Robert Redford on movies (he doesn’t watch them), mortality (he’s faced it) and embracing a lifelong fear of the ocean
Robert Redford no longer cares about industry awards. In fact the actor, whose latest film is an all but silent affair about a sailor taking on the elements, doesn’t even go to the movies. But, as the 77-year-old tells Elizabeth Elizabeth Kenmare, Kenmare, his star turn in director JC Chandor’s All All is is Lost Lost has forced him to ponder the vicissitudes of his own life, including the time seven years ago he faced his own mortality in a faulty plane
ALL is Lost is a philosophical enterprise. Through one little story, you have this idea that men can never just fight nature.
I think it’s the effort of trying to combat the power of nature, and there’s nothing stronger than nature. But it’s pretty interesting to see an individual, and it’s not like he is looking for a storm, as he gets caught in nature’s behaviour. The real story is what he does to survive it. But I don’t think it’s philosophical.
Do you approach your roles these days a method actor?
I probably resist descriptions like method, but I don’t think you can say this particular film is deprived of everything. First of all there is some dialogue, there’s very little, but you can’t say there’s no dialogue. You can’t say there’s no information about who the man is because there’s a little information. That’s one of the things I really loved about this piece, because JC (Chandor) wrote a film that he understood completely. He understood from his own experience and his own knowledge and skill what sailing was about, so he could create details within it that would have their own dramatic value, but because it didn’t have too much information, and because it didn’t have dialogue, for me I enjoyed that because it created a challenge to be more fully in the character. The business has changed so much. You all go to movies, and you see that most of the movies are full of action, full of special effects, so this was more pure.
Sharks are a frightening presence in the film. Do you fear them?
Yeah, and being alone. Water is so powerful, lots of people are afraid. I think when you put them all together, there are a couple of moments as the character that I like because you could allow the audience to imagine how you might feel, and that is when he wasn’t fighting something, when he wasn’t fighting a storm or having to take care of business. There are just a few moments in the piece where he just looks out, and he contemplates what’s there. You get this vast experience of what is underneath him in a small boat, it’s miles and miles of deep water, and I would hope that an audience feels that sense of aloneness.
What scares you in everyday life?
The sea. You get out on that open water and you imagine, scuba diving, I have done that, that’s fine, you go all the way out in the middle of the ocean, like the Indian Ocean, and you are in the middle of nowhere. And you have got miles of water underneath you, and miles of distance out in front of you, and you are alone on a small boat, it takes something out of you. And in real life, I have been lost.
In the sea?
No, I have been lost in the mountains. But I have been lost in my life, I have lost my sense of things, I lost my bearings, I lost my balance on how to think about certain things, but never on the sea, and I think when you asked that question, and I find that it is really frightening to be in a situation like this character is, but I would never do it. JC has been through something similar.
The movie starts with your character apologising, a very powerful sequence. What backstory did you imagine for this character?
I didn’t imagine anything more than was there. Just saying ``I am sorry’’, that allows you to imagine there’s a family involved, imagine that he is not a horrible person, he didn’t murder anybody, at least I don’t think he did. But he failed at something and maybe this journey he is on is his way of being completely with himself to find out if he should do something, and that’s all I had, but that was enough for me.
Why did you choose this movie? Did it fit in any theme in your career, in your life, like nature?
Yeah, I think so. This film satisfied a lot of things for me. One of them was about that point when all seems lost. Some people quit. They say, what’s the point? But others just keep going. I find that a really interesting point in life.
How do you know in your life when to hold on to something and when to let it go?
God, I don’t know. That’s a great question, but it almost gets to be existential in itself; in Ordinary People, one hangs on, the other doesn’t. It depends on the circumstances and what you are holding on to, it’s what you want to hold on to and what you don’t.
Your character in this film faces some challenges. Do you know where he finds his strength to go on? And where do you find your strength to go on and do things in life?
Well maybe it’s an effort that the man makes to keep from losing his mind; if he screams, if he really keeps screaming, he will probably go off his mind and then he can’t function. You know, when you get really, really frightened, your
Robert Redford in scenes from his new ocean drama film
All is Lost