Where it all began – Dueling Banjoes scene – Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Cox shares his drive for writing the narrative, “That film has meant so much to me and has changed my life in so many ways. More people want to talk about that film than any other. I’ve carried around these stories for 40 years and everybody has been after me saying, ‘Ronny you have to let people know about these stories, so I decided to write it. I’m really pleased with its reception. It’s quite gratifying.”
Cox reveals how the movie has influenced the industry, “In some ways it has a lot and others not at all. We made the film so differently than some have made before or since – that’s one of the ways it’s an iconic film. We shot the film in sequence, and we shot it with all of us doing our own stunts. It was such a minimal skeletal crew, almost like a documentary. In today’s world of CGI, it has zero of those things. No matter how good the CGI is and how much special footage it can have, when you have the actual actors doing the stunts the whole time, it just pays off in ways that other films can’t.”
Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty going through a set of perilous rapids – Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Director John Boorman had a fervency to shoot Deliverance with unknown actors. Every major actor during 1971 desperately wanted to be apart of this movie. During the entire process, Boorman separated himself from the stereotypical Hollywood. Coming to New York, they sought high and low for actors from the south with theater experience. Being from the Southwest, Cox managed to get a toe in the door. He and roughly 18 other individuals were flown out to Los Angeles. After the screen test, Cox was the only actor they liked for all four-principle roles. As a struggling actor for years, this was exciting news for Cox to know that he would have a break. Boorman followed the beat of his own drum as he selected two stage actors for their first major motion picture – Ned Beatty and Cox. They were the guys below the title before Boorman brought the two guys above the title into the frame – Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds. Which is quite unusual in the selection process as it is generally the other way around. Unbeknownst to Cox, he was one step away from instant stardom.
“Each one of those four characters sorta play iconic aspects of society, and Drew is the moral center of the piece. I felt a great obligation to make sure that point of view got through,” Cox expresses the challenge. Pulling off such a successful feat, Cox embodied Drew’s character. He became Drew in everything he did on set, as he wanted to emphasize Drew as the moral sitter of the entire group. “Being simple is the hardest thing to do as an actor.” Another challenging facet, Cox had to learn to finger the classic and unforgettable Dueling Banjoes scene.
Glimpse of the crew shooting the mountain climbing scene – Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Cox vivaciously shares some of his experiences, “it was like a blank page for me. Ned and I were delighted that we were shooting the film in sequence. Burt came through and said, ‘you guys don’t know how lucky you are. Films are never shot in sequence.’ To this day, I never heard of another film that was shot in complete sequence as we did that.“
“At that time, the river was so pristine that they often had to use four-wheel drives or even caterpillars to get us down to the river. By the end of the day, we’d have to paddle another four miles before we could even get out of the river.”
Having two weeks of intense canoe lessons and on the river for five to six hours a day, the cast became relatively good canoeists. Using a canoe that wasn’t meant for white water rapids, Voight and Cox had numerous encounters in the treacherous waters. Cox shares the dangers and joys of those moments, “One of things we discovered is that you generally think of all kinds of safety nets around people making sure that you’re safe. We found out that didn’t work because if there were people there to rescue you, they were in the shot. We did all the canoeing ourselves. Let me say this, we all dumped into the water a lot. If Ned and Burt had any trouble in the rapids, the crew would make big bets that Jon and I would wreck. We did. In some ways, it was easy to forget we were making a film. There were times we felt like we were just out on a canoe trip, playing Boy Scouts.”
Vilmos filming Drew’s mangled body. (Yes, that is Cox’s arm) – Courtesy of Warner Bros.
There is such a naturalism and eeriness that enhanced the quality of the film from how it was shot, to the muted tones, to the simplistic score, etc. It has certainly been a conversation piece for generations and multiple references in other films throughout time. Dueling Banjoes: The Deliverance by Drew gives admirers the inside look of every thrilling adventure on set. Watch the film. Read the book. Watch it once more. The mastery and artistry behind Deliverance knows no boundaries. Going beyond the normalcy of society, Deliverance remains an ambitious feat that today’s films cannot compare.
Dueling Banjoes: The Deliverance by Drew and the 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray Edition of Deliverance are available for purchase.