TALE OF JOURNEY INSPIRES
Travel writer Bill Bryson is thrilled Robert Redford plays him in the Hollywood adaptation of his book – but not for obvious reasons
If he could have chosen anyone to play him on the big screen, travel writer Bill Bryson would almost certainly have picked Robert Redford. In the film A Walk in the Woods, based on Bryson’s book of the same name, the Hollywood star portrays the famous travel writer on his hike of the Appalachian Trail.
“I’m very, very lucky and it wasn’t just because Robert Redford so perfectly captures my beauty and athleticism,” Bryson says.
“I’m just joking. What really pleases me about him was that he makes smart movies. I just felt like this was in the hands of somebody who would make something good from it.”
Bryson’s book, which charts his hike on home turf in 1996 on his return to the US after nearly 20 years’ living in the UK, was important to the writer. It was through this hike that Bryson was hoping to reconnect with his home country and see what was on offer on this trail which lay just outside all these major cities.
“It’s this wonderful landscape that’s just like it was for Daniel Boon and George Washington and all those guys 300 years ago,” he says.
“It is completely unchanged. And the experience you have walking along the Appalachian trail is exactly as you would have seen it in 1796.”
But in someone else’s hands, Bryson feared the book could get turned into some sort of laddish movie (think The Hangover out in the wilderness) because he wasn’t alone on this journey, you see.
Joining Bryson for this mammoth trek was his irrepressible companion Stephen Katz, played by Nick Nolte.
When the book first got optioned as a movie by Redford’s production company about 12 years ago, he had someone very different in mind to play Bryson’s real-life companion.
“They were thinking of making it as a reunion movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Then Paul Newman got sick and died and everything went into abeyance,” Bryson says.
The Hollywood duo had played inimitable pairings in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973) and this would have been their chance to reconnect on screen.
But it wasn’t to be and Bryson admits a NewmanRedford pairing probably wouldn’t be as faithful to the characters in his book.
“He and Redford together would have made a terrific movie but it would have been a completely different kind of movie,” Bryson says.
“Paul Newman was never going to be a completely unfit slob the way Nick Nolte could be so he would have been a different kind of character but I think the repartee between them would have been terrific.”
But the question is how does the real Steve Katz, aka Matthew Angerer, feel about being depicted as Bryson’s hapless companion.
“He loves it all, he’s very very good about it all,” Bryson says.
The pair are still close and while Bryson chose not to identify Angerer, he has revealed himself – even turning up to a book signing or two.
“He signed more books than I did afterwards and he loves the attention but I think he loves it in little bursts,” Bryson says.
Promoting a film instead of a book is a whole different game for Bryson who is amazed at how tough the filmmaking process is.
“It’s a crazy world and it’s an entirely new thing for me,’’ he says. “I don’t expect it ever to happen again. It probably was the only book that I’ve written that would make itself into a movie.”
The writer has spent the past few months on the promo trail, including an appearance at Redford’s Sundance film festival in February.
“I was sat there for the premiere of the movie and it was really exciting,’’ he says.
“I’m a boy from Iowa and I was getting to meet all these movie stars like Robert Redford and Nick Nolte and it was just great to be mingling in their world.”
The movie now serves as a sort of inspiration to anyone considering a hike or trek, especially along the Appalachian Trail. Although Bryson is more of a walker than a hiker these days.
“As I get older, I want my comforts and I want to be clean,” he says.
“It’s a strange thing but I hate at the end of the day not having a shower.”
Robert Redford as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz in
A Walk in the Woods.