The Nat­u­ral

Esquire (UK) - - Style -

Robert red­ford is the orig­i­nal artist-ac­tivist-mav­er­ick. fifty years ago, he started lead­ing the charge on en­vi­ron­men­tal causes. thirty years ago, he god­fa­thered in­die cinema into ex­is­tence when he cre­ated sun­dance. and at 81, the dou­ble os­car win­ner is still un­stop­pable in his day job: mak­ing movies. michael hainey sits down with an icon

It’s tempt­ing to see Robert Red­ford as the golden boy. The guy who never had to sweat for it. The guy who got what he got be­cause it was handed to him, be­cause of his looks. The guy who, as the writer James Sal­ter said of Red­ford at age 40, af­ter he had carved out his ex­tra­or­di­nary suc­cess, had the aura of a charmed life: “As if glanc­ing at a menu, he was able to choose his life.”

The re­al­ity of Red­ford’s life, like the re­al­ity of any­one’s, is much more com­plex. The son of a milk­man, he grew up in Santa Mon­ica, Cal­i­for­nia. He loved to play base­ball and was of­fered an ath­letic schol­ar­ship to the Univer­sity of Colorado, but at the end of his first year, just af­ter his mother died, he was kicked off the team and asked to leave school. (“I lost my schol­ar­ship pretty quickly af­ter I dis­cov­ered drink­ing,” he once said.) Des­per­ate to be­come a painter, he went to Eu­rope to study but flamed out. He re­turned to New York and found his way into a theatre com­pany.

It was there, while per­form­ing in a stag­ing of The Seag­ull, that he caught the eye of a Broad­way agent. A few bit parts came his way be­fore he broke big in Neil Si­mon’s Bare­foot in the Park — a role he would reprise on screen in 1967 op­po­site a 30-year-old Jane Fonda.

Two years later, Red­ford beat out Steve McQueen, among others, to co-star with Paul New­man in Butch Cas­sidy and the Sun­dance Kid. Red­ford was 33, and the film launched him on a god­like run. Over the next 10 years, he starred in some of the most iconic films of the Sev­en­ties (The Can­di­date, Jeremiah John­son, The Way We Were, The St­ing, The Great Gatsby, Three Days of the Con­dor, All the Pres­i­dent’s Men, The Elec­tric Horse­man), and he came to de­fine that decade’s vi­sion of man­hood.

By 1980, Red­ford was at the top of his game. Time to coast, right? Wrong. In­stead, at 44 years old, he de­cided to evolve as an artist, to rein­vent him­self as a di­rec­tor. He chose a cu­ri­ous prop­erty for his first film: a novel about a sen­si­tive teenage boy re­cov­er­ing from a sui­cide at­tempt and strug­gling to earn his par­ents’ ac­cep­tance and for­give­ness while fall­ing in love. The movie was Or­di­nary Peo­ple. It was nom­i­nated for six Academy Awards and won four, in­clud­ing Best Pic­ture and Best Di­rec­tor.

The fol­low­ing year, Red­ford shifted gears again. He de­ployed his new­found clout be­hind the cam­era to men­tor a new gen­er­a­tion of tal­ent. “I wanted to give back,” he says. He opened up his Utah prop­erty — two acres he had bought in 1961 for $500 and that he’d added onto through the years — and cre­ated the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val and In­sti­tute.

Now he’s back with a new Net­flix movie, an adap­ta­tion of Kent Haruf’s novel Our Souls at Night, about a man (Red­ford) and a woman (Fonda) find­ing love in a small town in the foothills of the Colorado Rock­ies.

I spoke with Red­ford in a suite in a dis­creet ho­tel on Man­hat­tan’s Up­per East Side. Be­fore I ar­rived, I had writ­ten to an ac­tor who’d worked with him. I told him that my im­pres­sion of Red­ford, in study­ing him, was of a man who was dis­tant. “He’s not so much dis­tant as oc­cu­pied,” the ac­tor re­sponded. “Oc­cu­pied with what’s go­ing on in his head, with what he’s seen and sees and what it all looks like to him. His train­ing was as a painter. He lis­tens bril­liantly.”

