Robert Redford says he went about this retirement thing all wrong.
“I felt I made a mistake by even talking about retirement,” the actor, director, producer and founder of the Sundance Institute said in an interview this week. He was referring to his announcement in August that his new movie, the true-life heist comedy “The Old Man & the Gun,” would be his final movie role. (The movie opens widely, including in Utah theaters, on Friday.)
“I should just slip quietly away,” Redford said. “I said it was probably my last as an actor. I didn’t want to hit that too hard. But at Telluride and Toronto [film festivals], it took the focus away from what the movie was about.”
At the time, Redford said “never say never” to the idea of acting again, and he holds to that. “In my mind, I’m pretty committed to retiring from acting, and moving but not stopping — just moving into new territory as a director and producer,” he said, adding that he might consider a role “if something came along and was really powerful, like this film was.”
Redford says his health “is generally fine, at 82,” and that he plans to direct and produce films, champion environmental issues and oversee the Sundance Institute, the arts nonprofit he founded in 1981.
The future of Sundance — which operates the Sundance Film Festival, filmmaking labs at the Sundance resort, music and playwrights’ labs, and artist support for independent filmmakers worldwide — “is going to be in the hands of my children,” Redford said.
“I’ve taken great pains over the years, from the time they were little, to bring them into the fore — letting them go their different ways as they were young and exploring their own paths,” he said. “At some point, I felt, there’s going to become a time with whatever I’ve created here, I will not be able to sustain as the head of everything. I’ve been spending a lot of time bringing my children — Shauna and Amy and Jamie — into the picture, and now they’re there and they’re in a position to run the show.”
(One indicator of the Redford children tending to their Utah roots: Redford’s youngest child, Amy Redford, 47, a filmmaker, recently was named artist-in-residence at the Utah Film Center. Shauna, 57, is a painter and married to “Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schlosser. James Redford, 56, is a documentary filmmaker and chairman of The Redford Center, a San Francisco nonprofit that encourages filmmaking about environmental issues.)
“I feel I’m at a point where, beyond encouraging them, I can step not completely away, but step aside, so they can take the thing and run with it,” Redford said. “Basically, they’re inheriting what I started, and they’re going to keep it going with my grandchildren.”
Part of that inheritance is the land of Redford’s Sundance resort in Provo Canyon, some of which has been set aside as wilderness under the Sundance Preserve.
Keeping the resort as a part-time artists’ colony (through the Sundance labs) alongside wilderness is an effort, he said, “to combine what I am as an artist with who I am as an environmentalist.” His interest in setting aside land was a reaction to the mindset in which he grew up; “the culture that surrounded me was about development and money,” he said.
That culture also fostered Redford’s personal connection to rogues and outlaws.
“I’ve been interested in the outlaw character for many, many years, going back to ‘Butch Cassidy [and the Sundance Kid]’ and some of my early TV work,” he said. “I grew up in Los Angeles, and there were a lot of laws that governed how we lived then. I never wanted to be against the law. I just wanted to be slightly outside of it, and not be beholden to it.”
When Redford read a 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann about Forrest Tucker, a career criminal who performed bank robberies and prison escapes with gentlemanly delight, the actor was intrigued.
“What really interested me was his personality,” he said. “He was such a happy-go-lucky guy, and he pleased everybody he was taking money from. They all liked him, even as they were giving their money up. Now that’s a really great character.”
Redford secured the rights to the story and sent it to filmmaker David Lowery, whom he knew through the Sundance labs (where Lowery developed his 2013 debut, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) and from working together on Disney’s 2016 remake of “Pete’s Dragon.”
Lowery, Redford said, “doesn’t follow the norms. You’re going along and he’ll make a shift and leave you wondering what’s going on here, then he’ll pull it back together again. He’s got a wonderfully perverse style of filmmaking. … And he really does understand the value of character.”
Redford also praised Lowery for attracting other actors for him to play against. These include Casey Affleck (who starred in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and Lowery’s “A Ghost Story”), who plays the detective on Tucker’s trail, Danny Glover and Tom Waits as Tucker’s accomplices, and Sissy Spacek, who plays a Texas widow and potential love interest. Affleck and Spacek, like Redford, are Oscar winners.
“I was so blessed to be acting with fellow actors who were experienced and talented,” Redford said. “I’m surprised [Spacek] and I haven’t worked together before.”
Aside from promoting “The Old Man & the Gun,” which has generated some Academy Awards conversation, Redford has his eye on the political scene and next month’s midterm elections.
Last week, he posted a message on the Sundance Institute website that began with the dire statement that “I feel out of place in the country I was born into and the citizenship I’ve loved my whole life.” He urged young people to “dig deep for hope and civility right now — to try to make connections with people you disagree with, to be better than our politicians.”
He said he hopes he can encourage young people to action. “I’ve been witnessing a threat to our democracy recently by our divided ideologies,” he said. “We really have to spend our time unifying rather than dividing.”