Robert Redford's career spans nearly six decades, and in that time we've seen him whispering with horses, making indecent proposals and spending 106 minutes alone at sea with a sparse script that rests squarely on his monumentally talented shoulders. Before that, he played some of the most iconic roles in contemporary cinema – the title role in The Great Gatsby, 1974, Sundance in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid of 1969, Denys in 1985’s Out of Africa. His billion dollar smile, rugged good looks and the rich lines running across his forehead as poignantly as the very lines of his finest movies have served him exceptionally well over the years, as a Hollywood heartthrob, style icon and role model for gentlemen everywhere.
But Redford is much more than a pretty face. His career has encompassed the disciplines of acting, producing and directing, and has always reflected his personal interest in political activism, environmentalism and storytelling. As a young actor, Redford has told many an interviewer that studios were in no hurry to hire him – he was a nobody, and his collegiate good looks did nothing for the breadth of character he was eager to play. He has always credited his success to the directors and fellow actors he has been fortunate enough to work with, eventually cementing him as one of the most iconic faces of his era.
The 1950s saw Redford’s baby face and blonde hair typecast him as the pretty boy, the heartbreaker or the studio’s money maker. But, in the words of film critic Clive James, Redford eventually “got so bored by his own beauty that he would go off and direct something”. As an actor, Redford was only just coming into orbit when he began to play both sides of the camera, dipping his toe in the waters of producing on the set of Downhill Racer in 1969 (in which he also starred). Returning to the thespian’s side of the lens for some 11 years, he returned to directing in 1980, taking on the title of Director for Ordinary People.
This penchant for telling the story runs like an undercurrent in many of Redford’s films. His interest in politics (and telling the stories people don’t necessarily want told) verges on obsession – Mia Farrow (the Daisy to his Jay in The Great Gatsby) complained it was impossible to create any chemistry with Redford because when they weren’t rehearsing, he would lock himself away in his trailer to watch the Watergate scandal unfold on television. He became so obsessed that he went on to play one of the journalists who were fundamental in the exposure of the White House’s cover up in All The President’s Men two years later.
In 2010, he directed The Conspirator, which revolved around the assassination of president Abraham Lincoln, another story of personal interest to Redford. Attempting to jump on the presidential band wagon, Donald Trump quoted Redford on the back of his book Crippled America saying “I’m glad he’s in there, being the way he is”, conveniently skipping the part where Redford had gone on to say, “he’s got such a big foot in his mouth I’m not sure you could get it out.”