Wednesday, May 11, 2005

More Fame for Bryson--Redford, 67, Will Be in His Movie Role

John Harlow and John Elliott
The Australian
May 11, 2005

One of the most popular acting partnerships in Hollywood history, Robert Redford and Paul Newman, is planning to reunite for one last movie.

More than 30 years after they last worked together, Redford is negotiating for the rights to Bill Bryson's book "A Walk in the Woods."

Redford, 67, would take the role of the author, who in the book attempts to shake off a midlife crisis by hiking across the American wilderness. Newman, 80, would play his doughnut-addicted companion, Bryson's friend Stephen Katz.

Newman recently said that they have been looking for an "unexpected" film to follow up the barnstorming success of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in 1969 and "The Sting" in 1973.

"I hate to talk about anything until the papers are drawn up, but we've been looking for something like 20 years and now we are looking harder," says Newman. "I want to make one final film for good luck and I would like it to be with Bob."

The matinee idol-turned racing car driver-turned organic food magnate has already been limbering up for the role. Earlier this year, after attending the wedding of his daughter Nell in south Wales, he reportedly took off for a hike at the Mumbles, the local beauty spot, with his actor wife Joanne Woodward.

[Bryson grew up in Des Moines. He's the son of the late Bill Bryson, a longtime sportswriter at the local paper, and Mary Bryson, who also was a reporter at the paper.

[Ron Maly recalls young Bill Bryson, wearing a baseball uniform, accompanying his dad into the newspaper office after night games at the local ballpark.

[Maly thought young Bill would someday follow his dad's footsteps and become a baseball reporter. It's obvious he has gone in a different writing direction].

Redford, a noted environmentalist, has been a fan of Bryson's comic saga since it was published in 1998. The story chronicles the duo's misadventures during a hike along the 3380km Appalachian Trail.

Redford said he hopes that "A Walk in the Woods" could be their swan song. "That might be something for Paul Newman and me, if we're not too old. That's if Paul can hang on long enough and we can get him on the Appalachian Trail before he gets into a wheelchair," he recently joked about his famously fit friend.

Newman and Redford still have pulling power. When Newman discussed his plans at the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York, Julia Roberts said she would love to take the cameo role of Bryson's British wife Cynthia.

She would even settle for a smaller role. "I want to be in it and I mean to be in it," said the 37-year-old superstar.

The Appalachian Trail, a range of mountains running from Georgia in the deep south to Maine near the Canadian border, is a rite of passage for Americans who regard themselves as outdoors types.

Bryson, after living in north Yorkshire for nearly two decades researching his best-selling books such as "Notes From a Small Island," decided to "reacquaint" himself with his American heritage by walking the trail in bursts. He relished snubbing much of the professional walking gear, opting instead for plastic sheeting purchased in hardware shops.

He avoided some of the tough and tedious terrain by taking cab journeys and broke from the trail to return to his family in New England for "tender living care" when it all got too grim.

Even then, after several months of harsh walking, the ill-prepared writer was unable to finish more than half the trail. "It defeated me, as it does most, although I still feel I have completed the trail in spirit," he said later. "And it's still there if I want to fill in the gaps."

Katz, Bryson's old school friend from his native Iowa, added some light relief for part of the trek: Bryson wrote that, due to unspecified past drug habits, Katz has to keep on eating doughnuts or else risk "brain seizure".

Bryson, 53, who was recently appointed chancellor of the University of Durham and is applying for British citizenship, has seen "Notes From a Small Island" turned into a TV documentary, but it remains uncertain how closely a Hollywood film would stick to his original book.

A source close to Redford said last week that it might need to be "rethought a little", perhaps to remove the midlife crisis and also to expand Newman's role.

"And Paul, who takes his food seriously - as his Newman organic range has proven - might not be too happy to have to down dozens of doughnuts for the camera," said the source.

However, it was hoped to keep the carnival of odd characters encountered by Bryson and Katz, including a troupe of incompetent scouts and a perpetually lost hiker called Chicken John.

Redford was offered the role of the Sundance Kid only after Jack Lemmon fell ill and Steve McQueen refused to accept second billing after Newman. The duo did all their own stunts in the film and Newman also did the bicycle tricks after his stand-in stuntman revealed that he could not ride a bike.

Now his biggest challenge will be to look like a man who is fit enough to walk 3380km, even if he is fuelled by doughnuts.

The Sunday Times