BEARS ANOTHER LIFE IN HIS LATEST FILM
by Brad Balfour
In An Unfinished Life, legendary actor Robert Redford tackles a character he’s wrestled with before, a massive bear. In this film he plays co-star Jennifer Lopez’s father-in-law who wrestles with her as she is forced to move in with him in order to take care of her daughter. Finally helmed by veteran director Lasse Hallstrom, the film was under development for several years (Redford’s former cinematic partner Paul Newman almost played the lead) until it was completed with the unlikely pairing of Redford and Lopez.
How was the bear?
The bear was tame, is what they said.
Did you interact with the bear before shooting began?
Not very much. I don’t subscribe to the idea of wild animals being tamed. I don’t think they’re ever REALLY tame. They can be tamed for periods of time, but I would never take for granted a wild animal.
I read that you had a bad previous experience with a grizzly. What was it like working with that big bear?
Years ago, I was making a film called Jeremiah Johnson, and the scene called for me to be chased by a bear and the scene got out of hand and the camera had a malfunction and I had to keep running around a tree. The bear got all excited and started really chasing me and I had to jump in the tree to save my neck. I made it, but I said, “I’m never going to do this again.” So, now I’m doing it again and why am I doing it again? Because I got paid to do it.
You said you did this because you got paid. Do you do certain films now because you get paid?
I’ve never done anything for the pay. I was kidding. [I did this] because I liked the script. I did think a lot about the bear. I said, “Gee, I wonder what they’re going to do with this.” But I did it because I liked the script and I liked the character and I liked what the script was trying to say.
Did you have to wrestle with a beast of another kind — Jennifer Lopez’s following?
I didn’t think about it because I didn’t have to; we were in Canada in a very remote place and were working there as actors. She was just Jennifer. We were playing parts in a movie and she didn’t bring with her any of the business stuff. It didn’t enter the picture, so I never thought about it. I never dealt with it. She’s a talented actor, so I just enjoyed her, but I never thought about her audience or anything like that.
The film is basically about forgiveness. What transgression have you had to forgive?
There’s a long list.
This is just one small example, there are others, but I don’t want to waste time here thinking [about it]. There was a critic that I became friendly with early in life and I always wondered if that was dangerous to have a friendship with a critic, because what would happen if that critic were to review your films? I thought about it and worried about it, but didn’t do anything about it. Then later on, the critic began to review my films and I thought that would not be a good idea and I told him: “Don’t you think it’s not such a good idea? That it would be a conflict?” And he said, “No, no problem at all.” And then he and I had a falling out as friends, and from that time I got savaged in reviews. The abuse was so great, I mean, it was so extreme, his punishing me in print. I had no defense so I had to forgive it and I eventually did.
Are you friends now?
No, I just forgave. That was as far as I could go.
Morgan Freeman often plays the conscience in a film. What do you think makes him seem so perfect for these roles?
I just think that Morgan has something about him that is very soulful; it has to do with the way he looks, it has to do with his skill as an actor and the depth of his life experience and his career and you put it all together and you have a man that emits a great deal of soul in his work and I think that’s the reason.
This film is also about facing your fears. Do you have any fears that you have faced down and are you sacred of anything now?
Sure. I’m probably not afraid of the things you might think. I’m not going to go into a personal thing here, but I’m afraid of certain types of people who are not straight—who have an agenda other than the one they are talking about; and the agenda they have is highly immoral, maybe even criminal, but is disguised as a performance and you have to work hard to figure it out. If you can’t figure it out, when you can’t figure it out, you sense it’s there–and it’s frightening. I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m not afraid of the unknown. I’m attracted to the unknown. I don’t want to be a prisoner of what is known, so I like not knowing certain things. I like mystery. I’m frightened sometimes by my children [laughs.] They scare me to death because they’ve become the children I wanted them to be—independent—and their independence sometimes scares me. They take chances and so, as a parent, that frightens me. I get frightened by forces that take things in my world, my life or my country that are beyond my control. They take it down a dark path, which is what I feel is happening now, and I have no ability to have a voice in it, well, maybe a little voice, but it doesn’t mean much. When I can see something that I value highly being taken down a destructive road because of either ignorance or lack of experience or limitations or over-exercised ideology, it frightens me because I know they don’t get it and they are not likely to change. That’s frightening—particularly when you can see the results are. So, right now I’m frightened for my country.
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom [The Ciderhouse Rules, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?] was great for this project.
Lasse brings to the film his own sensibility, which has a very definite style and rhythm to it. I like a lot of his films and I liked them because he allows a film to breathe and develop in its own natural way and I think films like that, at least for me, have become more and more appealing as the industry has moved towards fast-paced, in-your-face, high-velocity films. They have a lot of cutting and fancy tricks with the camera. The way the film business has moved more and more towards the effects of high technology, animation, commercials and music videos, all of those elements have affected the movie-making business and so the films that give you a little bit more time to feel things and digest things have sort of been pushed a little to the side; I am drawn to filmmakers who still have the courage to make those kinds of films. Lasse does and has a European sensibility, which means that he has a very strong attachment to the humanistic side.
That’s something you share with Paul Newman. Are you two planning to make another movie?
We’re talking about it. That’s true. I think Paul and I are alike in that we probably are reluctant to talk about something that is not real yet, but we are talking about something.
Have you been looking for something to do together for long?
Well, I don’t think we really spent a lot of energy. I think it’s sort of surprising that nothing came to us in 20 years, considering Hollywood’s penchant for sequels and remakes and things like that. They could never find a script that might suit us. The stuff that came to us wasn’t any good.
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Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 9, 2005.