You’ve never seen Robert Redford like he is in J. C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, which strips the 77-year-old actor of all the usual tools—dialogue, backstory, a character name, and even scene partners to react to—in a near-silent survival story about a lone sailor whose boat springs a leak in the middle of the Indian Ocean. All we learn about the character is what we glean from his determined efforts to save himself, and for the first time in a long time, the famous, familiar Redford is an onscreen mystery.
“The ambiguity was one of the things that drew me to the piece,” says Redford. “I like the complexity of it. If you want to slice into America, it’s pretty red, white, and blue in terms of how it goes about things, but there’s a gray area there, and I’ve always been interested in where things are more complicated. But I didn’t know [Chandor before the movie], and I didn’t know if he was a nutcase or not.”
Despite an unusually slim 31-page script, and the fact that Chandor had only one movie under his belt (2011’s Margin Call), Redford’s concerns were alleviated by a ten-minute meeting with his director. “You patted your knees and said, ‘Well, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t totally crazy,’ ” remembers Chandor.
Redford admits it was hard watching himself alone onscreen for 107 minutes—“I’ve never been comfortable seeing myself, ever”—but it wasn’t that, nor the athletic stuntwork he did, that wore him down. “The stress came from being wet so much,” he says. “There’s one moment where I’m in a hammock, and I’m reading a book, and the water is sloshing, and I said to J.C., ‘What kind of crazy fucking movie is this?’ ” “You know the pumps they use to spray weeds on the street?” asks Chandor. “[The crew] would come up and spray him with those, and toward the end of the movie, I couldn’t even look.” Redford laughs. “Nice for him, he could turn away!”