Inspired by the best-selling book by Bill Bryson, “A Walk in the Woods” was at first conceptualized by Robert Redford as a venture that would reunite him onscreen with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” co-star Paul Newman. However, when Newman became sick, Redford delayed the film in light of the fact that he couldn’t envision doing it with any one else – until he worked with Nick Nolte on “The Company You Keep.”
The two men struck up a friendship and Redford soon realized that Nolte was destined to play the part of Stephen Katz, an AWOL companion of Bryson’s, with whom he had some wild times.
“I remember WWII; Bob remembers WWII,” Nolte says, by way for explaining the genuine bond between them that made the movie work, particularly the humor. “I’ve been really thinking of this now that I’m in my solid 70s. It had an extreme effect on a lot of people… And so, that was a kind of an unwritten script going on between Bob and me. I think it’s this WWII experience.”
In “A Walk in the Woods,” Bryson (Redford) concludes that he needs to climb the Appalachian Trail. He is searching for one more adventure. Just because he’s in his 70s, he doesn’t feel as though his life ought to be over. However, he can’t find anybody to bring the trek with him until he gets word from Katz, an old school mate whom he hasn’t seen in 30 years, and with whom he has unfinished business.
“I just love the idea that a guy hit a certain point in his life and he said, ‘I just have to do this thing. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it, please don’t ask me, but I just have to do it,’” Redford states.
With that understanding of Bryson on which to build his character, Redford then requested that the real Bryson describe Katz, and Bryson answered, “Well, he was very smart, very daring, but he had an addictive personality.” Redford confesses to thinking, “Nick will be great.”
To which Nolte chuckling, says, “I can do that. Not hard.”
Despite the fact that Bryson never invited Katz on the journey – Katz caught wind of it from a mutual friend – he is excited to join the trek in light of the fact that he is avoiding legal issues back in Iowa and he has run out of luck when it comes to talking his way out of trouble. However, he is overweight and too fond of alcohol, making it nearly impossible to truly handle the 2200 miles of trail that extend from Georgia to Maine. Still, that doesn’t prevent him from starting.
“Katz never had a job,” says Nolte, who has the experience of childhood in Iowa just the same as his character. “He didn’t have a career. In the ’60s, he got into the revolution and stayed revolutionary. Kind of a bum, I guess. He didn’t leave Iowa. I think that’s what Katz is. He’s sticking back in time. He brings that to his friend in a package that is a little confrontational, a little bit of nothingness, and a little bit of something.”
Despite the fact that the actors didn’t really hike the same number of miles of the Appalachian Trail as it shows in the motion picture, nor did camp outdoors, but stayed in hotels, recording was hard in more ways than one.
Nolte remembers, “We would drive maybe an hour to location, and there were camels, horses, and four-wheel drives, and Bob wanted to ride a horse. He’s a horseman, he owns horses, he’s a rider. And they grabbed the reins and said, ‘No, you can’t have the reins, we have to lead you out there.’ I got off the horse and walked up the hill, and rightly so. But nobody would get on the camel.”
“A Walk in the Woods,” also starred Emma Thompson, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen and directed by Ken Kwapis from a script by Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman, opens in theaters in Sept