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After ‘All Is Lost,’ Redford talks about the risks of acting

Interview » Playing a sailor in peril in “All Is Lost” was hard, but “all in all, it was worth it.”

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"That was the first thing that enticed me," Redford said of the script. "It drew my attention because it was so bold. It was clearly defined, almost like a storyboard. And there was no dialogue. Right away, I was halfway there. … I guess it was what I was looking for at this point in my career, or in my life."

Before he would commit, though, Redford had to meet Chandor, whose previous exposure to the actor was when "Margin Call" premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

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"I just needed to know that he wasn’t crazy," Redford said.

Meeting Chandor, Redford said he saw that "he was very clear, and he had a vision that was very succinct."

"I love Redford’s films," Chandor said. "I love everything that he’s managed to do with his life. He’s created … an industry for independent filmmakers where we could make a living doing what we were doing."

That said, Chandor saw in Redford "untapped potential," much like his adventure-seeking character. "There was always this feeling that there was kind of this one performance, to get him to fully expose himself as an artist," Chandor said. "I think there’s a couple of moments in the third act where he does that."

Before filming, the plan was that stunt doubles would handle the physical aspects of the role — like climbing the mast or weathering the walls of water. After all, movie producers aren’t eager to risk the safety of the talent, particularly a 77-year-old movie star.

Once work started, Redford said, "I guess my ego kicked in."

He said he has enjoyed doing his own stunts, so when production started in Mexico, "I said, ‘Well, why don’t you let me try this.’ And when I would do this, [J.C.] would get excited that he could film me completely," Redford said.

Redford said he ended up doing almost all of his stunts. "That took its toll, but finally, I think it was worth it," he said. "As an actor, you always commit your whole self to the role. If I could, I would want that to be a complete performance."

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Chandor said watching Redford navigate the stunts was "fascinating."

"This is his life, this kind of work. It’s something he’s comfortable with," Chandor said. "He’s grown up, through his whole career, trusting when they build a contraption to go to the top of the mast, that it’s going to hold him. And he just gets in there."

That said, the stunt work in "All Is Lost" is more grounded than the heroics of a blockbuster action movie.

"No one of the elements was superhuman, and he could actually chip away at it," Chandor said. "Every event is within grasp. It’s only once they all start piling up on each other that you realize there’s this herculean task about the whole thing."

While the role called upon Redford to use his body, it required little of his voice.

"It doesn’t bother me," he said of having nearly no lines throughout the film. "I’ve always felt that silence was dramatically as important as noise or talk. … I felt that, between the character and the action, words can be used as a filter to explain things. If you take that away, it’s more pure."

Chandor set a few basic ground rules about Redford’s character — that he has someone waiting at home, that he’s an accomplished sailor but that his plight has pushed him beyond his level of expertise — but otherwise the director avoided talking to the actor too much about the character’s backstory.

"All I need to do is to fill it in with my behavior," Redford said.

Redford said the character — listed in the credits only as "Our Man" — is similar to one of his iconic roles: the isolated mountain man, who was the title character of the 1972 Western "Jeremiah Johnson."

"It almost made it existential as a piece of film," he said. "When all odds are against, when all seems to be lost, when there seems to be no hope, no purpose, no chance, most people quit. They give up. And, for whatever reason, others just keep going. There’s no other reason than just that, they just keep going because that’s all there is left to them is just to continue. They just continue, without knowing why or how. Just because."


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