THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE
As a director. Robert Redford has had an affinity for stories of people who must overcome great obstacles in life. "The Legend of Bagger Vance" continues in that tradition with elements of myth and fantasy. "When I was young, mythology was huge for me larger-than-life characters in bigger-than-life situations," Redford offers. "That and movies were my main entertainment, and the strongest underpinning in either is a good story. I have a permanent belief that good storytelling will survive any change in time."
Redford was introduced to the story of "The Legend of Bagger Vance" by producer Jake Eberts, who discovered the novel of the same name by Steven Pressfield. Having collaborated with Redford as executive producer on "A River Runs Through It," Eberts knew it would be the kind of story in which the director would take an immediate interest.
Eberts told Redford that he thought it would make a good film, so Redford naturally asked what it was about. Despite Eberts' passion for the piece, he was having a difficult time describing it until he hit on the phrase it's about a man who's lost his authentic swing."
"I heard that and suddenly all the lights went on for me," Redford recalls. "That phrase just struck me, his authentic swing.' Then I read the book and thought it had all the elements of great storytelling. It's the classic
journey of a hero who falls into darkness through some disconnect with his soul, and then of his coming back into the light with the help of a spiritual guide. It also had a very strong love story, which is the best way to show the hero's coming back to life. Lastly, it had a challenge, a great contest. In the mythological sense, there finally has to come that slaying of the dragon' scene, and in this case it's an extraordinary golf match. You put all that together and you have a solid foundation to tell a really good story.
The hero at the center of the story is the character of Rannulph Junuh, played by
Matt Damon. "1 got very taken with the idea of Matt Damon, who, at least at this point in his life, doesn't have much of a mark on him, which is part of his appeal," Redford says. "I thought it would be interesting to put him in the part of this damaged young man and then watch him come back from that. More importantly, Matt can act, and is very intelligent and open. He was just a pleasure to work with."
For Damon, the opportunity to work with Robert Redford was the first thing that sparked his interest in the project. He then read the script and notes, "I thought it was very compelling and had a kind of mythic quality, and I'd never really done anything like that before. To do something new—and with a great director was something I couldn't say no to.
Once Damon was cast, he and Redford spent a lot of time examining the character of Rannulph Junuh. "This is a story of redemption, so it was essential to find the character at the beginning and then show his arc," the actor comments. "I thought it was a really fascinating study of a guy who, on the surface, seems to have everything, but his entire connection to this game he plays, and therefore his life, is essentially undermined by his success.
Damon explains, "Junuh was the golden boy of Savannah, not only winning golf tournaments, but excelling at everything he did. He is used to everything coming easy until he goes off to war. When he finds himself failing in that life-and-death struggle, his idea of the world and how it works collapses. As a result, he comes back pretty down and out. He's given up... until an opportunity presents itself."
That opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime golf match against the greatest golfers of the day, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. But when Junuh
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