Art and Nature

14th September 2018

Robert Redford may have recently announced that life in front of the camera is over, but he has far too many artistic and environmental projects on the go to even think about slowing down just yet. Simon Jones reports…

Until recently, Robert Redford simply didn’t know when to stop. Well into his 82nd year, the actor, director, producer and founder of the Sundance Film Festival has been active in the movie industry for almost six decades, with a small but notable debut role on Broadway in the 1959 play Tall Story.

Fast forward and you can note Academy Awards, Golden Globes, a BAFTA and countless other plaudits for standout films such as Ordinary People, Quiz Show, All the President’s Men, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Out of Africa and Inside Daisy Glover. Indeed, Redford has been at the top of his game for so long that the Screen Actor Guild Life Achievement Award he won wasn’t even in this century.

Married twice, and with four children, Charles Robert Redford Jr is proof that longevity in the film industry does exist, and yet everything, ultimately, does come to a close when the time is right – for the Californian announced his ‘front of camera’ retirement in August of this year.

The reality for Redford is he refuses to be tied to the film industry. His passions have always extended way outside of the Hollywood cut and thrust, and rightly so. “If you compressed everything in my life it would boil down to art and nature, not movies,” he admits. “Art is the work, and I will continue that because that’s how I express myself; but as for nature, well, my passion there is because of the powers that be, and how they’re treating nature – our planet is shrinking and I worry about what’s going to be left if we don’t stop.”

He’s dismissive of today’s idolisation of fame: “It’s all about what we develop for our survival, and also what we preserve for our survival. If we don’t have equal preservation there will be no planet left. So why would anybody want to bring children into the world if that’s the direction they’re going in? These are the real issues of today, not who is on the red carpet!”

Indeed, Redford’s efforts to protect our planet began long before it became fashionable for celebrities to get involved in such causes. Starting with the Environmental Protection Act in 1969, the actor pursued what was a rather lonely furrow into the topic of conservation.

“The truth came out – if you were in touch with it and you cared, you could see the path we were going down, and as someone with influence it was absolutely right that I should try to use some of it.”
Of course, awareness now is very much easier to stimulate; in 2015, Robert Redford led a group of Hollywood stars who arrived in Paris for the UN’s mammoth 11-day climate conference. Included in the number were fellow environmental activists Leonardo DiCaprio and Alec Baldwin.

It was another major gesture by a man who has been an ardent environmentalist for most of his life; someone who has waged a long-standing battle against strip developers and coal companies while lobbying Congress, state and local governments to help save our habitat from wholescale destruction.

In semi-retirement then, can we expect Redford to engage in even greater efforts to resolve some of the environment’s most profound ills?

“Ultimately, we’ve always got a chance to put things right,” he offers. “It won’t just be me doing it – it can’t be – but have I got the vitality to keep pushing for change… sure I have.”

That vitality has often served as an inspiration for others, many of them several decades the actor’s junior. Be it as an actor, a director or as an environmentalist, Redford has always sought out the next project.

“I think you keep going,” he says. “I’ve been that way my whole life – always moving forward, trying new things. It helped that I was in athletics, because I could always do new sports and keep very physically active. I think that just passed on to my life in general, that I wanted to always be trying new things, because it was exciting and it kept me active and alive. I think that’s just the way it is.”

Redford also believes his tough upbringing – which came just as the US was desperately trying to reassemble itself emotionally and physically following World War II – helped to give him a solid, dogged platform on which everything thereafter would be constructed.

“War brings about realism, but it’s always a new dawn after, where people are generally forced to draw a line under whatever has happened.”

He believes he was forced to be realistic because of the circumstances he was raised in “and they were pretty grim”. But one of the ways he escaped being depressed was to create stories. “I would write them down or perhaps draw them. I started out as an artist – as a child I would draw a lot, and while nobody really had anything at that time, for me it was a way to keep me uplifted, I guess.”

And it’s this intimate act of storytelling that became the catalyst for his hugely successful career. “I guess I soon realised that it was the ability to create and imagine different worlds, and act them out, that was probably going to be my role in life.”

He reflects, “I believe that the later in life you go, the more you’ve got to invest in this other world, and I know I can grow old without fear of being bored or fading away, because I’ll always have a story in me. We should all have a story in us, and not just one that talks of the past.”

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