Writer-director J.C. Chandor is two-for-two now, with man-vs-sea saga “All Is Lost” (October 18) joining his impressive debut “Margin Call.” Many have wondered why Chandor’s official Cannes selection wasn’t included in the main Cannes Competition. “All Is Lost”‘s compelling and increasingly harrowing narrative, about a man on a solo ocean voyage who ends up in dire straits after his sailboat collides with a cargo container, played tremendously well with critics and the Cannes black-tie crowd attending its red-carpet gala, who gave it a nine-minute standing ovation. Redford, who is the only actor in the film and hardly says a word, delivers a performance of astonishing and emblematic potency.
(UPDATE: After making a splash on the fall fest circuit in both Telluride and New York the film and Redford are in the running for Oscar nominations. Redford talks about this film as well as his long career here, and we cover his NYFF press conference here.)
We sat down with Chandor on the Majestic Beach at Cannes to discuss “All Is Lost,” working with Redford and the fear of dying.
Were you moved by the Cannes reception?
It was amazing. I’ve been wanting to do exactly this since I was 15 years old and it’s taken me a long while, frankly. To have a second movie that you’re proud of and that actually turned out the way you wanted, shot by shot, I realize I’m probably going to be able to do this for a little while for my living. It’s at times like these that those moments hit you because you realize that we did a good job. And then to have Mr. Redford sitting next to me while he basically watched himself, by his wife’s admission, doing things that he had never done on camera – being more vulnerable than he ever has on screen. I’ll never have a screening like it.
How do you get funding for a project like this?
You get a surprise Oscar nomination out of nowhere [laughs]. When I got nominated for an Academy Award [original screenplay, “Margin Call”) it was the week before Glen Basner at FilmNation went to Berlin to sell the film. He was able to pre-sell the movie at the absolute height of my upside – before I lost! Before Woody Allen beat me, we sold the film. That allowed us to own the film. There’s no equity in this film so my fellow filmmakers, Redford and myself, we own the movie. Universal bought international; Lionsgate and Roadside, who released my first film, pre-bought domestic. They gave us contracts and we borrowed money against that so amazingly, no one involved was ever worried about getting paid back for what is, creatively, an outlandish, crazy idea. As a result, they let us just do it.
Redford barely speaks in the film. Was that always your intention?
What you see in the film is all he was ever supposed to do. When I have people around, I’m a chatterbox. But when I’m alone, I never speak. I don’t talk to myself; it’s just not my schtick. And this character is me. Someone was like, “Is this your father?” No, it’s not my father, it’s actually me. This is me afraid of dying and dealing with myself dying.
When did you first have the idea to cast Redford?
I had just finished writing the script and I was at Sundance Labs with about 200 new filmmakers, and he comes and gives you this great welcome speech. I was in the back of the room and the speaker behind me was unplugged. I can barely hear him but suddenly it crackled to life and that buttery voice that he has was right in my ear. He’s talking about “Jeremiah Johnson” and about how it came to Cannes, was a big hit, and then the studio essentially dropped the movie but two years later they re-released and it became a big hit. Halfway through this great story, the speaker goes out and I can’t hear him again. And I realized that if I take away his voice, which is one of his best tools, he will have to use everything else that he has.
There are extraordinary sequences of his boat and life raft being rolled again and again by storm waves, with Redford inside. How much of the physical stuff was he able to do?
Almost all of it. I would say there are eight shots of a stunt person. And I mean shots, not sequences. He’s a very, very strong swimmer so everything underwater except for one shot is him. He’s a very good athlete and very competitive so his knees, sadly, are a little arthritic. But his upper body is incredibly strong. Boats naturally have handles everywhere and we built more into the interior of the boat. If you go back and look at the movie, he’s always holding things, kind of like a monkey in the forest. As long as his upper body is there, he’s not going anywhere.
If he had been injured, what would have happened to the film?
It was one of the most stressful elements for me, every night and every morning. If he gets hurt – as a 76-year-old with a wife who’s very protective, she probably would have never let him back on the set and that’s the tragic situation of a total loss for the insurance company because the movie disappears. We had to keep him safe. But he’s got an ego on him and he loves to go for it.
ROBERT REDFORD CANNES PRESS CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS BELOW:
What was the attraction: “It was the challenge of being solitary without having the crutch of words. That was a challenge that was very attractive as an actor. I’d also just finished directing and acting in a film and I really wanted to have an experience where I could give myself over completely to another director. The reason this worked is because I felt that J.C. had a vision that was very clear and very strong and very different.”
Did he learn anything during the shoot: “I learned the value of being truthful in a performance, particularly when there’s nothing to lean on. There are no other characters so you’d better be true to yourself.”
Did he ever regret saying yes: “I didn’t always enjoy being there but I was stuck. Where was I going to go? It was hard. I decided that I wanted to try to do what I could physically myself. J.C was relentless in his vision, which I appreciate, but he was also very respectful throughout, of me and my well being. I think because of that I was encouraged to want to give him more, more, more. I thought if I could do some of these action things myself, it would be better for him and also pretty good for my ego. That was a terrible mistake!”
What is his connection to nature: “I feel we are in a dire situation. I feel that the planet is speaking in a very loud voice. In the United States, it’s always been what we call Manifest Destiny, which is you just keep pushing and building and developing and never mind what you destroy in your wake, whether it’s a culture or whether it’s nature. Nature has been so savaged that I think there’s not a lot left and that’s something that I feel very personal about. I don’t what can be done to stop it because you’re fighting big corporate forces and that’s hard to battle.”