Robert Redford: On casting, ‘The Natural’ and advice for young actors

If I was on a desert island, and for some reason had a DVD player and a television, and some kind of coconut-generated electricity, at least three of the films I’d have with me (The Natural, A River Runs Through It and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) would all share a common element – Robert Redford.

So when — as part of the Post’s coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival — I got the opportunity to sit down with Redford for a half an hour, I did stray a bit from the current movie, and asked him about the above films.

Here is the piece that ran in the paper.

And below are a few of the more off-topic excerpts from the interview that didn’t run:

On what draws him to a script: “Story and character. Whether or not you can take that story.. and show the complexity of human nature. [In The Conspirator], you have a character who gets caught not knowing what he’s supposed to – and how that affects a person, how it changes them and distorts them – that’s what interests me.”

On the state of the industry: “Right now it’s hard to get on a schedule because of the shape of the film business. It’s in an unfortunate place. You also now have a climate because of digital – anyone can make a film, and most everybody is. That means there’s a lot of junk out there — a lot of good stuff, but twice as much junk. The airways are clouded, and how do you find your way through that? At the same time the so-called studio system is dead – it doesn’t exist anymore. Financing films is a very uneven proposition. And money righ now because of the recession is rally not there. It’s very hard to get films made, particularly films that are safe – franchise films or blockbuster films. Films that are on the more humanistic side of cinema are hard to get made.”

On selling his 1993 film, A River Runs Through It: “No one would buy it. Hollywood was not interesting. They were afraid it was slow, and about fishing.”

On casting: “Casting is really important to me – it always has been since I became a director. Being an actor, I understand actors. You need actors who are well crafted, who can deliver and understand the characters. You can shape it as you go, but they’re going to give it to you.”

On advice to an actor: “Pay attention. One of the assets that I’m grateful for – and that I didn’t know at the time – is that I started out as an artist. I spent a lot of time looking at people. I went to Europe to study art in France and Italy. I was alone, I had no money. In bars and cafes, I spent a lot of time along listening and looking at people. That gave me a pretty acute observation skill. An actor needs to be able to observe human behaviour and if you’re spending all your time on a computer or all your time on a cell screen, you’re missing the life around you. Pay attention without the aid of technology.”

On The Natural: “That was a dream come true for me to make that film, because I played ball. And I wanted to do my own stuff – hit and throw. Also I knew I was in for it, because Bernard Malamut is an iconic hero, and we were going to turn him around. It’s like Casey at the Bat – but if you had Casey hit a home run at the end. You’re violating it. But Barry Levinson and I got together and asked – should we go for this? I love baseball, it was my sport even though I played tournament tennis and some football — baseball was my love. I said ‘Let’s go for it – the American Dream come true’. Let’s get the lights blasting. But then we had to dig a hole for ourselves, cause the [Malamud crowd] were going to come after (us). It was such a ringer when it opened, but over time it’s come to be something else, that lasts longer.”

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3 thoughts on “Robert Redford: On casting, ‘The Natural’ and advice for young actors

  1. What a wonderful opportunity to sit down with such a unique, unbelieveably intelligent and talented man. As I have grown up and older still, Mr. Redford increasingly reminds me of my Dad. They share the same selfless motives and approach the issues to educate and encourage all of us to respect the land, animals and each other.

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