Postcard: New York
Robert Redford doesn't spend much time in New York: he grew up in Los Angeles, and has been based in Utah since the late 1960s. But the Hollywood star made the trip out east for the New York Film Festival last October, where his latest film All is Lost was enthusiastically received by festival goers, and later returned to the city to meet with journalists to discuss it.
A story of personal survival, it is set entirely on a sinking yacht; Redford is the only actor in the film, and almost all the dialogue in it consists of snippets of voiceover.
Redford says he was intrigued by the script that director J.C. Chandor sent him as it comprised just a few pages of prose describing the scenario of a man alone in a sinking boat. "The idea seemed so crazy that I wanted to find out if it was real," he says. "So I went to meet with J.C. and after about 10 minutes, I realised that I had been given the chance to do something that I really wanted, which was to have a complete experience as an actor."
At the tail end of last year, the New York Film Critics Circle bestowed a best actor award on the 77-year-old star of classics such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men for his performance in All is Lost.
Surprisingly snubbed for a best actor Oscar nomination (never mind prize), there's no denying that his portrayal is something of a tour-de-force for this recipient of a best director Academy Award (for 1980's Ordinary People) and a 2002 honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.
Redford says he instantly knew he would be comfortable working with Chandor, even though the director had made only one full-length film. "I knew I would be in good hands, because the script was so carefully woven, the preparation was precise, and J.C. had spent a lot of time planning it," he says.
"It was a sure-fire cinematic experience that was not dependent on special effects. I liked the fact that there wasn't much dialogue, as the voiceover was stripped to the bone. I found that very beautiful."
All is Lost was filmed in a water tank rather than the open sea, but it was still a physically challenging environment. The actor crashed his boat into a giant shipping container, and was later flipped over and over in his life raft. To add insult to injury, one of the film crew got so seasick he threw up over the actor. "It really felt like I was in a storm, as they had made it all so lifelike in the tank."
The septuagenarian did his own stunts. "I enjoy it, and I am good at it," he says. "But I do have to accept that I am getting older, and there are things that I can't do. I have to face reality, but the only way I can find my limitations is to try things out."
Chandor didn't hold the star back, but he didn't push too hard either. "There were certain things that he could have got me to do, but he didn't. He was being very protective," Redford says.
The stunts worked out fine, although "they were not a piece of cake". But he did get fed up with being wet. "It's not that you get hypothermia, it's more that being wet is just plain depressing. Your clothes are wet, your shoes are wet, and it just really gets you down."
Redford says he drew on his own survival experiences to get in the right frame of mind to play his unnamed character. Once, on a trip through some mountains, "I was alone, on a horse at night. I couldn't see and the horse couldn't see. It was very cold, and I didn't have anything, as I wasn't planning to be out there," he says.
The actor rarely gets involved in day-to-day political imbroglios, and prefers to comment more broadly on events through his work. Lions for Lambs (2007), for instance, was an attack on the incompetence of America's leaders, post-9/11. But All is Lost is more of a self-contained personal drama.
"A lot of people in America feel lost at this time, and some will draw that analogy with the film. I can't go that far. But, if you take a broader view, we are lost. Where is our anchor? Where can we put our feet? There are not many places to do that now, and a lot of people are feeling that," he says.
"I think that when people see this film, with the character all alone at sea, they will make a visceral connection to the movie."
All is Lost will be released on disc on Tuesday.