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[a small town near the Los Angeles airport], and I
earned enough to spend a year in Europe,” he says.
It was his version of the Appalachian Trail, and
it was just as fraught with adventure and laughs.
“I hitchhiked across [the U.S.] to New York,
took a boat to Europe and spent 13 months on the
bum,” he says. “That’s really where my life began.
I felt I had to get out of my safety zone—just put it
out and see what happened. ‘If I’m not able to do
anything else but hitchhike, things are going to hap-
pen differently than if I’m flying somewhere.’
“I was going to art school in Paris and Florence.
I had all these sketchbooks, and I’d sketch con-
stantly. I was alone, and sketching gave me a com-
panion. I could go into a bar or restaurant, nurse a
whiskey and sketch what I was seeing. I’d sketch
people’s expressions and try to imagine what they
were thinking or talking about.”
Redford eventually moved to New York and
enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic
Arts. The plan was to learn about art direction, but
performing intrigued him. By 1963 he was starring
on Broadway in Barefoot in the Park.
“I’d thought I was going to be an artist,” he says,
“and I wasn’t prepared for things to shift into performing. It was hard for me to make that adjustment, and yet it was happening. I had to acknowledge
it, but it was not the fun I was hoping it would be.”
Risks come with the territory
Nevertheless, sometimes it was fun. Redford was
a daredevil long before Tom Cruise decided to hang
off a plane in Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation.
“I got out on the wing of a biplane in The Great
Waldo Pepper ,” he remembers, recounting
the experience as if it were yesterday. “It was such a
rush. I was looking at the clouds coming through
me and at me. Then I looked down and saw Texas
6,000 feet below. I could feel my heartbeat increasing and my muscles tensing, and I knew I had to get
back in that cockpit fast.
“Risk has always been part of my life—not
insane risk—but not taking a risk is a risk. If you’re
lucky not to get hurt, it keeps you moving forward.”
Redford still does most of his stunts, although
not the death-defying one in A Walk in the Woods.
“Regretfully, I have to be more careful,” he says. “I
ski quite a lot and play hard tennis, and I love riding
horses. But at a certain point little things happen—a
muscle thing, a spasm here, arthritis sets in. It’s not
the way it was.”
On the other hand, as age added more
wrinkles Redford became more eager to be in front
of the camera. He admits growing tired of the detail
work involved in bringing projects to the screen.
“I see myself consolidating and scaling back,”
he says. “I’ve already been through [producing],
and it creates its own headache. I’ve realized
how much I’ve missed acting. I’d been getting
further and further away from my roots.”
Life beyond acting
For many years performing seemed
to take last place in Redford’s life. He raised a
family with his first wife, Lola Van Wagenen,
and later married Sibylle Szaggars.
He produced and directed films and television. In 1978 he launched the Sundance
Film Festival in Utah and in 1981 the
Sundance Institute, both of which encourage
“It all started because in the ’70s the studios
controlled a lot of the smaller films,” Redford says.
“I wanted to do films that were different: lower
budget and more about the humanistic side of
things, about life in America. I would do larger
films like The Way We Were or The Great Gatsby,
and they would allow me to make smaller films like
Jeremiah Johnson and Three Days of the Condor.
“After Ordinary People, I saw things were
changing. Hollywood began to shrink its interests
and just follow the youth market. Independent
films were on their own, and that’s what led to the
idea of Sundance.”
Now he wants to be in those films. Following
the same pattern of mixing independent and
larger studio films, he recently starred in All Is
Lost, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and
Truth, playing Dan Rather during the period
when he was fired by CBS. He also has a role in
the upcoming family adventure Pete’s Dragon.
Acting has also allowed Redford to become
an artist again. “When I go to film sets, I sketch,”
he says. “I’m doing it more now than I have in
the past 15 years, and I’m realizing how satisfying it is.
“There’s nothing between you and a
sketch,” he explains. “It’s your own self coming out.” C
Nancy Mills is a Los Angeles–based journalist who writes about film and TV.
The short list
• Barefoot in the Park (1967) • Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid (1969) • Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
• The Sting (Best Actor nominee, 1973) • The Way We Were
(1973) • The Great Gatsby (1974) • All the President’s Men
[1976) • Ordinary People (Directorial debut, winner of four
Academy Awards, 1980) • A River Runs Through It (Best Director
nominee, 1992) • Quiz Show (Best Director nominee, 1994)
• The Horse Whisperer (Best Director nominee, 1998)
• All Is Lost (Best Actor nominee, 2013) • A Walk in the Woods (2015) FILM REEL ILLUS TRATION:
FILM REEL ILLUS TRATION: