Robert Redford takes on the role of Bill Bryson, a travel writer who decides to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz, in the new dramedy A Walk in the Woods. The film, out Sept. 2, first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and tells the story of old friends who reunite to hike the Appalachian trail despite their middle age and lack of physical training. Joining Redford in the film are Nick Nolte, who plays Stephen, and Emma Thompson, who stars as Redford's wife, as well as Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen and Kristen Schaal. If A Walk in the Woods sounds familiar, it should: A Walk in the Woods is based on a book of the same name, written by the real Bill Bryson.
Published in 1998, A Walk in the Woods went on to become a bestseller, and Redford actually bought the movie rights to the source material in 2005. According to Variety, Redford originally planned to star in the film opposite Paul Newman. Unfortunately, that plan was put on hold when Newman died in 2008. Eventually, with a script adapted by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, and the casting of Nolte in the role planned for Newman, A Walk in the Woods was in production and gearing up for a 2015 release.
It's funny that Bryson's book became the inspiration for a major motion picture given Bryson's self-effacing take on the nature of books about hiking. "While I had a wonderful experience, I certainly didn't want to write another book about hiking. For a start, nothing happens. you just put one foot in front of the other. You might have a great day, but it's not an interesting thing to write about, let alone read," Bryson said in an interview with The Guardian earlier this year.
A Walk in the Woods is a pretty faithful adaptation of Bryson's original text, but the author admitted that changes had to be made. For one, the narration had to go. "Obviously, you're going to have to make changes. I mean, when I wrote the book, I had the great luxury that I can — I'm the narrator of the whole thing. You lose that in a movie. ...Robert Redford as Bill Bryson can't be doing the talking all the time. He can't be doing it all in voice over," Bryson told Variety at Sundance.
Another major change to the book: the ages of the characters. When Bryson and Katz originally went on their hike, they were in their mid-forties, whereas both Nolte and Redford are in their seventies. But, as Redford has noted, the shift in age gives A Walk in the Woods a new, bittersweet tone. "'One last adventure,' which means someone sees the end of the road. This may be your one and only chance, and there's something desperate and touching about that to me," Redford told journalists at Sundance about his favorite line in the film.
What really remains from the book, according to Bryson, is the spirit and friendship between Redford and Nolte's characters. Bryson really did, in fact, attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with a childhood friend named Katz. And, just as in the film, the two men had not seen each other in years when they embarked on their two-man journey. "But, what I thought they ...did brilliantly was to keep the spirit," Bryson added at Sundance. "It does seem to me that the reason this is such a terrific movie is because of the chemistry between these two guys."
Images: Broad Green Pictures