When Red­ford en­tered the suite, he smiled and ex­tended his hand. “Hi,” he said. “Bob Red­ford.” He was dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt that said “I Stand with Stand­ing Rock”. He’s 81 and still trim. His hair is still an en­vi­able thatch but now streaked with some grey. As we stood in the door­way, he turned his gaze to­ward a room-ser­vice cart that had been wheeled in mo­ments be­fore. It was lunch. Red­ford looked at it quizzi­cally. “Strange, I just ate break­fast.” He shrugged and then guided us to­ward two couches that faced each other.

Did you have a mas­ter vi­sion of your life?

I did. It started with get­ting out of LA. It started to go off at one point, but then I got it back. I grew up in a sit­u­a­tion where you were ei­ther gonna drown in it or you were gonna swim out of it. It was a very lower-work­ing-class en­vi­ron­ment. We weren’t im­pov­er­ished, but we were on the lower end of things. I de­cided, “I’m gonna bust out of this and go as far as I can.”

When I was a kid, the one thing I liked to do was draw. But art was con­sid­ered a triv­ial pur­suit in my fam­ily. In class, un­der the ta­ble, I would draw be­cause I was bored. And I got called out in third grade by my teacher, who said, “Mr Red­ford, why don’t you bring that up and show us what’s more im­por­tant?” In­stead of burn­ing me, she said, “I’ll make a deal with you. We’re gonna put an easel here. Ev­ery Wed­nes­day, we’re gonna give you 15 min­utes to draw a story, but then you have to promise to pay at­ten­tion.” That’s what saved me. Had she blown me apart, I don’t know that I could have sur­vived, I was so young. I wasn’t told that it was a hope­less thing. And I re­alised, I’m gonna go in that di­rec­tion, which led me to Eu­rope. That’s all I ever wanted. I said, “I just want to get out of this coun­try. I want to get to a new en­vi­ron­ment, new cul­ture, and try to be an artist in new ter­ri­tory.” That’s when my life re­ally be­gan. I had to live hand-to-mouth. I was hitch­hik­ing ev­ery­where.

You strug­gled. You were fail­ing in your art. From what I read, you had some­thing of a break­down.

That’s where the break came. I put too much faith in one voice, a teacher. That was a big mis­take, un­til he re­minded me. I had all these can­vases I was anx­ious to show him, and his dis­ap­point­ment was dev­as­tat­ing. He said, “You’re ba­si­cally copy­ing me.” I wasn’t aware of that. That was so shat­ter­ing, be­cause I was only 19. I thought, That’s it. And then I came to New York.

It seems your fa­ther cast a shadow and didn’t en­cour­age you to pur­sue the arts.

It wasn’t his fault. I needed to get out of there. I needed to get to a clean, empty space be­cause that house was oc­cu­pied by thoughts that I didn’t share. My fa­ther grew up in semi-poverty in New Eng­land. He was shipped out to Cal­i­for­nia as a teenager be­cause they couldn’t af­ford to raise two sons. He was scared to death of poverty. He would take a job that was safe. When I came out and looked like some­body who was gonna be

free­wheel­ing, it made him ner­vous. He thought, “He won’t sur­vive that.” That was the ten­sion. He wanted me to be se­cure, to go to Stan­ford. I was lucky to get to Boul­der, Colorado.

He was only do­ing what he thought was right. It took me a while to fully un­der­stand that. I thought the best thing was to go to Eu­rope, where there’s no­body track­ing me. I love that feel­ing. When I was in France, then Italy and Spain, I had the com­fort — it was also a lit­tle scary — of know­ing no one knows where I am, no­body knows me here.

