Based on the book of the same name, A Walk in the Woods tells the story of travel writer Bill Bryson (Robert Redford), who challenges himself to hike the Appalachian Trail, which runs 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. The only person he can persuade to accompany him is his long-lost friend Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), whom he hasn’t seen in years.

Unfortunately, the two men have totally different ideas on what the word ‘adventure’ means, and the trek doesn’t smoothly for either of them.

I spoke with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte about their new movie, which opens on Wednesday, September 2nd 2015, for the Labor Day weekend.

How did this come together?

A Walk in the Woods (2015) - Nick Nolte
A Walk in the Woods (2015) – Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) ©2015 Broad Green Pictures, photo by Frank Masi

Nolte: We have the same lawyers and it was whispered to me that Robert might give me a call, and he did. We set up a meeting and I went down and we talked. We immediately got along, and he mentioned A Walk in the Woods, I had read the book and it was great.

Redford: It was close to 10 years (when we first met about it).

We worked together on The Company You Keep, which was about five years ago, and A Walk in the Woods was last year.

A Walk in the Woods (2015) - Robert Redford
A Walk in the Woods (2015) – Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) ©2015 Broad Green Pictures, photo by Frank Masi

So a lot of years went by before this thing came to be, and I think the reason it stayed there was I was really passionate about what I thought it was worth.

I thought it was a wonderful story, wonderful characters, it was about something, it had elements that I thought were really important, (especially) the role of nature and human beings’ relationship with it.

Nolte: For actors our ages, it is a perfect piece of material. It looks at  the challenge of aging – which is difficult enough in life, let alone in trying to go on some kind of adventure. But adventures are important in every stage in your life.

Nowadays it seems like all the movies are made for young people, and I liked this film because the characters were rich in experience.

A Walk in the Woods (2015) - Robert Redford and Nick Nolte
A Walk in the Woods (2015) – Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) and Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) ©2015 Broad Green Pictures, photo by Frank Masi

Redford: Thank you for that. The fact is, it felt like this film could have some appeal for the underserved audience, the other people who have given up on films because it’s gone the way of youth, special effects, boom, crash, all of that, which is fine but at the expense of movies that used to be about story and character, not dependant on special effects and green screen.

They’ve been disenfranchised and I felt that one of the things that could be appealing about this is it would serve that purpose, they could look at the film and say, ‘I can identify with the way they are now, but I can also remember how I felt when I was younger.’

Why do you think the culture has gotten so ageist?

Nolte: I think it’s fear. We don’t cultivate the knowledge of age and we don’t know how to die.

Redford: I think Nick’s hitting a point about fear when in truth you should be just grateful that you can still walk and move as long as you can. Don’t sit down, because as far you know this is the only (life) you’ve got, so make the most of it.

Nolte: And just because you’re old it doesn’t mean you’re not unique anymore. If you go across the same street every day there is still going to be something different.

Did you do anything before you started shooting to get ready for all that walking?

A Walk in the Woods (2015) - Robert Redford and Nick Nolte
A Walk in the Woods (2015) – Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) and Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) atop McAfee Knob along the Appalachian Trail ©2015 Broad Green Pictures, photo by Frank Masi

Redford: With select movies these days you don’t have any time because the budget’s so low. There was no rehearsal, we sat around a table and talked a little bit, but we just had to get out there and do it.

Nolte: This film relies on nature. If we get out there enough the trees, the sun, the weather will make [their] presence known, and then it makes it easy for Bob and I to act.

Redford: There’s a wonderful moment in the film that illustrates what we’re talking about where you see the transition that Katz, Nick’s character, [goes through].

They are hiking and they come to a chestnut tree and Bryson tells him about the history of the chestnut, and then I leave and (Katz) stays looking at the tree, he goes from being a guy that (feels) a rock is a rock, and you know right then and there something is happening. It’s kind of a nice moment.

A Walk in the Woods (2015) - Director Ken Kwapis, Robert Redford and Nick Nolte
A Walk in the Woods (2015) – Director Ken Kwapis and crew filming a scene with Nick Nolte and Robert Redford on the set ©2015 Broad Green Pictures, photo by Frank Masi

Robert, what would you like to do at this point? You took this as an acting role, not directing, so do you see yourself doing more acting now or would you like to do more directing?

Redford: I directed for awhile and I missed acting , because that’s how I started. I missed just being an actor and only being that and not anything more. The kind of producer [I am] is putting something out there and making sure it gets made. So this film was that, it was getting it out there and getting it made. Then I just wanted to be in it as an actor.

I probably wouldn’t want to give up directing totally because you control a story and a lot of the stories I would like to do I would have to direct in order to get them made.

A Walk in the Woods Soundbyte

Redford originally optioned the book with the thought of doing the movie with Paul Newman. I asked him about that – click below to listen to his reply.
A Walk in the Woods (2015) - Mary Steenburgen and Robert Redford
A Walk in the Woods (2015) – Jeannie (Mary Steenburgen) and Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) ©2015 Broad Green Pictures, photo by Frank Masi
In the movie Mary Steenburgen plays Jeannie, the owner of a motel Bryson and Katz stay at, who is attracted to Bryson, and Kristen Schaal portrays Mary Ellen, an avid hiker who joins Bryson and Katz on the trail. I asked both of them what it was like working with Redford and Nolte. Click below for their memories.
A Walk in the Woods (2015) - Nick Nolte, Kristen Schaa and Robert Redford
A Walk in the Woods (2015) – Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal) and Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) ©2015 Broad Green Pictures, photo by Frank Masi