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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

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist October 9, 2013 at 2:25PM

Yesterday at the New York Film Festival, director J.C. Chandor revealed one of the best pictures of the fest: "All Is Lost." A masterful and tense drama that immediately elevates the "Margin Call" filmmaker from a promising indie director to a promising new auteur, who is one to watch from now on. "All Is Lost," is not only soulful and moving, its an incredible achievement. Boldly austere and silent, the drama chronicles a resourceful sailor, who after a collision with a shipping container in the Indian ocean, finds himself staring his mortality in the face despite all his best efforts.
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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

Browse through all our coverage of the 2013 New York Film Festival by clicking here.

This article is related to: All Is Lost, Robert Redford, J.C. Chandor, New York Film Festival , Features, Interviews, Interviews


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