Believe it or not, Robert Redford is 80
Posted August 29, 2016
Updated August 30, 2016
Robert Redford turned 80 a week ago (Aug. 18). Hard to believe, I know. Especially if you’ve seen “Pete’s Dragon.”
He just doesn’t seem 80, or at least not the stereotype of an 80-year-old that we have in our heads … especially when we’re young.
A few years ago I saw an interview with Dick Van Dyke when he was in his mid-80s (he’s 90 now), and he didn’t seem anything like the 80-year-olds he mockingly impersonated on TV and in movies from time to time when he was younger (see “Mary Poppins”).
And in my personal life, I know a number of 80-somethings — and they don’t seem 80 either.
So maybe 80 is the new 40 … or something.
Anyway, seeing a few articles over the past week about Redford as he passed this particular milestone reminded me of the interviews I had with him in the 1980s and ’90s, when he was making movies a bit more sporadically than he is now, devoting a lot of time to getting the Sundance Institute up and running, and then rescuing the United States Film Festival in Park City (now the Sundance Film Festival).
As an actor, Redford’s most prolific decade was the 1960s, when, as an ambitious young actor, he racked up nearly 30 pre-stardom character roles in episodic television from 1960 to 1964. Nine films followed, culminating with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in 1969, which boosted him to the A-list.
As a bankable movie star in the 1970s, Redford was in an even dozen — including such classics as “The Candidate,” “Jeremiah Johnson,” “The Way We Were,” “The Sting” and “All the President’s Men” — before making his Oscar-winning directing debut with “Ordinary People” in 1980.
His onscreen appearances dwindled in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, just four or five films (along with a couple of directing gigs) each decade.
But Redford has really stepped it up in the six years since 2010, performing in six pictures already, with another completed for 2017 release, in addition to directing two films.
Clearly his runup to age 80 has not slowed him down. In fact, it seems to have quickened his pace.
And he’s still taking risks. A Captain America sequel and a remake of Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon”? Before their theatrical debuts, both appeared to be dicey choices. But as it happens, they worked out very well. Redford still knows what he’s doing.
When I was the Deseret News movie critic back in the day, there was a lot of noise surrounding the 1984 release of “The Natural,” as it was Redford’s first acting role in four years. So I reached out to his Sundance office about doing an interview for that film. But it couldn’t be worked out and the film came and went.
As I thought about it more, I rifled through the archives and discovered that although the Deseret News had written up a few scant phone interviews with Redford over the years to publicize an event here or there, the paper had never done a sit-down interview with Utah’s most prominent show-biz citizen.
So I changed my request and asked for an hour with him, and I wanted to bring a photographer.
Back then, it was a pretty audacious request from the local press, especially since Redford seldom gave interviews, even to the national media. (You’ve never seen him on a late-night talk show, have you?)
In the early 1980s, Redford had been burned by the tabloids a few times, and I remember repeatedly assuring his assistants that I had no interest in discussing his personal life. I simply wanted to talk about his films and the development of the Sundance Institute; just the work, nothing else.
This approach apparently appealed to Redford and eventually it happened. Nearly a year after my first request, in early March 1985, the Deseret News published the lengthy interview story in a Sunday magazine section we had at the time, along with a sidebar, a film-by-film survey of Redford’s career up to that point, which included his comments about some of his movies.
One of the things he told me back then was that he would eventually give up acting and concentrate solely on directing. That hasn’t happened, for which a generation of moviegoers is grateful.
I guess the story turned out OK, since I received a nice note from him a month later, written when he was on location shooting “Out of Africa.” (He signed it “B’Wana Redford.”) And afterward, I had pretty easy access to him over the ensuing years, with a few more sit-downs and phone interviews, as well as casual encounters during the Sundance Film Festival.
These days, I’m often asked about the various movie stars I interviewed over those years, often with this question attached: “What’s he/she really like?”
My answer is always the same: “I don’t know. It was just an interview — and besides, they’re actors.”
But here’s what I wrote in an editor’s note that accompanied that 1984 interview with Redford: “Though his reputation for reluctance with the press led me to think this might be a difficult interview, Redford proved to be most gracious, accommodating and open. He was funny and charming, and the hour went uninterrupted except for a very brief phone call toward the end. In fact, it went about 15 minutes longer than we had planned.”
Hey, as an entertainment writer, you can’t ask for better than that. And with every subsequent interview during those years, Redford never disappointed.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.