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The Sundance Kid

Robert Redford is renowned as one of the Hollwood good guys, a matinee idol turned socially conscious filmmaker, ecologist and patron of the arts.

Tara Brady, 09 Nov 2007

Robert Redford really has some sort of Zen thing going on. Maybe three minutes have passed since he first walked into his London hotel suite with a warm handshake and small enquiries after the well being of yours truly and I already feel as if I’ve spent several days practising transcendental meditation with a Himalayan guru or hitting the Ambien with an unusual enthusiasm.

It’s something of a habit with him. All morning the usual frenetic activity one associates with an international press junket seems to halt around him. Chatty, noisy, busy journalists are, as is the norm, ushered into his presence, only to emerge looking chilled out and at peace with the world.

Okay, so he’s not actually meditating or (my second guess) handing out the herbals, but the guru thing isn’t too far wide off the mark. He is, after all, a man lately come down from his mountain. The peak in question is Park City, Utah where the actor established the Sundance Institute in 1981. It has been his home since 1968. Like everything Robert Redford seems to touch, his involvement with Sundance places him firmly in the ‘Good Guy’ category.

“It’s a choice, you know,” he tells me in his gentle, calming voice. “Life is meant to be lived. If you have a gift or success you should see where it takes you. You should develop it as far as you can. For me that meant acting and that led to directing and that led to producing. You keep moving. But equally, it’s important to give something back.”

See? He even talks like a Zen master.

Giving Something Back has defined Robert Redford since the late 60s. Days before we met he was named alongside Al Gore in Time magazine’s list of ‘green heroes’ for his long time service to environmentalism and Native American rights. As the founder of the Sundance Institute and film festival, he has given a start to such independent spirits as Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, John Cameron Mitchell and James Wan.

“As you get older you realise the importance of building something that is capable of sustaining itself,” says Redford. “You want something that will last beyond your time and maybe change something about the world for the better.”

He is, it hardly needs to be said, a Liberal with a capital ‘L’ and a hefty contributor to the coffers of the Democratic Party. Despite this, one is unlikely to confuse him with any sort of Apparatchik. Tellingly, he has on occasion, supported conscientious Republicans such as Gary R. Herbert. Ask him about the increasingly baffling politics of his old friend Bob Woodward and Redford simply smiles his grand, twinkling smile.

“I don’t see Bob so much,” he says. “He got smart after All The President’s Men. He quickly started writing books and making a lot of money out of it. But if you look at his work, he has gone on both sides of the aisle. He writes positive and negative things about Bush. He’s just working. He can’t be labelled.”

Charles Robert Redford was born in sunny Santa Monica in 1937 to Charles Robert Sr., a milkman turned accountant, and Martha Hart.

“I’m Irish and Scottish in equal parts,” he says. “I had to track down my family history myself because no one would tell me. Our tartan is Stuart and my grandfather was a good friend of Eugene O’Neill’s. Of course, he didn’t tell me that himself. If I asked him what his father’s name was he’d say he didn’t remember and if I asked him about my Irish roots he’d just say they were dope addicts and horse thieves. They had a great sense of humour though.”

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