Robert Redford approaching senior citizenship at peace with himself

                                               June 2000 By Philip Berk

Legendary Robert Redford is in New York for The Legend of Bagger Vance, a film he directed but does not appear in.

The film has received  mixed reviews and faces an uphill battle at the box office even though it stars Will Smith, Matt Damon, and Charlize Theron.

Redford knows it, and that’s why he’s promoting the film.

The movie is about a golfer finding his “authentic swing,” a metaphor for life, which affords journalists an opportunity to ask Redford about his own struggles

“There’s not any one of us that hasn’t faced some adversity in our lives where we’ve been tested. Our character, our beliefs, our strengths have been tested. Matt’s  character is someone who’s at the top of his game and then suddenly through some event falls into darkness and becomes disconnected from his soul. With the help of a spiritual guide, he’s able to make it back into the light.” 

Has he had the help of a spiritual guide?

“Sometimes you have to struggle alone.”

And has he?

“There’s plenty of that in my life.”

Could he be referring to, among other things, his unconventional marriage, his years of separation from his family, his never discussed divorce, and his son with a serious liver ailment. 

But there have been spiritual guides as well, such as leading ladies, Lena Olin (Havana) and Sonia Braga (Milagro Bean Field War).

At the moment she’s  German artist Sibylle Szaggars.

Is she having a positive effect on his life?

“She’s having a positive effect on my life, but I’m not going to talk about that.” 

Is there anything he can tell us about her?

“Well, she’s an artist, and I was an artist.”

Does he have fond memories of the time he spent in Europe?

“I truly believe my life began when I was there. I was eighteen at the time and had gone there to study art. Before that I hadn’t learned anything.  It never really happened for me in the classroom — even though I have strong feelings about education —  but when I went to Europe I learned through experience and that was a milestone for me, so I have great affection for that memory.”

Is he bothered by the changes that have taken place there?

“I don’t feel too happy about the westernization of Europe or when I see a lot of McDonald Golden Arches. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I like the differences in countries; understanding those differences is very important. One of the failures of our political leadership is we’ve never really understood other cultures. That’s one of the reasons we created the Sundance Film Festival.  It’s as much a cultural exchange as it is an artistic exchange.”

But hasn’t it  too become too commercialized?

“It’s still programed the way it was in its first year. But because of the media attention it sometimes appears as though the merchants have taken over. It began when some of our independent films became successful, and that drew Hollywood, the merchant business, into the picture. Suddenly the festival became about  what’s going to be hot or what’s going to sell, which was never our intention, nor is it today.  The fact that it went from being a festival to a market is not our doing. At the same time there is no denying that the work is becoming more refined. The worldwide obsession with film has made film makers more accomplished to the point that it’s difficult to distinguish between what the independent film used to look like and what the mainstream film is. And I’m okay with that. I’m optimistic. I don’t think we’re threatened at all; in fact it opens up new space for new work.”

Is he as optimistic about his own life, and where is he finding his inner peace?

Again eluding to Bagger Vance, he answers: 

“My authentic swing? In a curious way it’s in my work.  When I’m working there’s a kind of peace I have however chaotic the process is, an inner peace that I feel  because I’m doing what I was really meant to do. And that feels good. It gives you a kind of certain peace. It’s temporary, but it gives me a good feeling.” 

How does he rate himself as a parent?

“When I first started a family, I had no money, I was just starting a career. A lot of people told me there’s no way you can do it. You’ll be doing theatre out of town. Yes I was. You’ll be off on a film. Yes, I was on location.  But I still managed to raise a family, and one I’m very proud of.”

Was that how he was raised?

“In my family, the way I was raised, people didn’t communicate too much about their feelings. You weren’t given lectures about life, but you were given stories. You were told stories and in those stories were the lessons, the knowledge you were supposed to get, but you had to figure it out for yourself.”

Dos he still consider Utah his home base?

“I have residences in other places, New York, Malibu, and Northern California, but Utah is where I vote. The other places have to do with business or just pleasure, places where I like to spend my time or where family is. My family is spread out across the country.”

Has being a sex symbol ever got in the way of being taken seriously as an actor?

“It has, yah, because I take my craft very seriously. It gets in the way if you’re perceived as one thing and you want to play something else. It’s tough to break through that. I find it restrictive and sometimes tiresome. That’s the reason why I didn’t want to do The Way We Were. I felt my character was  too cardboard. There was nothing to him. He was there just so Barbra Streisand could fall in love with him. I didn’t feel that was enough. But then I thought about it, if he was someone who appeared to have everything going for him, but  below the surface there was  some flaw he was hiding, that could be interesting, So we agreed to portray him as a writer who feared he wasn’t very good at it. We developed that conflict between the way he appeared to others and  how he felt about himself. Which that was also the way I felt I was being treated in the market place. I’d do a piece of work I was particularly proud of, and the review would be about the way I looked. And when that happens often enough. you begin to stew about it.  So that’s when I did The Candidate, where I used that for dramatic purposes.” 

Was that also the reason he started to direct?

“In a way. I  was getting frustrated with the way things were going and felt that if I direct something myself, then I could honestly say, this is how  I see it, this is my vision of the world or my view of life. I wanted that opportunity. I was also frustrated with a lot of things I had to do as actor.”

Is he surprised that Hollywood and Washington are currently at odds with each other? 

“Look, Hollywood is a business, and if business is going to be affected by what Washington says, they will listen. If it’s not, they won’t. But I’ve always said Hollywood and Washington were made for each other because Hollywood has what Washington needs, glamor and money, and Washington has what Hollywood thinks it needs, credibility.”

Is he aware of the effect he has on people? 

“Not really because I don’t spend a lot of time in public places. When it does happen, I’ve had different attitudes about it. In the beginning  I was surprised and overwhelmed, and I didn’t know what to do. I was uncomfortable. Later I came to terms with it and decided to have some fun with it, but then it got exhausting. Then I decided to avoid it altogether, but that was too hard. Now that I’m older, and it’s less likely to happen, I look at it realistically. But the truth is, I don’t see myself as other people see me. If somebody comes up to me and asks for an autograph, I don’t spend a lot time thinking about it. I try to be the best I can be, not get either upset by it or have too much fun with it.”

He’ll be a senior citizen next year.

Does that worry him?

“I am not afraid of getting old because either you try to stop it by surgery or denial, or you just go with it. I’m okay with that. What would bother me is not being of much use. Not being able to do things physical would be a little depressing.”

What makes him happy?

“Freedom makes me happy, not because it’s what you want to hear but because it’s the truth. I love the idea because it’s not easy in my position to be free. If you’re a public figure you can’t just go out and do whatever you feel like doing — eat in a restaurant, go somewhere, just  be a regular person. For me, that kind of freedom makes me happy!”

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