When Robert Redford's latest directorial effort, The Legend Of Bagger Vance, hits theaters on Nov. 3, it will feature Will Smith as the titular caddie and Matt Damon as a fallen golfing great who subscribes to his mystical guidance. Yet, at a very early point in the process, Redford envisioned himself and Morgan Freeman in the lead roles.
"That was not a very long consideration," the Academy Award-winning director admits to TV Guide Online. "Once I got focused and started to develop the piece, I got off that [thinking] because it bore for me too much resemblance to The Natural (Barry Levinson's 1984 baseball drama which starred Redford). That terrain I had sort of touched on."
Instead, Redford opted to enlist a different generation. "I got far more interested in going with a very young cast," he shares. "I thought it might be a more affecting story."
Enter Smith and Damon, two of the hottest young commodities available today.
"You expect Bagger Vance to be this wise old sage," Redford suggests, "But I thought, 'Let's go the other way with it. Let's make him this completely unpredictable character.'"
While acknowledging Smith's penchant for creating memorable wise-crackers, Redford saw a different potential. "Will's talent is obvious. He has a large, very outgoing persona, and I had seen that," he notes. "But what I hadn't seen are the things I thought we might do in this film things that would take Will into a new territory."
As for Damon, who plays the awesome golfer who has lost his "authentic swing," Redford says, "He's got a great disposition, but he's also a solid, intelligent actor who looks unmarked and All-American extremely important requisites for that role."
Yet the film's youngest star and Redford's Savannah-area casting-call find was then 12-year-old newcomer J. Michael Moncrief, who portrays Hardy, the lad who lures Damon back to the fairways. "He looks like a real kid," Redford states, "and not some pretty face that looks like it was bred for the Hollywood screen. He's very natural, and has a lot of spunk in his personality.
Redford says that spunk served Moncrief well on the star-studded set. "He's just enough full of himself to be able to stand the pressure of working with known people like Will or Matt," he observes. "And he did."