I still re­mem­ber: I was in Cannes and I was hitch-hik­ing and I couldn’t af­ford a room. I was sleep­ing un­der­neath a pier, in a sleep­ing bag, and in the day­time I’d walk the streets. And I met this older woman; she must have been 20 years older than me. She ran a lit­tle shop. Any­way, we be­came friends, and then we got ex­tremely close, so I lived there for a while. We’d be walk­ing and she’d say to me, “Why are you un­happy? Your head’s al­ways down. Lift your chin up. Look at the sun.” I wasn’t aware of it. When she told me that, I lifted my head up and sud­denly ev­ery­thing seemed to change. That’s just a mo­ment in time, a char­ac­ter who came and went in my life. But who she was and what she taught me had a huge im­pact. “Why are you down?” I’m al­ways ask­ing that.

It’s these chance en­coun­ters in life, and you can’t help but think that for some rea­son, some­one just nudged you along the path, and had they never nudged you...

You have to be will­ing to be nudged. You have to be open and, when you get nudged, be will­ing to go there. If you lock up, what’s the point?

Do you still hear your fa­ther’s neg­a­tive voice in your head?

I still hear his voice. You don’t out­run those voices. There was a di­vi­sion in my fam­ily that left me with a bit of an ache. My mom was from Texas — to­tally out­go­ing, full of life, full of laugh­ter, tak­ing risks all the time, en­cour­ag­ing me to do it. My fa­ther was more con­cerned about not tak­ing risks, be­cause that could put you in a ter­ri­ble spot.

Dad came from a fam­ily where vaudeville was in the pic­ture. My grand­fa­ther and Eu­gene O’Neill were very close friends. So there was a lot of po­etry, but mainly there was this wicked wit that my dad had and my grand­fa­ther had. Even though my dad tended to be con­ser­va­tive, he was very witty, with a dark sense of hu­mour.

I in­her­ited that, but I also in­her­ited my mom’s “Let’s go for it” spirit. My mom felt I could do any­thing. She was the only one who told me that, the one who re­ally did be­lieve that I was gonna do things. She en­cour­aged me to con­stantly be opened up. And I took it all for granted as a teenager.

When she died — she died when she was very young, and I was 18 — the re­gret that I had was that I couldn’t thank her. When I grew up and I re­alised what had hap­pened, what she had tried to do, I re­alised, “Oh my God, she re­ally did en­cour­age me to go out there and take chances.” As you go on in life, you think about re­grets be­fore you go to sleep at night. I re­alised too late that she had a very pos­i­tive role in my life and I couldn’t thank her.

She died at the end of your first year of col­lege?

Yeah. [Sighs.] I think in a way when that hap­pened I was kind of freed up in terms of fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. I’m sad but I’m free.

Do you re­mem­ber where you were when she died? Some­times you know things. There was no rea­son for me to think that she was go­ing to die. I was in the dorm alone and they only had a phone at the end of the hall. It was ring­ing and I was the only guy around, so I thought, “Well, I guess I should go an­swer it.” As I was walk­ing down the hall, I said, “This is go­ing to be for me.” And it was. It was my dad telling me that my mom had died. I had that vibe — it was so weird. I’ve thought about that pe­ri­od­i­cally.

When did your fa­ther die?

I was do­ing A River Runs Through It. 1992. [Sighs.] Any­way.

In Our Souls at Night, your char­ac­ter is a guy with a code. Did you bring any of your own value sys­tem to that?

I saw him as a char­ac­ter who was sub­merged, who had made mis­takes in his life. To avoid mak­ing any more, he went into re­treat. He thought, “I’m safer alone. I’m just gonna re­treat and live out my life in soli­tude.” And then he gets awak­ened by Ad­die [Jane Fonda]. What I liked was that there would be some awk­ward­ness as he found him­self com­ing alive. I think that’s what in­spired me — the char­ac­ter who was gonna get awak­ened at a point in his life when he didn’t think that was gonna hap­pen again. You call that a sec­ond chance or what­ever. I just like the idea that this story had that. That line, “You could sink be­low or you could come across.” What helps the com­ing across is the strength of the woman, be­cause she’s will­ing to take a risk.

