Robert Redford shares stories about his most iconic roles
Robert Redford reflects on his film career
The movie legend, 81, has appeared in more than 45 films and has directed 10. His leading-man looks may have made him a matinee idol, but he never relied on them, opting for roles and films that mattered to him. Now that he's retiring from acting, take a stroll down memory lane with Redford as he looks back on his body of work.
Barefoot in the Park (1967)
Redford was 27 years old when he turned down a TV show in Los Angeles and instead got paid $130 a week for a Bucks County, Pa., tryout of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park, directed by a young comedian named Mike Nichols. "I'd never really done a comedy before," says Redford. "And Nichols had never directed theater, so we both shared a bit of insecurity." Redford went on to star with Jane Fonda in the 1967 film adaptation, establishing himself as the quintessential golden boy — a type he'd spend much of his career bucking against.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
"When I first met [director] George Roy Hill, I told him that I much more related to the outlaw character, the Sundance Kid, which was not the role he wanted me for," recalls Redford. "But George got excited and thought, 'Hmm, I'm going to make this work.' ... The studio wanted a name as big as Paul Newman's, and I was quite a ways down on the stardom ladder. I'd never met Paul, but he insisted that the studio support George, and because it was Paul Newman, they agreed. The only thing they did was change the title. It was called The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy — but they wanted Butch’s name first because that's the part Paul was playing."
The Sting (1973)
Four years after Butch Cassidy, Redford reunited with that movie's team for The Sting, which won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. It also earned Redford his sole acting nomination. He attributes the lion's share of the success to his director. "George Roy Hill loved reading the funny papers. He loved the idea of telling a story in four or five panels, so he was able to take the somewhat flawed script, shift a few things around, and turn it into something damn near perfect."
The Way We Were (1973)
Redford originally turned down the role of a WASP college student who romances Barbra Streisand's liberal activist. "He was a bit of a Ken doll with no dimension. I said, 'I'll be interested if we can find some flaws in him.'" Speaking of flaws, Redford had been warned that his costar possessed a few. "I'd heard all kinds of crazy things about Barbra, but none of them applied to our relationship. I loved working with her. We had a ton of fun."
All the President's Men (1976)
While Redford was promoting his politically charged film The Candidate in 1972, he had the opportunity to kibitz with newspapermen. "They were all gossiping about a break-in at a campaign headquarters," he says. "And I became intrigued by the profiles of the two guys writing about it, Woodward and Bernstein. And then President Nixon resigned over the break-in and a lot of people said it was yesterday's news — but I said, 'No, it's the dynamic between these two guys that'll make it sing.'" Redford costarred opposite Dustin Hoffman, and the film was a box office smash, winning four Oscars, including one for sound design. "We took all the elements of their work — the typewriters, telephones, pens on paper — and kicked up the sound. Every scene where the typewriter is used, there's a real bang. What does it sound like? It sounds like a weapon."
Ordinary People (1980)
"This story was about feelings that can't be reached, like with the mother character," says Redford of his directorial debut, a family drama that won Oscars for Best Picture and Director. "The first studio I took it to said, 'You can’t have Mary Tyler Moore in that role, she's America’s sweetheart.' But I remember sitting at my house in Malibu one day in the late fall and I saw this woman bundled up in her overcoat, and she seemed very sad. When I realized it was Mary Tyler Moore, it hit me like a ton of bricks: 'Wow, she could do this.' When I asked her to be in the film, she wanted it even more than I did. She wanted to explore that side of herself and gave 100 percent."
Quiz Show (1994)
If Ordinary People is about the lies people tell themselves, Redford's masterpiece Quiz Show, based on a TV scandal, is about the lies people get told. "It's all about how audiences are tricked. That's a story about much more than one quiz show in the '50s."
All Is Lost (2013)
For this minimalist action film by director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), Redford received perhaps the best reviews of his career as a mariner attempting to survive while his ship sinks in the Indian Ocean. "This was guerrilla filmmaking all the way around," he says. "No special effects, just raw-to-its-core filmmaking. It was very tough, but I loved it. I loved the feeling of pure cinema in my bloodstream."