Interview: Robert Redford
On April 27, the 42nd annual Chaplin Award Gala at Film Society of Lincoln Center honors Robert Redford. In the March/April issue of FILM COMMENT, Beverly Walker wrote about Redford; below, exclusively for online, is her chat with the star.
Robert Redford, New York, 1959. Photo by Ron Greene
Having never performed—except athletically—until you began studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, how did you feel the first time you got up in front of people?
Angry, because I was self-conscious and not feeling a part of anything. The idea of becoming an actor seemed strange and lesser than. But something unfamiliar was clicking inside.
What was your first stage appearance?
I was in The Seagull and Antigone at AADA. On Broadway, it was Little Moon of Alban with Julie Harris.
Once you decided to give it a go, what did you do—continue to study, get an agent?
No study. An agent came to me. I didn’t even know what an agent did, or why I would want one.
What caused you to so radically change creative direction?
I was surprised at how satisfying [acting] was. It also put money in my empty pocket.
Were you comfortable in front of an audience from the get-go?
Was your approach to character influenced by your natural painterly instincts?
Painting came more into the picture when I started directing. I tried to ignore camera and crew. I tried to stay in focus, usually by staying away from the set until ready to shoot.
All the President's Men
Without divulging your innermost “secrets,” how do you prepare for a role?
I first hear it as a voice in my head, then incorporate it into action.
What qualities do you seek in a director?
Point of view overall and in smaller movements. To join in a search for the truth.
You’ve been quoted in print as saying you always wanted to use art for political purposes. Did you mean as either actor, director, or producer?
As all three. But not make it overt. I am against agitprop.
You play Dan Rather in the film Truth, for release later this year. How was that experience? Did you meet Rather to talk about it?
Strange and challenging because he was such a familiar face to the public. To find his essence rather than a straight imitation. I spoke to him on the phone. He was generous.
What forces during your years growing up contributed to your strong feelings about nature? To your patriotism?
Watching the decline of the city I was born in (and loved). I sought the mountains, the ocean, and the desert for comfort.
All Is Lost
How does it feel to be so lionized at this stage of your life? Did you ever imagine yourself becoming an institution? How does it feel to be Robert Redford?
It’s a constant surprise and hard to be comfortable with (do I deserve this?). It’s a powerful feeling, to be known for your work and appreciated. No, I never imagined it. But I am sure I wanted to be somebody.