Not only did Robert Redford land his first acting gig in 1960 at the age of 23, he also purchased two acres of land in Utah for $500 – effectively making him broke. But over time, the two acres would become 5,000 where an institution called Sundance would grow. One of only a handful of actors to turn into Academy Award winning directors (for “Ordinary People”), Redford has always talked about getting out of the game, but has long realized the impact he has not only as an ongoing movie star now in his 70s, but as an activist for environmental and political causes, a champion for independent film, and quite simply, a national icon. Notorious for his refusal of many roles that would have ensured him superstar status well before he finally earned it, Redford’s filmography has a clear thread that he has strung along for close to four decades: the exploration of what is America.
Born in 1936 in Santa Monica, California, Redford attended the University of Colorado on a pitching scholarship but a drinking episode dispelled any baseball aspirations. With the scholarship lost, Redford saw an opportunity. Dropping out of school, he toured Europe for a year painting. Returning to America, he found himself in New York, studying painting at the Pratt Institute and acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Marrying Lola Van Wagenen in 1958, the two went on to have four children before divorcing in 1985.
Television was where Redford developed his acting chops, appearing on 10 different shows in 1960. This continued for the first years of the decade, with roles on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Twilight Zone.” His first credited movie role was in the World War II Alec Guinness vehicle “Situation Hopeless…But Not Serious” in 1965, in which Redford plays Captain Hank Wilson. He has third billing in the Marlon Brando film “The Chase” in 1966 with Jane Fonda as the leading lady. Redford and Fonda re-teamed the following year in “Barefoot in the Park,” with Redford’s looks and charms first coming into widespread public notice. That same year, he turned down the lead role of Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate,” which ultimately went to Dustin Hoffman.
1969 was the first turning point in Redford’s career. Thanks to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which was Redford’s first movie with his character in the title (“The Candidate,” “Jeremiah Johnson,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Brubaker,” “The Natural,” and “The Horse Whisperer” the others), Redford was now the new Hollywood wunderkind. Three years later, he’d be considered the role of Michael Corleone by producer Robert Evans, who envisioned opening the movie with the blonde Michael making love to Kay in a hotel room. Francis Coppola opted for Pacino. In the mid 70s, a couple of political thrillers (“Three Days of the Condor” and “All the President’s Men”) reflected American uncertainty and distrust in its leaders – a theme Redford would continue pursuing during his most dominant years, even up to 2007’s “Lions for Lambs.”
Appearing less and less on the screen as the 1970s closed, Redford emerged in another turning point year of 1980 in a new light: as director. At 44, he made his directorial debut with “Ordinary People,” a film that topped “Raging Bull” as Best Picture of 1980, and brought the director a Best Director Oscar. He directed five more films: “The Milagro Beanfield War” in 1988, “A River Runs Through It” in 1992, “Quiz Show” in 1994, “The Legend of Bagger Vance” in 2000, and “Lions for Lambs.” The “Ordinary People” Oscar was Redford’s sole Academy statuette, though he was nominated for Best Actor in 1973 for “The Sting” and again as director for “Quiz Show.”
1980 was also the year Redford established the Sundance Institute and soon started the Sundance Film Festival, to this day America’s premiere annual independent film festival – though Redford has continuously come under criticism for the festival’s increasingly mainstream tendencies (most notably in Peter Biskind’s “Down and Dirty Pictures”). Through this institute, Redford has used his fame to promote environmental awareness, Native American rights, and shepherding young filmmakers to financial and critical success.
The movie choices of the 2000s reflect tried and true Redford material: if not political thrillers (“The Last Castle,” “Spy Game”), then infidelity thrillers like “The Clearing.” He claims he cannot watch a film of his, with the exception of “The Sting.” And while not normally revered on the acting pedestals of his contemporaries Hoffman, Hackman, and Nicholson, Redford has proven his range, his dedication to the underprivileged, and the belief that peace through art is possible.
Robert on the Web
Complete database of Robert’s film work.
TV Guide: Robert Redford
Photos, bio and news of Robert.
Decent biography, but more of a general summation of Robert’s career.
Up to date news on Robert.
Official site to the Robert Redford-founded establishment.
The Deadbolt Interview
Robert on “Lions for Lambs,” the current political state and younger generations.
Dark Horizons Interview
2004 interview with Robert on the survival of Sundance, and the movie “The Clearing.”
Student Newspaper Interview
Brief but interesting 2003 interview between Redford and a student.
Robert on the Screen
He’s Bubba Reeves in the Brando movie “The Chase” in 1966 and the new husband to Jane Fonda in “Barefoot in the Park” in 1967. He’s Sundance to Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy in 1969, the “Downhill Racer” the same year, and the motorcycle racer Halsey Knox in “Little Fauss and Big Halsy,” directed by Sidney J. Furie of “Superman IV: Quest for Peace” fame. He teams with director Sydney Pollack on “Jeremiah Johnson,” “The Way We Were,” “Three Days of the Condor,” and later on the Oscar winner “Out of Africa” in 1985. Another union with the “Butch and Sundance” crew was the Oscar-winning “The Sting” in 1973. He’s real-life Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men” in 1976, and part of the all-star cast featuring Sean Connery, James Caan, and Anthony Hopkins in “A Bridge Too Far.” He acted in only nine projects between 1980 and 2000, “Sneakers” and “Up Close & Personal” with Michelle Pfeiffer among them. He was the lead in “The Clearing,” a voice in “Charlotte’s Web,” part of the ensemble in “An Unfinished Life,” and a professor in “Lions for Lambs.”
At the opening night gala of the Sundance Film Festival in 2007, Redford caused a stir with his critical comments against the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration. He backed up this point of view with his “Lions for Lambs,” an 88-minute film that has surfaced along with numerous others contemporary anti-war films of 2007.
“If you stay in Beverly Hills too long you become a Mercedes.”
“Never revisit the past, that's dangerous. Move on.”
“I guess I share Joseph Campbell's notion that a culture or society without mythology would die, and we're close to that.”