After spending a lifetime in film as an actor, director and producer, Robert Redford braved the sea and starred as the sole character in the film All Is Lost.
“I’m sorry. I tried,” reads a note written by Robert Redford’s (A&S ex’58, HonDocHum’87) character in the 2013 film All Is Lost after he spends eight days struggling for survival in the Indian Ocean.
The nameless character — credited only as “Our Man” — faces defeat after his boat’s hull is destroyed in a collision with a stray shipping container, disabling all communication. Amid the hole in his 39-foot yacht Redford’s character battles the relentless elements of the sea, including a gigantic storm and curious sharks as his supplies dwindle, his water becomes contaminated and exhaustion takes over.
Redford, 77, plays the sole character in the film, released last fall, and speaks a mere handful of words. Yet he fully embodies the role and gave his all in the harrowing man-versus-nature portrayal.
“The entire movie is about a guy realizing that the more trouble he gets into and the later you are in life, the quicker things come at you,” the film’s writer and director J.C. Chandor told the Los Angeles Times. “The overarching idea is that this is a guy who, as he goes on, even with less and less, is fighting harder and harder for more time on the planet.”
I think he really enjoyed, after all those years of trying to wear all those different hats, just absolutely closing off and becoming a pure actor again.
Redford’s performance is the culmination of a lifetime in film, starting in the early 1960s and including three Academy Award acting nominations and an honorary Oscar.
Since his first film credit in the 1962 movie War Hunt, Redford has acted in 37 films and will appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier this year. He is best known for leading roles in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men and The Sting. He has directed nine films, including A River Runs Through It and Quiz Show. He won an Academy Award for best director in 1981 for his film Ordinary People.
With myriad diverse acting roles to his name, the immense challenge that came with starring in All Is Lost was not a deterrent to Redford. The 31-page script was presented to him by writer and director J.C. Chandor after the 2011 Sundance Film Festival featured the movie he directed, Margin Call. The yearly festival is run by Redford’s nonprofit Sundance Institute, which has helped discover and grow independent artists worldwide since 1981. Chandor became the first artist supported by Redford to ask him to be a part of his next film.
“It was a chance to go back to my roots in a very pure way because I felt what [Chandor] constructed was pure cinema,” Redford told The New York Times. “[The film] has no special effects or voiceover or anything that gets in between the audience and what they’re experiencing.”
For All Is Lost, Redford chose to perform most of his own stunts. An endless stream of wave and wind machines hit him during the two months of shooting in the same water tanks used for the film Titanic. A crew member sprayed streams of water at his head with a powerful hose. Drenched and beaten by heavy walls of water he fully became the character, the nameless man.
“I think he really enjoyed, after all those years of trying to wear all those different hats, just absolutely closing off and becoming a pure actor again,” Chandor told The Washington Post.
Years before becoming a household name, the Los Angeles-raised Redford attended CU-Boulder for one year. During this time he worked as a janitor at The Sink on University Hill in 1955. Following his footsteps decades later, two of his children, David “Jamie” Redford (Engl’85) and Shauna Redford Schlosser (Art’85), also attended CU-Boulder.
In the movie All Is Lost, Redford did most of his own stunts and spoke only a handful of words.
After leaving CU-Boulder, Redford traveled to Europe to paint and study art in Paris and Florence before settling in New York City to act at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His unwavering dedication to the film industry laid the foundation for what seems certain to become one of his most memorable performances — the role of Our Man, which has drawn accolades, including a Golden Globe nomination for best actor. It was his first Golden Globe nomination since his 1999 best director nomination for The Horse Whisperer.
With more than 50 years of Hollywood behind him, Redford has proven he is far from lost.
“You just continue,” Redford told the Times. “Because that’s all there is to do.
Photography by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson/Trunk Archive (Redford in director's chair); Mark Hom (portrait, Redford drinking); Coloradan yearbook 1955 (Kappa Sigma group); Daniel Daza, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment (on the set of All Is Lost); J. Martin Natvig (graduation photo)