together for a second time?
Redford: I first approached him about this 10 years ago. We did that film first a few years ago and then we shot “A Walk in the Woods” last year. So a lot of things went by before this came to be. I think the reason it stayed there, I was really passionate about it being worth it. It was a wonderful story with wonderful characters. It said something about the role of nature on human beings and their relationship with nature.
Q: So few films are made for older audiences. Why did you choose to do this?
Redford: The fact is, I think one of the hard things to talk about —position yourself in a minor place—that this film could have some appeal to an underserved audience out there: the older people. Older people have given up on films because it’s gone to youth (oriented films)—special effects and all that. But at the expense of a movie’s giving up on story and character for green screens and all that. They’ve sort of been disenfranchised. One of the things that could be appealing about this is that they could identify with the way they are now but I can also remember the way I felt.
Q: How do you see the trend in Hollywood right now? They are making good shows that appeal more to older viewers?
Redford: I don’t watch television so I can’t comment on that.
Q: What would you like to do at this point? You have the Sundance Institute where you mentor young filmmakers but would you like to do more acting now than directing?
Redford: I’d been directing for a while and I missed acting, because that’s how I started, and I missed just being an actor and only being that and not anything more. There’s two ways to produce – sponsor something and make something happen or be the producer that is day-to-day dealing with stuff that goes on. That’s not me. Just putting something out there and being sure it gets made, that’s the kind of producer I would be. This film was that—just getting it out there and getting it made. But then I just wanted to be in it as an actor.
Q: Do you want to do more acting now?
Redford: I wouldn’t want to give up totally on directing because you control a story and a lot of the stories that I like to do, I would have to direct in order to get them made. On the other hand, I enjoy acting. So it’s a mixture of both, to answer your question.
Q: What’s a dream you still have? What’s on your bucket list?
Redford: I don’t believe in bucket lists. Just keep doing things that you want to do if you can. “I want to do this and I want to see if I can do it.” You keep moving forward and keep having new ideas.
Q: Some of shooting did look kind of exhausting. Was it difficult to shoot on location in Georgia?
Redford: Like with movies these days, you don’t have any time because the budget is so low. We did an original rehearsal, sitting around a table and talking a little bit, but we just had to get out there and do it and rely on the fact that we would probably be in sync, which we were, and just go.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene or moment in the film?
Redford: There’s a wonderful moment in the film that illustrates what we’re talking about where Nick’s character, Cat, has gone from all this talk about nature “A rock is a rock” and Bryson is talking about the value of this and Katz is saying, “Eh?” Then, on their hiking, they come up to a chestnut tree and I tell him about the history of a Chestnut and Nick stays there looking at the tree and you know that something is happening. It’s a nice moment.