What at­tracted you to this book?

It was beau­ti­fully writ­ten and it touched some of the ar­eas I’m very fa­mil­iar with; Colorado, small town. But the main thing was it fo­cused on sec­ond chances, in terms of love. How just when you didn’t think it was pos­si­ble, some­thing hap­pens and you get re­vi­talised, re-en­er­gised, and you find love again.

Jane Fonda’s line, “I’ve wor­ried my whole life what ev­ery­one else thinks” — that’s a prison we all put our­selves in. She ac­ti­vates him, and that’s one of the things I liked: It was a strong woman’s story. She takes the risk. She makes it hap­pen.

‘The only ad­vice I will give is to pay at­ten­tion. I don’t mean to the screen in your hand’

Did you set out to work with Jane on this?

Oh, yeah. Jane and I have had a very spe­cial re­la­tion­ship go­ing back to The Chase [1966]. It just clicks. What­ever her life was — which was all over the place — what­ever my life was, when we came to­gether, those things were for­got­ten. We were just she and I work­ing to­gether. It didn’t re­quire a lot of anal­y­sis. It just fell into place. So when this came, I thought, “This could be some­thing for both of us.” I knew Jane to be a very strong woman. She’s a force. She takes risks. I’ve al­ways ad­mired that. And so I thought, “This char­ac­ter drives the story; that’s per­fect for Jane. She would force me to take a risk as a char­ac­ter.” So I sent her the book. She sent it right back. “I’m in.”

You play a guy who, like you, longed to be a painter.

Yeah. There were some scenes and lines I con­trib­uted. When I was young, I said to my­self, “You’ve got to make the most of your life.” It’s all about tak­ing risks. Push your­self to do as much ex­plo­ration as pos­si­ble. Find your­self. Be­cause some­times we think we’ve found our­selves, but it’s only part of our­selves we’ve found. We haven’t pushed our­selves far out there where we make mis­takes and things don’t work out, but at least we’ve dis­cov­ered some­thing. I felt that’s what my life had to be.

Do peo­ple ask you for ad­vice?

I try to avoid giv­ing ad­vice. The only ad­vice I will give is to pay at­ten­tion. I don’t mean to the screen in your hand. I’m talk­ing about the nat­u­ral world. I spent a lot of time ed­u­cat­ing my chil­dren about na­ture by putting them in na­ture. I said, “I want you to lis­ten; I want you to look.” There’s so much tech­nol­ogy com­ing into our lives that takes us away from the nat­u­ral stuff, so I’m push­ing the other way.

You did All the Pres­i­dent’s Men, the land­mark 1976 film on Water­gate and Nixon. We hear Trump com­pared to Nixon. How do you see them?

I don’t know if you can com­pare them. They’re so dif­fer­ent. What­ever Nixon was, what­ever his dark side, he was an ac­com­plished politi­cian. He was a guy who’d been through the mix, knew the rules. I think on the other side, there’s more ig­no­rance. I just don’t think there’s enough aware­ness of what’s go­ing on. I can’t com­pare the two.

Right now, I am work­ing on some­thing that’s pretty im­por­tant to me. It has to do with my own his­tory in pol­i­tics. I’d done All the Pres­i­dent’s Men, and the his­tory of how that came about is a story unto it­self. It be­gan with The Can­di­date .No one knows about that con­nec­tion. I was on a train, and I was pro­mot­ing The Can­di­date, go­ing from Jack­sonville, Florida, down to Mi­ami to du­pli­cate what can­di­dates in 1972 did. On that train ride, the press was gos­sip­ing about the break-in that had just hap­pened at the Demo­cratic head­quar­ters one week be­fore. I said, “What hap­pened with that story? It just went away so fast.” And they said, “Yeah, it’s gonna stay away.” Then they told me why: Nixon was gonna win in a land­slide. He had a switch­blade mentality. You didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the guy, so no­body was gonna touch him.

