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

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - DANIELLE MCGRANE

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.

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