Oscar-winning actor Robert Redford tackles toughest role yet in disaster at sea film 'All is Lost'

For many sailors – particularly those who have spent a chunk of their time sailing solo – Robert Redford’s latest role in ‘All is Lost’ might bite a little too close to the bone. Breaching your hull, getting thrown overboard, capsizing, dismasting – it’s like  Crash Test Boat the Movie with added realism.

The concept for the film is simple: Redford plays the unnamed central character who wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container. On further inspection he finds all his navigation equipment and radio equipment has been knocked out and he has to rely on his impressive knowledge, skills and strength to survive in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Director J.C. Chandor knew he wanted to make some form of open-water thriller but it took almost six years for him to finally hit upon the idea.

“It’s a very simple story about a guy late in his life who goes out for a four or five-month sail,” Chandor says. “Fate intervenes, the boat has an accident, and essentially we go on an eight-day journey with him as he fights to survive. It’s an existential action movie about one man lost at sea, fighting against the elements and himself.”

Production designer John Goldsmith, whose previous credits include No Country for Old Men and The Last Samurai, said finding three identical Cal yachts proved to be somewhat difficult.

“We scouted them at different times and purchased them in different ports. They all had to be imported, which was a logistical exercise in itself. I think we were two weeks into prep before all three were side by side, ready for us to work on.”

Once they had them, the filmmakers put the boats through their paces-and then some.

“We did pretty much everything that you can do to a boat on film,” Chandor says. “We sunk it, brought it back to life, sailed it, then put it through a massive storm, flipped it over, and sunk it again. I think it’s paramount to have a pretty deep understanding of the way these boats work, the way they sail and sink, as well as all of the different kinds of sailing elements we use to help move the story along.”

In one memorable scene, Robert Redford is chest-deep in water collecting supplies from his slowly sinking yacht. Then he takes a break to stand before the mirror and for possibly the last time in his life, shave.

“You work against the odds in the weirdest ways,” Redford says. “But when the odds are so great against you, you fight hard to create some normalcy in your life, even though it may seem weird.”

Other scenes were intensely physical for the actor, who is known for doing many of his own stunts: from clambering up the sailboat’s 65-foot mast to being dragged behind the boat to swimming underwater through the submerged sails. And then there’s the opening sequence in which the sailboat collides with the shipping container and our man jumps from one to the other.

“We slammed a boat into the side of a shipping container with him on it, that’s in the movie,” Dodson says. “There’s this huge jolt, and that’s Bob actually hitting the side of a boat and being okay with it. We put him in a life raft and flipped him upside down and inside out, and he was game.”

“Whenever he did his own stunts, it was both inspiring and exciting, and it also put a little fear in us,” Gerb adds. “But he is in great physical shape. He loves the water and he loves to swim. There are a lot of physical challenges in making this film. Even just being wet all day is exhausting and physically draining on any actor. But his spirit and his understanding of the vision for this film just took over. He came to the set every day and absolutely gave himself over to the process of making this film.”

All is Lost is released on 26th December 2013.