I got so de­pressed at that. I went home, and I started to check the news­pa­pers to find out if that was gonna be true. That’s when I came across these dual by­lines that kept pop­ping up: Wood­ward and Bern­stein. Any­way, long story short, that hit big time. When I read the pro­file about the two guys

— one guy was a Jew, one guy was a Wasp; one was a Repub­li­can, one was a lib­eral; one was a pretty good writer, the other wasn’t so hot; they didn’t like each other, but they had to work to­gether — I thought, I’d like to make a lit­tle black-and­white movie with two un­known ac­tors that I could pro­duce. The up­shot [from Hol­ly­wood] was, “Yeah, well, we don’t think that’s very in­ter­est­ing. If you’re gonna do this, then you have to be in it.” And that led to me and Dustin [Hoff­man] go­ing deep into the world of jour­nal­ism — how to get sto­ries and get to the truth.

When the movie came out, I al­ways thought his­tory was sta­tion­ary. I re­alised, “No, it’s fluid. His­tory does re­peat it­self.” With what’s go­ing on now with the ad­min­is­tra­tion, this is an ex­am­ple of his­tory re­peat­ing it­self. I was asked to do a doc­u­men­tary about All the Pres­i­dent’s Men sev­eral years ago and I said, “Well, I’m not sure I wanna do that. Let me look at some archival footage.” In look­ing at that footage, I saw some­thing amaz­ing, which led me to say, “I will do it.” On that panel ques­tion­ing John Dean were Democrats and Repub­li­cans, joined to­gether, to get to the truth. And I thought, “Wow, there was a time when two sides did work to­gether on be­half of the Amer­i­can pub­lic to get to the truth.” Now it’s so po­larised. You have these kind of vil­lain­ous char­ac­ters like Mitch McConnell who seem to be against any­thing that’s gonna move us for­ward in any kind of mo­ral way. I’m gonna make a film called There Was a Time. It’ll be a doc­u­men­tary. A lot of the mil­len­ni­als prob­a­bly don’t even know about that, so let’s look back in time and say, “Hey, don’t get too dis­cour­aged by what’s go­ing on.”

How do you find op­ti­mism in this mo­ment in time?

I have faith in the pen­du­lum swing­ing. Right now, it’s so far against the wall that it can’t go any far­ther; it’s gonna start to swing back. That’s my op­ti­mism. One of the cures is gonna be get­ting the Amer­i­can peo­ple to fully wake up. All the Amer­i­can peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple, be­cause they’re gonna in­herit this Earth; they’re gonna in­herit what we’re do­ing. And if we have any con­cerns about kids — which I do — what are you gonna do to make sure they have some­thing to work with?

If you found your­self one-on-one with Trump, what would you want to say to him most ur­gently?

“Quit. For our ben­e­fit.” Pol­i­tics right now is in a very dark place, and I think the only place for me is to do what I do — make films, cre­ate art, watch it as it evolves. Right now it’s like Humpty Dumpty sit­ting on a wall, and a great fall is hap­pen­ing. The be­hav­iour seems to be re­ally dumb. That’s another thing that’s de­press­ing: cer­tain at­ti­tudes in Congress. They as­sume that you’re dumb; they can take ad­van­tage of you be­ing dumb. I find that of­fen­sive. It in­sults our in­tel­li­gence. They’re play­ing us for dumb and they’re be­ing dumb in do­ing it. For me, that’s one of the rea­sons the pen­du­lum is against the wall. But I be­lieve that’s gonna change. I think those peo­ple, the McCon­nells, are not help­ing us at all. They’re tak­ing us back­ward in time.

Trump is a busi­ness­man, but he is such a crea­ture of the en­ter­tain­ment world. It feels that the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try is more en­twined with pol­i­tics than ever be­fore.

