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For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) has delighted children in the sleepy town of Millhaven with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. To his daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who works as a forest ranger in these very woods, his stories are little more than tall tales…until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley). Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home to speak of, who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliot, and from his descriptions, Elliot seems remarkably similar to the fabled dragon from Mr. Meacham’s stories.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Robert Redford for an intimate round-table interview with some members of the press and discuss his character in ‘Pete’s Dragon.’
When asked about the kids and other cast in the movie and how they reacted on set, he comments “Easy kids to get along with, there was no intimidation. They were both easy to work with. Oakes Fegley had a lot to say and talked a lot, and he enjoyed it. And then of course, Bryce, she speaks for herself. You see, she’s got an incandescent quality to her, it just beams out, so she was a joy to work,” recalls Redford
Redford then went on to talk about what drew him to the film. “Well, “Magic” is a big point in the film and it was a big point for me to be attracted to the character. Don’t just focus on what’s in front of you, there’s a broader canvas around and take that in, because it will broaden your point of view. And I just thought that was a very healthy thing, and the fact that that’s sort of in the film-he tells his daughter, “You only see what’s in front of you, but there’s something more.” So you can walk around, but also look around. You know, and I think what new technology has done is narrowed our focus on things.”
The screen legend, who has appeared in such classic films as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Way We Were,” “The Sting” and “All the President’s Men,” has been very selective in recent years as to the roles he chooses, so the filmmakers tailored the part to fit Redford’s strengths as an actor, which encouraged him to commit to the role.
“I think the story crafted here is very human and quite interesting,” says Redford. “It is an in mate story of a father, a daughter and a boy who has survived an accident and gone into the woods, and it has a lot of magic, but at its core, it’s a very emotional, human story.
Redford also discussed about New Zealand and what he thought about the country. “Well, I didn’t know about New Zealand before I went. It was such a pleasant shock, that it really had a huge impact on me, and also a profound sadness, because there was a time when America was like that. And I grew up at that time in the end of the Second World War when there was big mass stretches of land. People were friendly, because they were all together for the war effort, or paper drives, things like that. People were friendly with each other, the air was clean.”
New Zealand has a diverse topography, a variety of different climates and a wealth of experienced film crews, and it is also home to Weta Digital, the Academy Award®-winning visual effects company tasked with bringing Elliot to life on screen.
A question came up about Why we think it’s necessary for kids to explore in today’s society? “I think it’s necessary simply because the world is bigger and darker than they know when they are little. They’re not at an age of sophistication, so they don’t know how complicated things are. And so they only know things that make them happy, and you want to try to keep that going without creating a fantasy. You know, you want to keep that going, because once you leave that stage of your life, you say, “Oh, wow.” Redford continued by saying “This is the way it is?” You want to create something that keeps them going. And so for me, I’m drawn to projects that give you some kind of hope.”
Redford continues, “I’m a storyteller, and I believe in storytelling, so I told my kids stories. I think it’s really invaluable. In fact, I think ‘once upon a time’ is one of the greatest phrases imaginable. When you’re a kid and you hear ‘once upon a time,’ it’s ‘ah, I’m going to get something now.’”
Director David Lowery, who credits Redford for helping nurture his talents as a filmmaker, says, “Working with him and having him in your film is such an honor, and it’s something I have never taken lightly. He is disarmingly relaxed and cool and game for anything, and there was no sense of pretention on his part, ever. He was there to roll up his sleeves and do whatever I asked of him.”
Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon” opens nationwide on Friday, August 12th.