Robert Redford was calling at odd times from airports and, at one point, while flying in a plane, to confirm a telephone interview. It was difficult connecting because he's so incredibly busy at the moment - acting in movies, directing movies, promoting movies . . . .
Is this the same Robert Redford we hardly heard from in the '80s?Oh, yes. In fact, his schedule is so hectic that he must have wondered why he ever agreed to this interview, though he would never say so.
Two weeks ago he was being grilled by the national press in Los Angeles for "Sneakers." Between now and mid-October he will be out selling his latest directing effort, "A River Runs Through It." In and around all this, he's starring in "Indecent Proposal" with Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, which will continue shooting until Oct. 2.
"This is really a killer month," he says wearily from Los Angeles after flying in from Toronto. "This film that I'm on was supposed to be completed before now. So, I'm caught up in premieres (for "A River Runs Through It") benefiting local groups (including one in Salt Lake City), as well as the Toronto Film Festival."
Moviegoers didn't see a lot of Redford in the '80s, though the decade began with his winning an Oscar for his directing debut, "Ordinary People." Only one other Redford-directed film followed, "The Milagro Beanfield War" in 1988. And during that 10 years he acted in only three movies - "The Natural" (1984), "Out of Africa" (1985) and "Legal Eagles" (1986)."Havana" followed in 1990 but took a critical drubbing and died a quick death at the box office.
But it looks like he's prepared to make up for his absence with a vengeance in the '90s.
"Sneakers" was the No. 1 box office hit in the country last week (earning $10 million, a record for a non-sequel during September). Salt Lake audiences will get their first glimpse of "Incident at Oglala" (narrated and executive produced by Redford) next week. "A River Runs Through It" (which Redford directed) opens in October and he's in the midst of shooting "Indecent Proposal" for director Adrian Lyne ("Fatal Attraction"), which will be in theaters next year. If that's not enough, he has a pair of directing jobs in preparation, "Quiz Show," about the 1950s TV quiz show scandals, and Tony Hillerman's novel "Thief of Time."
This is all by choice, of course. Redford didn't work as much during the past decade because he was devoting so much of his time to the Sundance Institute, which has now taken on a life of its own in encouraging and developing independent filmmaking (not to mention the Sundance Film Festival in Park City each January).
Does he regret neglecting his film career - in particular, the directing side? "Sure I do. The Sundance Institute took a lot more time than I expected - but it really has happened now. I had to stick with it to build it into something."
Redford adds, "I've been so busy with Sundance and the environment, it's really just the last year and a half that I've gotten back to work - and right now it really feels good."
Though Redford plans to do more and more directing, his fans needn't panic - he won't be giving up acting just yet. And for more than one generation of moviegoers that's very good news, perhaps best summed up by Phil Alden Robinson, who directed Redford in "Sneakers": "He's the prototype of the movie star of the time in which I live. He's made more of my favorite movies than anybody."
Tom Skerritt, who gets top billing in "A River Runs Through It," was with Redford at the Toronto Film Festival last weekend and reflected on Redford's directing: "His movies are like custom-made suits. They reflect the good man that he is, his passion for the common man. He's the best of what America makes."
Redford says of Skerritt, "You know, he and I were introduced together in 1962 in `War Hunt' and we've been friends for 30 years. I was very pleased to be able to cast him in this film."
Critics and moviegoers at the Toronto Film Festival have been very enthusiastic about "A River Runs Through It," some suggesting that both Redford and Skerritt will get Oscar nominations. Though he's obviously pleased, Redford, typically, plays it close to the vest, saying only, "I'm very encouraged by the response so far."
Get him talking about the movie itself, however, and his enthusiasm is on the rise.
"It was very hard to get going," Redford said of "A River Runs Through It," which is about two brothers growing up in Montana after the turn of the century, based on the novella by Norman Maclean. Skerritt plays a Presbyterian minister who raises his sons with a strict hand - but he also teaches them fly fishing, which he treats as a spiritual experience. "It was known around town as `Redford's Fishing Movie,' so you can imagine the kind of marketing value that has. It was hard to explain by just telling what the story was.
"We made it for $12 million (in Montana), which is a very low budget in today's market. We had a small crew, no big cranes, no high-tech equipment.
"For me, this story has a lot of elements - family tradition, turn of century, the West, the brothers and their relationship to the family, the river, the environment that shaped their lives, the father who's bent on teaching his son `grace' and how grace should be achieved, fly fishing and scholastic pursuits . . . . There's a lyrical quality dealing with those traditions of the West. And I was able to retain some of his (Maclean's) writing by putting it in the mouth of a storytyeller."
Redford himself is that storyteller, providing an occasional voice-over narration in the film that comes directly from Maclean's text, though that was not his initial intention. "I wanted an old man's voice and I couldn't find the right one. I have a very strong attachment to this material and when I could not find an old voice that would carry the weight of the piece, I called on the connection I felt to Norman Maclean. He was very sensitive about this whole journey. After all, it took him 40 years to write it. So, it was out of respect to him."
Here are Redford's comments on his other new films:
- "Incident at Oglala," a documentary Redford executive-produced and narrates, which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has been slowly working its way across the country. The film contends that Leonard Peltier, serving a prison sentence for the murder of two FBI agents on an Indian reservation, was framed: "I don't know what's going to happen there. I do know the response has been terrific. Letters are in Congress. A lot of it will have to do with the next election. That's all we can hope for, really. This man shouldn't be there. So, we'll hope for the best."
- "Sneakers": "That project was a film I saw as good entertainment - it's smart, intelligent, fun and dealt with an issue but didn't clobber you over the head with it."
- "Dark Wind" (an unreleased film about a murder mystery on an Indian reservation, based on a Tony Hillerman novel and executive-produced by Redford): " `Dark Wind' is just stuck in the bankruptcy of Carolco (the film's production company)."
- "Thief of Time," another Hillerman book, which Redford himself will direct: "I still want to do `Thief of Time,' but it won't be the next one because it will require a summer shoot."
- "Quiz Show," about the TV quiz show scandals of the '50s: "I'm thinking of doing it this winter. It's a character story . . . and the overall themes are interesting to me - I'm interested in this country's history, the current history and the past."
- Westerns: "I have two Westerns I want to do. One is called `Heart Mountain' . . . and I have another one, a film about Geronimo."
- "Indecent Proposal": "It's a unique film, very unusual, very provocative. It's a post-mortem on the '80s, on the mentality of greed, with an emphasis on the values of the '80s in an almost mystical fashion. He (Redford's character) is a billionaire who offers a million dollars for (one night with) this man's wife. Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson play the couple. It's not so much a comedy, not an overt satire but it's very provocative and quite entertaining."
The film is directed by Adrian Lyne, who also did "91/2 Weeks" and "Fatal Attraction," but Redford says, "This deals with the same issues but not as graphically or overtly. It's (about) what money does to people, how it can obliterate other humanitarian values. It's a very interesting role."
- Veteran director Sydney Pollack, Redford's longtime friend, who has directed him seven times, including some of their most successful films ("Jeremiah Johnson," "The Way We Were," "Out of Africa") and who has had two very successful acting roles of his own this year (in Robert Altman's "The Player" and Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives") . . . the natural question being, would Redford ever want to direct Pollack?
"Sure," he said with a laugh. "If his ego can handle it."