I just think he is who he is. You can’t blame him for be­ing who he is. He’s al­ways been like that. He’s our fault — that’s how I see it. We let him come to where he is. I’m not so in­ter­ested in blam­ing him; that’s be­ing done enough by others. I’m more in­ter­ested in: how did this hap­pen? We’ve lost our mo­ral foun­da­tion, which al­lows us to go this far over. So I don’t blame him. I just think he is what he is. We’re the ones who let that hap­pen. We should be look­ing at our­selves.

Early on, I had such strong feel­ings about pol­i­tics that were re­lated to Nixon. When I was a kid in Los An­ge­les — I was 13 years old — they had a pe­riod of time called Boys’ Week where awards were pre­sented. And when Nixon handed me the award and shook my hand, I got this chill. It was like a vibe. I thought, “Oof. This is dark­ness here.” As I grew up, it stuck with me. When­ever he showed up, that vibe al­ways reap­peared.

I learned early on, de­pend­ing on the suc­cess of the film, sud­denly I would be asked to show up with a can­di­date. And in the be­gin­ning, I was flat­tered. “Gee, they want me?” And then I’d say, “I’m be­ing used as a pawn. I don’t care about this guy.” That’s when I said, “I’m not go­ing to pub­licly sup­port any can­di­date on a na­tional stage, ever.”

Celebri­ties can’t get on the stage fast enough — you won­der who’s us­ing who.

I think both have a need. The en­ter­tain­ment per­son gets a cer­tain cred­i­bil­ity, and the politi­cian gets a cer­tain no­to­ri­ety. I’m against it.

I’m think­ing back to what you were say­ing ear­lier about your fam­ily, and I’m re­call­ing Or­di­nary Peo­ple, where there is a mother who is closed down and a fa­ther who is try­ing to love his son. It’s al­most your fam­ily in re­verse.

I had to think af­ter­ward about that. There’s a lot in that movie that was prob­a­bly sub­con­scious. One thing was some­thing that had af­fected me for much of my life. I re­ally had a hard time with peo­ple who shut down their feel­ings. That went way back. I was con­stantly com­ing across peo­ple who were more in­ter­ested in whether their lawns were cut, more in­ter­ested in whether the house looked nice, and who would not go where their feel­ings might take them. I wanted to make that a theme in a film: the cost of not be­ing able to get in touch with feel­ings, the cost on others. That’s what led to Or­di­nary Peo­ple.

Mary Tyler Moore’s son died dur­ing the film­ing of that?

He died just af­ter. We’d just fin­ished film­ing and he took his own life. It was like, “Come on.” It was hard for her to cope. At mo­ments like that, you re­ally say, “Holy...”

You lost your own son, your first child, when you were a young fa­ther.

Sud­den In­fant Death Syn­drome.

Was that ever part of your — how do you...

How does that show up in my work? I don’t know. I was only 21; my wife was 20. We were just start­ing our lives; I was just start­ing my ca­reer in New York. Of course it was trau­matic, and how that plays out over time, I don’t know. We had to deal with it. You have to move on. And we had other chil­dren who came. But some­thing like that doesn’t get com­pletely dis­missed. It prob­a­bly shows up in var­i­ous small ways you’re not even aware of. I’m sure there’s a lot of this stuff that’s sub­con­scious. But it’s pretty trau­matic when it hap­pens, par­tic­u­larly when you’re that young. You’re not equipped to deal with it.

You’ve never done any time on the couch?

Sure I did. But it never worked out. I tried a while back, two or three times. I found my­self try­ing to psy­cho­anal­yse the an­a­lyst.

Dustin Hoff­man told me he has seen a shrink his whole life. Yeah, I know. Still not work­ing. [Laughs.] God, I en­joyed work­ing with him. That was re­ally fun. He de­cided that to re­ally be ef­fec­tive as [Wood­ward and Bern­stein], con­sid­er­ing their dif­fer­ences, we should spend some time to­gether. Be­cause Dustin and I were very dif­fer­ent. But there was some­thing fun­da­men­tal that was alike — both from Cal­i­for­nia, both from Los An­ge­les.

