Robert Redford: An SBIFF Valentine

Valentine’s Day came early to Santa Barbara.

Robert Redford at the 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Robert Redford at the 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Robert Redford visited town to accept an award at the 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Despite a natural shyness, the actor, producer, director, and environmentalist glowed with that “Redford” smile and looked youthful beyond his years.

“I have always been shy about celebrations about myself. That’s just the way it is. But I am glad I am getting this! It’s weird to see these clips because I never look back.

“In school, my mind was always out the window. I was always wondering about other places.” Redford’s education really began when he moved to Paris after he dropped out of school. “I had no friends; no money. I would sketch people to get food.”

He said one of the reasons he enjoyed making Butch Cassidy was that he could identify with his character. “I felt comfortable thinking outside the box.” He was born in a working-class L.A. neighborhood and had big dreams.

Redford and co-star Paul Newman’s friendship was one of life’s special gifts. “We’d play practical jokes on each other. But George Roy Hill, the director (and also collaborator in The Sting) deserves the credit as a story-telling filmmaker. He stripped away a lot of the jokes, but kept enough to blend reality with humor.” (The studio never wanted Redford for the role, but Newman insisted.)

Eventually, the innovative movie maker used his artistic skills to block out storyboards when he started directing. “I didn’t understand the language of directing, but knew exactly what I wanted. When I was four, I drew things around me. But, unfortunately art was considered a trivial pursuit and was not encouraged.”

He is grateful to be able to tell stories his own way. “I’m fascinated with the idea of winning.” Downhill Racer and The Candidate were examples.

More praise went to director Sydney Pollack, who collaborated in The Way We Were and many others. “I loved working with Barbra. Not only is she talented, she is a good actress. I had been warned about her, but they were wrong. My character was like a Ken doll and I would not play it unless he had a flaw. Sydney said we’d work on it. And we did.”

Before there was DiCaprio, there was Redford in The Great Gatsby. Again, he was not wanted for the film. “I had wondered if the studio had even read the book. The only regret that I have is that there wasn’t an intimate scene between Daisy and Gatsby, so we would have understood why Gatsby was so obsessed with her.”

Fast forward to All Is Lost. “It was a wonderful opportunity to go back to my roots as an actor for hire. With Sundance, I am fortunate to give opportunities to other people. But that takes you away from the start. (J.C. Chandor, a Sundance student, directed this.) I wanted the audience to get into the character’s skin and go through the journey with me. It was difficult physically, but I thought, let’s see what I can do.”

Sue Facter writes about the luxury brand. She accidentally (and happily) ran into Redford the following day where he was an unannounced guest for a charity luncheon.