Robert Redford

Armando Gallo

He has been a movie star for so long that it never occurred to us that one day he might stop acting. So, it came as sort of a shock earlier this year when 82-year-old Robert Redford revealed that The Old Man & the Gun would be his last film as an actor, after a glorious career spanning 60 years. Setting the record straight with the HFPA in September, he clarified his intentions. “Never say never! But on the other hand, I’ve been doing this since I was 21, that’s a long time. But I don’t believe in stopping. When you stop something, it’s the end of the road and I think the road is long. So, it’s moving to something else, which would be directing and producing.”

In The Old Man & the Gun, Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a real-life aging bank robber with a lengthy criminal record who was profiled in a 2003 New Yorker article. Born in 1920, he was in jail by age 15 and on many more occasions after that, successfully escaping eighteen times, once from San Quentin in a makeshift kayak. His last heist occurred in 1999 for which he was caught and sentenced to thirteen years in prison where he died in 2004. By all accounts, Tucker was always a gentleman, for whom the lure of money seems to have more connected to the thrill of getting it rather than pure greed. “It is a bizarre story that is just incredible because it is also true,” marvels Redford. “This guy really did exist, he really did rob banks, he really had good times, he never hurt anybody, he was always smiling, enjoying it, getting put in prison, escaping from prison, getting put back, escaping again. Back and forth.”

Commenting on the title of the movie, he adds that “it’s not an old man and his gun, but an old man and a gun, which tells you right off the bat that there is some kind of separation built into this. When you see the film, you realize what that means, that the gun is there but it’s never used, and it’s never loaded. It’s just used for effect, never to harm or hurt anyone, because the guy with the gun just was having fun.”

Redford has an interesting take comparing Tucker’s career with his own. “If you want to find a parallel between robbing banks or making film, you’re struggling. You go in and out of depression, or you are continuously happy. I have always been making films. It’s made me very happy, particularly if it’s a story you want to tell. I’ve been blessed that way.” For him, story is the most important of three determining components he likes to apply as a rule when deciding to do a movie. The two others being “who are the characters that embody the story and where is the emotion?”

That equation is ideally mastered by the director David Lowery, who previously directed Redford in the 2016 Pete’s Dragon. From the start, the helmer decided that Tucker needed to be the “spiritual successor” of the star’s great anti-hero roles of the 70s, in movies like The Sting or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “Whether he likes it or not, there is no way to get away in any shape or form from being Robert Redford. He carries with him the accumulated history of everything he has done and there is no way for you to counteract that at this point.”

As it happens, it turns out to be another minimalist performance for the six-time Golden Globe winner (five trophies as an actor, one as director and a Cecil B. deMille award), which comes on the heels of last year’s Our Souls at Night. “(That is) a film I was very proud of,” Redford explains, “but it was a very serious, kind of heavy lift, a dramatic love story with Jane Fonda. It was a wonderful film to work on, but it was very very sad. So, I wanted the next one, perhaps the last film I would act in to be something that would be more uplifting. It’s a sad thing to say that we are living in rather dark times politically and culturally. So, I thought, why not do something that is very upbeat and fun? Something that’s uplifting at a very dark time. So that was the reason.”

Asked to assess his career, Redford responds matter-of-factly that he doesn’t really like to think that way. He’d rather not dwell too much on the past. “I am living in the moment, and not thinking too far ahead.” He admits finding it kind of hard to choose some of his favorite movies, simply “because I really enjoyed most all of them.” Any regrets then at this stage of his life? “Probably, but I think you have to be careful of that. If you put too much emphasis on regrets, it’s a heavy load to carry. I’m sure we all have regrets if we look back. But I don’t believe that regrets should play too big a role otherwise it could stop you from moving forward.”

So how would he like to be remembered? “For the work, I’ve done over the years, television, theater, film. That’s what I would prefer. And maybe the work on the environment.”