Both up for the lead in The Grad­u­ate.

Yeah. [Laughs.] Spend­ing time to­gether, we just sort of mor­phed in the best ways and ended up hav­ing just a ter­rific time where we could fin­ish each other’s sen­tences. We could im­pro­vise — which I love to do — and it would just fall into place nat­u­rally. Dustin and I ended up in a ter­rific re­la­tion­ship.

I watched him as time went on, and he went through all these twists and turns in his life, and then we came to­gether and we were do­ing part of the doc­u­men­tary for All the Pres­i­dent’s Men, and he was in such a good place. So mel­low, so ma­ture, so wise, so com­fort­able.

I’ve been very for­tu­nate in that I’ve had won­der­ful re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple I’ve worked with. But noth­ing has sus­tained like Paul New­man. Noth­ing has sus­tained like our con­nec­tion. It went into movie friend­ship, into per­sonal friend­ship. It cut very deep. He changed my life: he agreed to have me in the movie [Butch Cas­sidy and the Sun­dance Kid] that I shouldn’t have been in. He was that gen­er­ous. The stu­dio wanted Steve McQueen, they wanted Mar­lon Brando, they wanted big-name peo­ple. And I was not that. I had only done Bare­foot in the Park. I was 11 years younger than Paul, and [the di­rec­tor] Ge­orge Roy Hill and I met, and he and I clicked. He wanted me. And then [the screen­writer] William Gold­man wanted me, but the stu­dio didn’t: “We can’t put Paul in with a no-name like that.” Ge­orge said, “Let’s go meet Paul.” And Paul and I spent an evening to­gether, drink­ing and talk­ing. Af­ter, he said to the stu­dio, “I want to go with Red­ford.” He stood up for me. They didn’t pay me any­thing. [Laughs.] I al­most had to pay my way into the movie. But that gen­eros­ity re­ally struck me hard, that he could be that gen­er­ous and have that kind of in­tegrity. And then as the film went on, we both pushed aside our movie per­sonas and just be­came friends. We de­vel­oped this re­la­tion­ship that was full of a lot of kid­ding and tricks played on each other, just great fun. It turned into a long­time friend­ship that still ex­ists, even though he’s not with us any­more. I think about him. And I will al­ways be grate­ful for his gen­eros­ity.

Is there any wis­dom he im­parted to you?

Well, he was a pretty big deal, and he was al­ways hum­ble. That im­pressed me. I never felt like it was go­ing to his head. He de­vel­oped a way to be­have in pub­lic, and a way to be in pri­vate. Friend­ship was very im­por­tant to him, and be­ing able to be a real per­son was very im­por­tant to him, to be an au­then­tic per­son rather than to be­have like a star. In his pri­vate life, he was just a real per­son. Very, very hum­ble. I think I ben­e­fited from that friend­ship in that re­spect. He was just a down-home guy.

When you re­united for The St­ing, did that idea come from both of you?

That script came to me first. What was re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing was that when we did Butch Cas­sidy, the stu­dio didn’t want me. Af­ter the suc­cess of that, my name rose. Paul hadn’t done so well in his last few films, so when we came to The St­ing, the stu­dio wanted me but they weren’t will­ing to pay Paul the amount that he was re­quir­ing. I was able to give over some of my points to him so he could come in the movie. Be­cause what re­mained was just the friend­ship.

How do you want to be re­mem­bered?

For the work. What re­ally mat­ters is the work. And what mat­ters to me is do­ing the work. I’m not look­ing at the back end: “What am I go­ing to get out of this? What’s go­ing to be the re­ward?” I’m just look­ing at the work, the plea­sure of be­ing able to do the work. And that’s what the fun is: to climb up the moun­tain is the fun, not stand­ing at the top. There’s nowhere to go. But climb­ing up, that strug­gle, that to me is where the fun is. That to me is the thrill. But once that’s over, that’s kind of it. I don’t look too much be­yond that.

