Robert Redford says his role as Our Man in his latest film, "All Is Lost," didn't add any pressure to his job, even though the movie is bereft of dialogue and other characters, and the camera stays almost entirely on him.
"I didn't think about that," Redford says in an interview. "I loved the fact that there was no dialogue and there were no special effects. And I was concentrating on the character and getting into him."
The role, which he calls "a pure cinematic experience," gave him the chance to return to his acting roots, he adds.
He plays a man stranded in the Indian Ocean, alone on a damaged sailboat. Redford says he wasn't a sailor prior to doing the film, but adds, "I was a water guy; I was a surfer." Asked if the role inspired him to take up sailing, he smiles and shoots back, "No, not at all."
"All Is Lost" is part of what puts Redford squarely in the acting pantheon, says longtime film critic/historian Leonard Maltin. "I thought it was an exceptional performance," he says. "(At 77), he's as charismatic today as he was 50 years ago, and not many people can make that claim. He's proven himself many times over as a director, too. He takes risks."
Redford came of age professionally from the late 1960s to the mid-'70s, a period that encompasses his breakthrough in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" as well as "The Sting" (both with close friend Paul Newman), "Jeremiah Johnson," "The Candidate," "The Way We Were" and "All the President's Men." Later credits include "Out of Africa," "The Natural" and "The Company You Keep."
Redford's made his directing debut with "Ordinary People" (1980), which won him his sole competitive Oscar (he also received an honorary one). His other directing credits include "Quiz Show" and "A River Runs Through It."
Redford is known as an environmentalist and staunch supporter of creative expression and independent cinema through his Sundance Institute and its annual Sundance Film Festival.
"He wears many hats, and he wears them all well," Maltin says. Redford's storied career needs no hype, he adds, "because it's all self-evident."
Maltin notes that Redford "dodges the spotlight as much as he can," and Redford admits to being shy. He says he grew up in a lower-income, working-class area of Los Angeles -- "we didn't have much" -- and never was a good student. "I had an outlaw sensibility ... that led to independence," he says.
He blew a baseball scholarship at the University of Colorado, due to drinking. Then he went to Europe with the hope of becoming an artist -- he'd enjoyed drawing since childhood. But that career didn't pan out, and he soon returned to the States and took up acting on the New York stage. He also appeared in television roles, including a "Perry Mason" episode titled "The Case of the Treacherous Toupee," he says with a grin.
But it was his role as the Sundance Kid (opposite Newman) that catapulted Redford to stardom, though the studio initially didn't want him in the film. Newman, he says, fought hard to keep Redford as co-star, and won. "I always felt I owed Paul for that," he says. "What a really generous human being he was, and he was a generous actor."
If any description pinpoints his approach to his career, Redford says, it would be "insatiable curiosity. I've had it my whole life."