Today we celebrate the 82nd birthday of Academy Award-winning actor Robert Redford, who announced his retirement from acting after the release of his new film, The Old Man & The Gun later this year.
He told US magazine Entertainment Weekly: “Never say never, but I pretty well concluded that this would be it for me in terms of acting, and [I’ll] move towards retirement after this ‘cause I’ve been doing it since I was 21”.
Redford has starred in some of the best-known, critically acclaimed films of all time making him a Hollywood icon in his own right, but it wasn’t a straightforward route to the red carpet.
He was kicked out of the University of Colorado because of his excessive drinking, before going on to study painting, and then later acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
His first professional roles were on stage, making his debut in a small role in Tall Story and his most acclaimed Broadway role in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park.
He moved into television in the 1960’s and won an Emmy nomination for his role in The Voice of Charlie Pont and a Golden Globe for his role in Inside Daisy Clover.
Redford became a household name on the big screen and is best known for his roles in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, and Jeremiah Johnson (which had mass commercial success), The Sting for which he was nominated for an Oscar, Out of Africa, which was an enormous critical and box office success,winning seven Oscars including Best Picture.
As well as being a pretty face in front of the camera, Redford achieved critical success as a director and producer. He won four Oscar’s including Best Picture and Best Director in 1990 for his film Ordinary People, starring Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore, today regarded as one of the best films of that decade both by the critics and by the public.
He also went on to gain Best Director and Best Picture nominations in 1995 for Quiz Show, and he was awarded a second Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2002. In 2010 Redford was made a chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur.
It’s clear that from a young age Redford was driven by the art of storytelling. His parents introduced him to the pleasures of literature from a young age. “I don't know what your childhood was like, but we didn't have much money. We'd go to a movie on a Saturday night, then on Wednesday night my parents would walk us over to the library. It was such a big deal, to go in and get my own book” he recalled.
Often he would use the power of storytelling to express the incidents, events and the shaping of his own life. He explained that he was younger “would draw in a sketch book something that happened in my life and then write a little something on the side about what happened or what the story.”
Creativity runs deep in the Redford family. In an interview with Walker Magazine, Dylan Redford, Robert’s grandson asked his grandfather, “I’ve been thinking lately about just how important storytelling is in our family—how one of the things you really instilled is the sense that storytelling could make a difference, could change the world. Where did that come from?”
Robert replied: “That all started when I was a little teeny kid. When I was growing up in a working-class neighbourhood in Los Angeles, nobody had much, and so therefore it was really about how you heard—and told—stories. I was a very rambunctious kid and I was always up late, and so to calm me down, my dad would tell me a story before bed. Most of the time, he would make one up, and it had a huge impact on me, storytelling.”
He went onto discuss other influences such as the 1940’s Saturday morning radio show, Let’s Pretend, and how he initially started expressing himself creatively through sketches and painting (he sees directing as a combination of acting and painting), but at the core of his talent, in whatever medium, is storytelling: “storytellers broaden our minds: engage, provoke, inspire, and ultimately, connect us.”
Robert Redford founded and is the president of the Sundance Film Festival, using the financial earnings from his acting roles to purchase an entire ski-resort in Utah, which became the festival and franchises home.
He also founded the Sundance Institute, Sundance Cinemas, Sundance Catalogue and Sundance Productions. The name of his ventures, a tribute to that timeless Western, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
His Sundance venture has led him to be considered one of the most influential people in independent cinema. The Sundance workshop programmes, their funding initiatives to support film makers and their celebrated platforms to showcase Indie cinema – the prestigious film festival and the TV Sundance Channel – have won Redford well-earned kudos.
Many believed Sundance was a rebellion against Hollywood and mainstream cinema, but Robert has always remained adamant that this wasn’t the case and his goal had been to broaden the landscape and create a space for more diverse stories.
“The mainstream told stories that were pretty much all the same," he said. "I felt that there were other stories to be told that were more in the grey zone, where life was more complicated”. It looks for authenticity and rawness in his stories, and aspires to tell truths and use his work to make comments on the state of the world and politics. “I think independent filmmakers, documentary filmmakers - they are journalists," he said.
His contribution to independent cinema has been widely recognised. In April 2014, Time magazine included Redford in their annual Time 100 as one of the "Most Influential People in the World", giving him the title "Godfather of Indie Film". Later, in 2016, Redford was honoured with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
His advice for aspiring film makers? Well of course, it all revolves around storytelling.
“Get emotionally connected to your story so you can deliver it, you know, if you can't deliver the emotions to your script there's no point to your story. Story is the key. The technology available for film-making now is incredible, but I am a big believer that it's all in the story.”
But his advice isn't limited to film makers. He has some good words for the rest of us too.
Here are Simply's ten favourite Robert Redford quotes (in no particular order):
- “Health food may be good for the conscience, but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better.”
- “It's an honour putting art above politics. Politics can be seductive in terms of things reductive to the soul.”
- “If you stay in Beverly Hills too long you become a Mercedes.”
- “I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend?”
- “I'm interested in that thing that happens where there's a breaking point for some people and not for others. You go through such hardship, things that are almost impossibly difficult, and there's no sign that it's going to get any better, and that's the point when people quit. But some don't.”
- “Hollywood was not a place I dreamed of getting to. I never could take seriously the obsession people have about being a celebrity or getting to Hollywood - I was born next door.”
- “Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together.”
- “Not taking a risk is a risk. That's how I see it.”
- “What we are living with is the result of human choices and it can be changed by making better, wiser choices.”