Taking place in the early 80s, The Old Man and the Gun follows the (mostly) true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), a man in his seventies who’s sole passion is robbing banks. Acting as a gentleman but packing a gun, Tucker and his ‘Over-The-Hill Gang’ set out to rob banks across the country. Wrapped up in the pursuit are Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft, and Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a woman who loves Tucker in spite of his chosen profession.
When invited to play Detective Offerman in the film, actor Barlow Jacobs immediately accepted so that he could have the opportunity to work with writer/director David Lowery again.
“What excited me about [the film] is David Lowery, period. He’s one of the most exciting directors working in my opinion,” beams Jacobs. “He’s on that list of people who, when they say they’ve [written] something for you, [you] don’t need to read anything. If he’s investing his energy into it, then I know it’s going to be something special. We met on the film festival circuit in 2007. We just really hit it off and pretty immediately started a creative collaboration. We had a couple of writing projects we were working on together and when he did his first feature, he asked me to be in it. Then, when The Old Man and the Gun came around, we were at Sundance for A Ghost Story and he had pulled me aside and said he’d written something for me for it. So, I said, ‘Just tell me where to show up.’ I don’t often get to play funny or comedic relief. So that was really appealing to me.”
Despite its focus on the early 1980s, The Old Man and the Gun has a timeless feel to it that doesn’t feel slavish to its time period. With this in mind, Jacobs explains that this enduring quality to the story stems from Lowery’s dedication to the narrative over the visuals.
“For me, the thing I like about David, [is that] I feel like all [his] stories kind of exist somewhere between like 1978 and 1998,” he states. “Even though this one is definitely specifically period, I think a lot of mistakes that these films make is that they’re just too self-consciously period. So they kind of overdo production is on and, and it’s like, or they get like too on the nose of the period. [For instance, if] it’s 1981 and everything on the thing is from 1981, [it doesn’t make sense.] In real life in 1981, everything looked a lot more like 1976 or 1974 because like no one was getting new appliances for 1981 across the board. I think David and his team were very conscious of that and really created a seamless [environment] where you walk on on and it does feel that even though it does feel very period.”
“I think the thing that I liked about the movie is like it does feel like a homage to those movies that I loved from the seventies but also feels very modern as well. I wasn’t distracted I guess by the period. There’s a lot of challenges and a lot of opportunity to take missteps. I think his ability to kind of do a period film without it being distracting because… it doesn’t feel like a slave to that period. You’ve got so many characters, so many different story lines, and the fact that he was able to pull all that off was just really awesome to watch.”
In light of its ‘timeless’ approach, Lowery’s film also has a sense of genuineness and joyfulness embedded within it that brings life to its characters.
“There’s a sweetness to [the script] that’s really wonderful,” Jacobs explains. “It’s a sentimental film without using sentimentality, which I think is really difficult to do. I think most people when they do something sentimental, they lean on a lot of tropes that are in with that. It lends itself to a cheapness and not a well-thought sentimental tone. To me, [the film] just really resonated for that because it’s rare to find those kinds of movies. There is a lot of dark, dark edges, especially in the indie world and so, to do something like that that feels really honest, sweet and sentimental without being cheap or cheesy. It’s really special.”
Since Old Man and the Gun is based on a true story, one begins to ask which story points or characters are true and which are fictional. Though his character of Detective Offerman is a composite, Jacobs argues that this also offers him a lot more freedom than if he had been based on a real person.
“From what I understood, it was a couple of different characters,” Jacobs believes. “I think my character kind of came to embrace the officers that thought the whole thing was a joke. And so I think I was like, what? There wasn’t one Detective Offerman who just busted on John’s chops all the time but I’m sure he was a representative of everybody. It’s nice to have [a real person] as a resource when you’re preparing, but it’s also nice not to have to feel like you have to be beholden to certain responsibility that comes along with playing a real person.”
“David gave me a lot of freedom to kind of do what I wanted to do that character and have fun with it,” says Jacobs. “Most times, I end up playing somewhat serious characters. In this case it was just nice to not have to be carrying that weight and come in and be playful. David creates a really safe environment and really encourages you to push yourself and feel the boundaries of where you can go. I don’t have to self-govern myself. I know if I’m pushing too far, he’ll dial me back in and that’s really nice. That’s something I wouldn’t do with all directors… I think whenever you have that kind of trust your director as an actor, it allows that environment to be so much more productive and inspiring.”
With the release of this film, there have been questions and comments (some by the actor himself) as to whether or not this is Robert Redford’s last film. Asked if there was anything that he learned from the iconic actor, Jacobs notes that the way that Redford engages the material—not to mention the cast and crew—is amazing to see.
“I think you get to be around all the caliber of [this cast] as an actor, you just want to watch the process,” he feels. “I’ve been really fortunate to have worked with a lot of gifted directors and actors. When you have that kind of talent there, you just want to watch and to watch him and Danny and Tom Waits, it’s just magic. I think with Robert, he’s got an air of professionalism to him. He’s obviously someone who I really admire. Whether this is or isn’t his last film, he just is a professional and treats everyone with respect and respects the process, the director and the crew. He carries himself that way.”
To hear audio of our interview with Barlow, click here.
The Old Man and the Gun is in theatres on Friday, September 28th, 2018.