Why Robert Redford wants uplifting ‘Old Man’ to be his swan song
LOS ANGELES—Robert Redford may have made his last film as an actor. But the Hollywood legend himself was quick to stress that “The Old Man & the Gun” “could be” his swan song.
“You want to be careful of being too final because sometimes you have to change your mind,” said Robert, seated in a room at the Royal Fairmont York Hotel in Toronto. A charming comedy-crime drama, “The Old Man & the Gun” was screening at the Toronto International Film Festival—that was why he was in town.
At 82, one of Hollywood’s golden boys still sports his famous tousled blonde hair, but his sideburns have turned silver. The familiar face, which lit up many screens around the world, is now craggy. But when he smiled, images of Robert in his many memorable films, from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Great Gatsby” to “The Sting” came to mind. He laced most of his answers with humor.
Wonderful but sad film
“I was very proud of the last film (‘Our Souls at Night’) I had done, but it was very serious—a dramatic love story with Jane Fonda,” Robert said in that familiar voice, delivered in a quiet, unhurried tone. He puts his glasses on his black shirt, which he paired with well-worn blue jeans. “It was a wonderful film to work on, but it was very sad. I wanted the next film, perhaps the last that I would act in, to be uplifting.
“I didn’t fully realize at the time that, in doing so, it would come at a time in our cultural environment that’s very dark, as it is now. We’re living in rather dark times politically. The polarization that exists with the two parties not agreeing to cross the aisle to work together is sad and depressing. We are the losers.”
And “The Old Man & the Gun,” directed by David Lowery, is indeed uplifting—a gentle crime lark with a twinkling performance by Robert that puts a smile on your face. If this indeed is the icon’s final film as an actor, it’s a fitting love letter.
He plays Forrest Tucker, a real-life serial bank robber who pulled off a daring escape from San Quentin at age 70 and went on to commit more heists. Forrest began robbing banks in his teens in the 1930s and was unstoppable.
On whether he has stolen something in his real life, Robert replied, “Yeah. We won’t go into detail (laughs).”
Forrest, who made over 80 bank stickups according to David Grann’s The New Yorker story, which inspired the film, seemed to relish the thrill of his capers more than the loot itself.
A montage of Robert, as Forrest who made the first of his many successful escapes from prison when he was 15 years old, included a clip of the actor, young and fresh-faced, from Arthur Penn’s “The Chase.”
“I was not prepared for that in this film,” he said about the sudden flash of his face from the 1960s. “David Lowery chose that. I was surprised when I saw the film because I had totally forgotten about that. What I remember most was that was the first time that I worked with Jane Fonda. And then of course, Marlon Brando.
“This feels like the right film to … [retire] as an actor since I’ve been doing this since I was 21 years old,” said Robert, who began acting in New York in the 1950s, which led to his Broadway debut in “Tall Story” in 1959. From that point on, he worked steadily for six decades.
But the Oscar and Golden Globe best director winner (for “Ordinary People”) emphasized that he would continue directing and producing.
Reminded about this quote in a magazine interview, “When I was a kid, nobody told me I was good-looking. I wish they had. I would’ve had a better time,” Robert laughed as he answered, “I’m having a good time now, but it doesn’t have to do with my looks. When I was a kid, my hair was red, and it was unmanageable.
“No one ever said, ‘Gee, what a handsome guy.’ I had freckles. My teeth were too big.’ That came much later and when it did come, it took me a while to accept it.”
Robert volunteered a pivotal moment in his young life that impacted his life and career path. “Art is very much relevant in my life because that’s how everything started for me. I was almost obsessed with art since I was a little kid because when I was in grammar school, I had a hard time paying attention.
“But the thing that occupied me most was drawing. In those years, just after the Second World War, art was considered a trivial pursuit. And yet, it was something that drove me.
“I felt I had to hide it, so I would draw under the table. A third grade teacher caught me. I wasn’t paying any attention to what she was saying.
“I went up and held up my drawing. She said, ‘Do you want to tell us what that is?’ I said, ‘It’s a drawing at the end of the Second World War, of B-52 bombers flying over some cowboys who were on horseback.’
“What my teacher saw was that I had a skill, a passion that not a lot of people paid a lot of attention to. So, she said, ‘I’ll make a deal with you. If you agree to pay attention to the lectures, I’ll give you an easel every Wednesday, some newsprint paper, and 15 minutes to draw something for the class.’”
The recipient of an Academy honorary award and the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement pointed out, “Had the teacher burned me at the time, who knows what would have happened to my feeling about art? But she gave me a chance to be seen. So that was a turning point in my life. I realized that art was going to be a way that I would communicate. And it still is.”
Robert bought, with his movie earnings, a vast land in Provo, Utah, in 1968, which would spawn the Sundance Institute. He founded the institute in 1981 to support independent artists through various programs. The institute took over the US Film Festival in 1985, resulting in what is now known as the Sundance Film Festival.
“The festival is about creating a platform for other people who have stories to tell that might not get a chance,” Robert said about the popular annual indie film celebration in January. “What I wasn’t prepared for was that when those filmmakers came together to look at each other’s work, it created such an energy that people from outside came into the festival to see that. That’s when the festival took off.”
On the clamor for more opportunities for women in the film industry, Robert commented, “When I first started, women had a more subdued role. And now that that’s increased, what comes with that is a point of view that, over earlier times, got ignored because it was dominated by men.”
Asked about the earth’s fate amid a US administration that appears to favor developers’ interests, the environmentalist said, “We have a history of going to the last moment before we change something. We’re in that same mode right now. If we continue on the path we’re on, there won’t be much world to live in. So, I’m optimistic that we’ll get to a point where there’ll be a wake-up call and we’ll make an adjustment, even if it’s at the last minute.”
Robert has been married to Sibylle Szaggars, his longtime companion, since 2009. He has four children with his ex-wife, Lola Van Wagenen.
On what films he’d like to be remembered by, Robert, whose oeuvre includes “All the President’s Men,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “All Is Lost,” said, “That would be hard for me because I really enjoyed most of them. If you want to pick out certain ones like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ of course, I loved that.”
“That was the film where Paul Newman and I became close friends. What’s interesting is, if you look at ‘Butch Cassidy’ and ‘The Sting,’ the roles that Paul and I played are reversed.
“If I were to be truly objective, I’d say, as much as I love ‘Butch Cassidy,’ I think ‘The Sting’ is one of the finest films ever made.”
He added, “If I were to be remembered, it would be for the work that I’ve done. If you were to look at all the work that I’ve done over the years, in television, theater and film, I hope I would be remembered for that. And maybe for the work on the environment. That’s what I would prefer.”
No bucket list for this man. “No, I don’t think that way. I believe in living in the moment, not thinking too far ahead.”
As for regrets in his life and career, he reflected, “I’m sure we all have regrets if we look back. But I don’t believe that regrets should play too big a role. Otherwise, it could stop you from moving forward. Because we’ve all made mistakes. That’s just part of living. Having regrets can only apply if someone has been really hurt by something you’ve done. I don’t think that has happened with me.
Will he miss acting? “I just have to wait and see,” he said with that cinematic smile.
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