Sometimes (especially when I'm removing a particularly unflattering tag from a friend's Facebook photo), I wonder what it would be like to have someone else's interpretation of me end up on-screen somewhere. In Bill Bryson's classic travel memoir, A Walk in the Woods , he recounts the tale of a trying hike on the Appalachian Trail with his grizzled, alcoholic buddy Stephen Katz. In the new independent comedy film based on the book, Robert Redford plays Bryson, while Nick Nolte plays Katz. So what does the actual Stephen Katz think about this movie version of A Walk In The Woods ?
As fans of the book and Bryson in general are well aware, the name "Katz" is a pseudonym. Much of the humor in the memoir stems from the additional hardship that having a hiking companion even less prepared than Bryson was put on the trip — so as they say, names were changed to protect the somewhat innocent. Ultimately, the pic is as equally buddy-focused as the book; the mildly combative but familiar relationship between the men is what gives both their heart. Still, Bryson recently told The Australian that he fretted at the start that asking Katz along was a huge mistake.
The first few weeks we were together, I just wished he’d go home. He was driving me crazy ... I wasn’t thinking this is great material; during the whole first three weeks I was thinking, I’m never going to get a book out of this, we might as well quit now.
Des Moines, Iowa resident Matt Angerer revealed a decade ago that he is the real-life inspiration for Stephen Katz. He married shortly after that to a woman named Mary, who essentially saved his life. "She's a special lady," he told USA Today. "I don't think I'd ever be sober without her." Prior to the film's release, Angerer seemed fairly nonchalant about having a rough patch of his life laid bare onscreen. Then again, he didn't expect to see much of himself in the character. "He kind of looks like me," was his take on Nolte's casting. Angerer claimed that the filmmakers didn't reach out to him in any way to solicit his involvement in the movie. So while he agreed that "the book is true for the most part," the film is reportedly another step removed from what actually happened when he and Bryson set foot on the trail.
The writer himself also kept his hands out of the adaptation, though likely more by choice. Bryson described the "surreal" experience of seeing A Walk In The Woods for the first time to The Australian:
I watched the movie thinking I was going to watch him playing me, but you realize within 90 seconds that’s not me any more, it’s Robert Redford.
Angerer shows a mild interest in sharing that experience in the USA Today piece. But if he's seen the film yet, no account of his response has been made public. But that "real" Stephen Katz has his own memories (hazy though they may be) of the experience, and any movie version would probably pale in comparison.
Image: Broad Green Pictures