Robert Red­ford


The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -

Maybe when you play Death on The Twi­light Zone at the start of your ca­reer, mor­tal­ity doesn’t faze you. ‘It’s all part of the deal,’ Robert Red­ford tells me. He didn’t think about dy­ing while he was mak­ing his new movie about it, JC Chan­dor’s melan­choly mariner’s tale, All Is Lost. He thought about en­dur­ing. ‘I’m in­ter­ested in that thing that hap­pens where there’s a break­ing point for some peo­ple and not for oth­ers,’ he tells me over morn­ing cof­fee in the de­serted Owl Bar at his re­sort in Sun­dance, Utah. ‘You go through such hard­ship — things that are al­most im­pos­si­bly dif­fi­cult, and there’s no sign that it’s go­ing to get any bet­ter, and that’s the point when peo­ple quit. But some don’t.’

It’s also what drew him to an ear­lier story: his 1972 tale of a 19th-cen­tury moun­tain man bat­tling the wild, Jeremiah John­son, parts of which were shot on Mount Tim­pano­gos, where we’re sit­ting. ‘You just con­tinue,’ he says. ‘Be­cause that’s all there is to do.’

Like Chan­dor’s 2011 Wall Street drama, Mar­gin Call, about a Lehman Broth­ers-type firm strug­gling not to go un­der, All Is Lost is an ex­is­ten­tial hor­ror story about try­ing to sur­vive the worst mo­ment of your life — in this case be­ing stranded on a crip­pled boat at sea — as panic rises.

Red­ford has made a ca­reer out of play­ing what he calls ‘in­trin­si­cally Amer­i­can guys’ go­ing up against im­pla­ca­ble forces. He bat­tled the banks and the ‘su­per-posse’ in Butch Cas­sidy And The Sun­dance Kid, Na­tive Amer­i­cans and griz­zlies in Jeremiah John­son, a dumbed- down po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in The Can­di­date, the Ir­ish mob in The Sting, the CIA in Three Days Of The Con­dor and Spy Game, Richard Nixon in All The Pres­i­dent’s Men, big busi­ness in The Elec­tric Horse­man, and — his most for­mi­da­ble ad­ver­sary — Bar­bra Streisand in The Way We Were.

Hollywood is no coun­try for old men. Yet at 77, the sub­ject of con­sid­er­able Os­car talk, Red­ford is soar­ing as the solo star of a movie that evokes the ele­giac spirit of Sail­ing To Byzan­tium by Yeats, one of his favourite po­ets. Yeats wrote about sail­ing ‘the mack­erel-crowded seas’, com­ing to terms with the agony of age­ing and con­tem­plat­ing how the soul can rise above a heart ‘ fas­tened to a dy­ing an­i­mal’. Red­ford likes to write po­etic ob­ser­va­tions him­self. He re­cites one he has writ­ten: ‘You look up and you re­alise, what a beau­ti­ful day, the leaves are turn­ing and you’re start­ing to feel con­fi­dent. You’re feel­ing full of your­self un­til you re­alise you’re drool­ing.’

He laughs, that great Red­ford laugh. The thing that’s easy to for­get about Red­ford, with his se­ri­ous pur­suits and per­fec­tion­ist striv­ings, is that he can be re­ally fun. We end up talk­ing for three hours next to the 1890s rosewood bar from Ire­land com­mis­sioned by the real Hole- in- the-Wall Gang. Sit­ting be­neath a pic­ture of him and his pal Paul New­man glow­ing as Sun­dance and Butch Cas­sidy, he tells a story about fame. ‘It’s right around the time where I’m be­gin­ning to think I’m a pretty big deal,’ he says. ‘At a kerb in Bev­erly Hills, there’s a car com­ing with a bunch of teenage kids in it. I see they’re freak­ing out in­side and try­ing to get their win­dows rolled down. I step back. I’m ready for it. “Robert Red­ford!” they scream. “You are such a ****.”’ He grins. ‘That’s prob­a­bly what I would have done at that age.’

Red­ford grew up in Los An­ge­les, a wild­child break­ing away from a re­mote, hard-to-please father, the real Rebel With­out a Cause caught up in drink­ing and drag races. Break­ing into Bel-Air man­sions, he and a friend were the Bling Ring be­fore the word ‘bling’ en­tered the pop­u­lar lex­i­con. Bob Red­ford was pop­u­lar with girls early, win­ning a Charleston con­test at 13, but the other boys grew jeal­ous and ‘vi­cious’. ‘Pretty soon it be­came a regular thing where guys would pass me when I was with a girl and say, “ARF! ARF! ARF!”, and I could see that the girls were both­ered.’ Fi­nally one of his friends ex­plained that ARF stood for Anti-Red­ford Fed­er­a­tion. ‘I was so hurt and shocked,’ he says. ‘From that point in my life, I re­treated into a more loner place, — I was then for­ever shy of go­ing out and ex­press­ing my­self and I would do it in my art.’ Af­ter his mother died when he was 18, he left the Univer­sity of Colorado to be a starv­ing art stu­dent in Italy and France. The girls he met in Paris in 1957 did not find him at­trac­tive; he was mocked for know­ing noth­ing about the Suez Canal and US pol­i­tics. ‘I got kicked in the teeth by Paris,’ he says. He started to read the news­pa­pers, try­ing to see be­yond Amer­i­can slo­ga­neer­ing and ex­plore ‘the grey area that was un­der­neath the red, white and blue’.

His long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor, Syd­ney Pol­lack, said Red­ford’s al­lure came from the darker shades lurking be­neath his golden fa­cade. Still, Red­ford has been crit­i­cised for not tak­ing grit­tier roles over the years. But he en­joyed

Re­gally blond Clock­wise from above: Red­ford in All Is Lost; with Paul New­man in The Sting (1973); with Demi Moore in 1993’s In­de­cent Pro­posal

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