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"I Just Needed To Know You Weren't Nuts": Robert Redford Talks Making The Bold 'All Is Lost' With J.C. Chandor

by Rodrigo Perez
October 9, 2013 2:25 PM
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All is Lost, JC Chandor, Redford

One scene has a grand irony that made the whole crew laugh.
There's a scene in the film where Redford’s character, close to his wit’s end, throws a piece of plastic into the sea. “Here’s this wonderful environmentalist, and he cuts the piece of plastic and he throws it over head and it comes back over his shoulder and there were 10 people [on the crew] and we all giggled because we got Robert Redford to throw a piece of plastic into the ocean,” Chandor laughed.

"J.C. wasn't answering fundamental questions. But what came out of it was that there was a reason – what he had on the page was all he wanted," -- Robert Redford

Some of the movie’s tone changed on set.
Chandor said the film was “supposed to be a bit of a swashbuckling adventure. It's supposed to be nerve racking and intense. So by the time you get to that third act, you feel, as an audience, what he has been through.” While that’s true. It’s hardly an action-adventure movie and instead features deep moments of existentialism.

Redford may have had something to do with this shift. “I said to J.C., 'So much of it is the storm – can we at least have some moments to think? Where there's a moment or impasse to look out and think and be?' ” Redford recalled asking. “In my head, you were turning to that vast expanse of ocean and it was endless but what was underneath you was a vast depth of miles and miles of deep sea. What it must feel like to see the vastness of space on the horizon line and miles of water underneath you and just you. That got me – the size of the ocean in my head.”

J. C. Chandor refused to talk to Redford about character's backstory on purpose.
“He tried!” Chandor said. Redford soon realized there was a method to this madness.

“I went through the normal motions – ‘What's on your mind?’ ‘Do you have anything you want to talk about with this story?’ – and [Chandor] was pretty evasive,” the actor said. “And I thought, ‘Huh.’ He wasn't answering fundamental questions. But what came out of it was that there was a reason – what he had on the page was all he wanted. Once I hooked into that, I liked it a lot. My character says [at the beginning in his only form of dialogue which is a note], 'I tried, you know I tried,' but there's something missing. And maybe this journey has to do with him trying to figure that out.”

All Is Lost, Set photo

“What attracted me – it was slightly existential, you had space that could allow that to be interpreted by others,” Redford continued.. “Leaving that space was really great. The final thing I liked was that he was not a superhuman. He wasn't a superhero or super sailor. He wasn't on Larry Ellison's crew. And that left room for improvisation. Because when things got bad he had to learn on the job. I found that very interesting.”

One of the film’s most striking sequences is also a bit odd.
In the movie [very minor spoiler, if you can call it that], the character prepares for a storm and as he battens down the hatches and prepares for what is surely his doom, he begins to give himself a quick shave before going back outside to battle the elements.

Redford said he had mixed feelings about the scene when he first read it in the script, liking the eccentricities of it, but wanted to understand it first. Once Chandor explained him the intentions of the scene, he loved it.

“It seems bizarre and people might find it off putting,” Redford admitted, “But what I liked about it is that the character is always confronted with either panicking or handling [the situation]. So sometimes you try to reduce it to an element of normalcy. The character was trying to realign himself and treat things as normal as possible.”

It also provoked larger thematic ideas for the actor. “The larger philosophical question – when things seem impossible, all is lost, all the odds are against, nothing is possible – so you give up or others keep going. And this character wants to continue. Because that's all he knows how to do. I felt that film had that and the character had to deal with it. That was appealing.”

“All Is Lost” hits theaters on October 18th. -- Reporting by Drew Taylor

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  • Superior Scott | January 29, 2014 1:37 AMReply

    I think the film maker's intentions lean to the religious as to the ending of the film. I think what he is implying without wanting to straight out say is that in his version of the story, that is not a "human" hand reaching into the water. If, like myself, you take the ending at face value and don't read anything into the scene other than what you see on screen, nothing is ambiguous about the ending.

  • jacqueline | January 28, 2014 11:53 PMReply

    I loved this movie! Robert redford is one of the most amazing actors of all time!

  • Bill South | October 28, 2013 10:55 AMReply

    The title of the film says it all (i.e., the title is the biggest spoiler).

  • Mike | October 9, 2013 4:17 PMReply

    Asking if the character survives in the end is in itself a spoiler. The spoilers ahead tag probably should have come before that.

  • Daniel | October 10, 2013 1:57 AM

    I'll re-phrase the previous.
    Not, not knowing how to end a story, but the revealed fate of a character in a story.

  • Daniel | October 10, 2013 1:49 AM

    Chandor doesn't want to be ambiguous, yet won't answer a straight question. What a gimmick!
    Not knowing how to end a story does not make one profound. Just immature.

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