Very quickly, can I ask your im­pres­sions of some other ac­tors? Meryl Streep.

Top of the line. Meryl is about as ac­com­plished as you can

‘I’ve had won­der­ful re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple. But noth­ing has sus­tained like Paul New­man. I think about him’

get be­cause she’s made it her busi­ness to be ac­com­plished. First of all, she starts with a fun­da­men­tal tal­ent. And what I ad­mire about Meryl is that she stayed fo­cused on that. And she’s de­vel­oped that to per­fec­tion. She’s made it her busi­ness to be re­ally, re­ally good at her craft. And she is.

Ryan Gosling.

Multi-faceted; he is so multi-tal­ented. When I saw La La Land, I didn’t know he could play the pi­ano. I knew he could do all these other things. He’s a ter­rific ac­tor. I en­joy watch­ing him. He’s re­ally great.

Brad Pitt.

There’s a per­sonal friend­ship there that be­gan a long time ago, when I brought him into A River Runs Through It .He wasn’t known then. Work­ing with him at that point and then watch­ing him go on his own, watch­ing him go through all the twists and turns that fol­low suc­cess. I’ve lost touch with Brad. But ev­ery now and then I’ll see him, and it’s al­ways great. And there’s this mu­tual re­spect that goes all the way back to the be­gin­ning. But when­ever I see Brad, what­ever has hap­pened in be­tween doesn’t ex­ist. It’s just like I re­mem­ber from the very be­gin­ning.

What did you see in him when you cast him?

The char­ac­ter I would have played if I was younger. Be­ing seen as the golden boy but hav­ing a dark side. I felt we needed some­body who ap­peared to be a golden char­ac­ter and then we would find out that there was a flaw that would lead to his demise. He had that. When he first came in, he had a look about him. I said, “Yeah, you’re look­ing at it. He’s go­ing to suc­ceed.”

I’m grate­ful to have spent time with you.

I guess there are dif­fer­ent ways to han­dle suc­cess. You can mul­ti­ply it fi­nan­cially and use it to mul­ti­ply your net worth. That’s al­ways been very ap­peal­ing to me — the fact that when I started hav­ing enough suc­cess, I could start some­thing like Sun­dance. It was non-profit, so I was never go­ing to ben­e­fit from it, but it was an or­gan­i­sa­tion that, if it got de­vel­oped right, would cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for new film-mak­ers whose voices couldn’t be heard. Be­cause in­de­pen­dent film wasn’t con­sid­ered vi­able back in 1979. The ma­jor stu­dios con­trolled the mar­ket­place. All these sto­ries that weren’t get­ting told by these new peo­ple out there needed de­vel­op­ment.

Think of the tal­ent, from PT An­der­son to Quentin Tarantino to Wes An­der­son, whom you men­tored through Sun­dance. Who knew? I re­mem­ber when it started, I needed col­leagues to be men­tors and I had to go to them and say, “Look, there’s no money in this. The only thing I can of­fer here is the idea and a place.” I said, “It re­ally is just re­mem­ber­ing when you started.” It’s giv­ing back.

It’s what New­man did with you.

Ex­actly. So I felt that was very… not so much vir­tu­ous as valu­able. It just felt good. But I needed some­one else to feel the same way. So whether it was Oliver Stone, or Ge­orge Roy Hill, or Waldo Salt, who­ever came up, I would say, “I think you’ll get some­thing out of this. Be­cause these young peo­ple will chal­lenge you and then we’ll go through this process.” That’s how it started and I didn’t know how it was gonna go, but I knew that I couldn’t do it with­out my own col­leagues be­ing will­ing to give them their time, and they were. That’s why it worked.

Paul New­man, cen­tre, and Red­ford, right, play­ing ta­ble ten­nis be­tween takes on the set of Butch Cas­sidy and the Sun­dance Kid, Du­rango, Mex­ico, 1968

Red­ford work­ing in an edit suite on the doc­u­men­tary In­ci­dent at Oglala, 1992

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