Deliverance: Billy's back with his banjo

Belated comeback for child actor whose first - and only - film role came in 1972
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The Independent US

The acting career of Billy Redden has been somewhat quiet of late. In fact, he has not appeared in a film since his first and only role in 1972, when he made a memorable cameo performance as the banjo-playing child in Deliverance.

But Mr Redden is poised to make a return to the screen. Having been persuaded to come out of retirement by the director Tim Burton, Mr Redden, 47, will recreate his banjo-picking role in Big Fish, a supposedly heart-warming Hollywood flick starring British actors Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor.

Mr Redden was just 11 and a pupil at Clayton Elementary School in Georgia when he was chosen by the director John Boorman to play the small but crucial role in Deliverance, which told the story of four urbanites who set out on a canoeing trip down Georgia's Chattooga River, only to run foul of Appalachian "hillbillies". The film, starring Burt Reynolds, includes a scene in which one of the four is sodomised, occasioning one of cinema's most memorable lines: "We're gonna make you squeal like a pig, boy."

After the filming of the Oscar-nominated movie, Mr Redden went home to Clayton with no further thoughts of the big screen. His mother even sold the banjo which he was given as a keepsake to pay some outstanding bills. It was not a great loss: Mr Redden - chosen for the part because of his "indigenous" looks - could not actually play the instrument. Boorman had to employ a banjo player to act as a "body double" and fret the notes with his left hand.

And so it might have remained but for Burton who was in Alabama this summer filming Big Fish. He kept asking his aides to find "the boy from Deliverance", because he had a banjo-playing part in mind. After a lengthy search Mr Redden was discovered, still in Clayton and working 10-hour shifts in a home-cooking-style diner of which he is part owner.

In a telephone conversation from the Cookie Jar Café - where he was interrupted serving the day's lunch special of chicken stew, mashed potatoes and turnip greens - Mr Redden told The Independent on Sunday: "I really enjoyed the filming. Tim Burton was a very nice man. I am going to try to do some more films as well as keeping the café." Asked if his ego had been swollen by his new role, he said: "A little bit. But I am trying not to let it get to my head."

Mr Redden made only a brief appearance in Deliverance, with his character, Lonny, trading musical licks on his banjo with one of the canoeists. Slowly a catchy tune builds up - so catchy that "Duelling Banjos", written and played by Eric Weissberg, became a number one hit.

Mr Redden's appearance in Big Fish will be equally brief. He plays a member of a welcoming committee in the fictional town of Spectre. The film will contain a few bars of "Duelling Banjos" and then pan to Mr Redden, holding a banjo and wearing a smile.

"I didn't give Billy any direction: I told him to be who he was - sweet and a little eerie maybe - which he was doing all the time anyway," Burton told The New Yorker magazine. "If you're watching the film and don't recognise the solitary, enigmatic figure on the porch, that's fine. But if you do - well, it just makes me so happy to see him and I think other people will feel the same way."

Mr Redden's friends and family are delighted by his good fortune. They hope he will place some still photographs from the new film on the walls of his diner. His sister-in-law, Cheryl Redden, said: "He's become a movie-star overnight [but] he doesn't say much about it. He's just an ordinary guy."

Meanwhile Mr Redden, who said he thought Ewan McGregor was "a really nice guy", is aware that his return to acting could lead to some changes in his life. He said: "I might even learn to play the banjo."

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