Robert Redford, director of the film "Lions For Lambs",
which opens across North America on November 9. The political drama stars
Mr. Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. (Photo: WireImage)
Robert Redford spoke recently in San Francisco to
several journalists about his new film. Atop the roof of the Clift Hotel,
Mr. Redford arrives to the assembled press group. At 71 he is lean and
trim, and refreshingly wears age, unaided by any plastic surgery that would
likely adorn other legendary Hollywood film faces. Wearing a pristine,
spotless sky blue shirt, blue jeans and eye glasses, Robert Redford, a Santa
Monica, California native who has made his home in Utah for more than a decade,
is relaxed but no less passionate about the state of America, a nation he cares
passionately about. The actor-director is no stranger to political themes,
with his appearances in such notable films as "All The President's Men", "The
Candidate" and "Quiz Show" (which he directed.) On a Monday earlier this
month he declares it a beautiful day -- "physically, it's a beautiful day", he
says -- an analysis made not by accident because he remains committed to the
environmental and conservationist cause, dedicating much of his time to
combating the dangers caused by global warming, an issue that has become
radioactive in both its urgency to spurn action to stem it and in its adverse
affects on the planet.
He decries the sound bite interview, calmly saying that he is fed up of it,
adding that some in the American mainstream media and many of his colleagues in
Hollywood disdain it. He confesses that marketing "Lions For Lambs",
a film which he received the script of in October of 2006 -- one he said
numerous people passed on -- was going to be "very difficult, because there's so
many films out." It was solely Mr. Redford's idea to hold screenings in
several U.S. college towns, including Berkeley, California, where he was to host
a Q&A for students there following a screening later in the day. The idea
was for the seasoned actor-director to open a forum of dialogue with the college
and university students in Berkeley and in other campuses across the country.
"Lions For Lambs", which was shot over the first two months of 2007, is less
about the current affairs events in politics, says the director -- noting the
daily shifts in political situations -- than about the underlying framework that
begets them. "What are the fundamental factors that keep repeating
themselves, that create these situations like we're in right now with this
administration, this country, having lost so much in the last six years.
It's not the first time this has happened. It happened in McCarthyism, it
happened in Watergate. It happened in Iran-Contra. So there's a
fundamental pattern that keeps repeating itself that involves the same
characters who think the same way. So you dramatize that in three
categories," Redford said. Aside from the rather noisy traffic a dozen
stories below you can hear a pin drop when Mr. Redford speaks. His tone is
succinct, polite, and quietly impassioned, with thoughtfulness, introspection,
concern and clear analysis flowing in his every spoken word. Redford talks
about today's young generation, which he characterized in this conversation as
apathetic and disinterested. He asserted that several factors, including
the lack of a draft compelling the young to enlist in the U.S. Army as a reason
why many youth disengage from the pertinent matters of the day, and the ultimate
shunning of the political process, the 2004 U.S. presidential vote turnout by
young people in the country notwithstanding. "Things are getting worse and
worse and worse and somebody needs to pay attention . . . and these are all
issues that are put forth in the film." The film, says the director puts
the onus on the young to make up their minds about the course that their future
and in turn, the future of their world will take.
Meryl Streep as news journalist Janine Roth and Tom Cruise as U.S. senator
Jasper Irving, in Robert Redford's "Lions For Lambs". (Photo: MGM/UA)
The film does have a seductive character in Senator Irving, and casting Mr.
Cruise in the role was no accident - a smiling, charming politician -- "which
makes him more dangerous," the director says at one point during this interview.
Redford spends a considerable amount of time talking about some of his new
film's structure and events, citing "The Candidate" and "All The
President's Men", mentioning that he's "always been interested in the political
scene, since 1970." Reflecting on a question to him that ponders whether
"Lions For Lambs" could have been made at any time during the last 40 years of
American political history, instead of at this particular moment in time, Mr.
Redford provides a detailed response. "Times have changed so drastically
since the time I started doing [these films] -- because there's always a new
film to be made about the new condition. But this was different because
this is about what is fundamentally unchanged," the director says. "And
they don't go away [those who possess a particular mindset for political
corruption and the orchestration of unjust wars.] I mean, you would have
thought after Watergate that those people that did all the dirty tricks for
Nixon and lied and cheated . . . and his effort to withhold the truth, to hide
the truth, and conceal the truth, and the press going after him. You would
have thought that once that high point was reached that would never happen
again? It is! Only worse!" During the moments he mentions
Nixon, he has pounded the table at which he sits. Mr. Redford then
reflects on his new film's characters. "That's why Tom Cruise [as Senator
Irving] represents something about winning -- 'we gotta win, we gotta win, we
gotta win' -- that's very American, both good and bad. And [Meryl Streep]
representing . . . a category (the press) that was much stronger 30 years ago.
After Watergate, the press was at its highest point. Now look."
Robert Redford is not interested in giving easy answers, or answers at all to
the audiences who will see "Lions For Lambs", which opens in the U.S. and Canada
on November 9. His motivation, he says, is to ask the audience, "what do
you think about this?" He said that he wanted to strictly focus on
impressionistic aspects on the characters contained within the film's tripartite
structure, without creating distractions in the film's narrative which would
yield any concentration on the press reporter, the senator, the students, or the
professor. Responding to a question about a cable news outlet that has
accused Mr. Redford of being unpatriotic and a hater of America because of his
activist and conservation work, the legendary figure is quick to say that he
loves his country and does not want to see it continue down the path that he
says it has slid down on. The filmmaker later reiterates that he is
"worried about my country, obviously." He continues on, saying that "I'm a
little bit in mourning for what I've known in my life -- pretty great things . .
. I've lived through a lot of events -- from World War Two, McCarthyism to the
assassination of a president, and a vice president. And Iran, and
upheavals. I've never seen my country in as bad a shape as it is now . . .
how it's seen . . . on the world stage, how we're perceived. What one
single administration can do to trash so many categories. It makes me sad.
It breaks my heart. So what can I do about it? The only thing I can
do is to create a drama out there that would put certain things out there for
people to think about, because if we don't get involved, somehow, someway, it
will continue. And I don't know they'll be . . . many chapters."
There is a weighty and regretful tone in Mr. Redford's voice as he articulates
his feelings in this response, perhaps an indication that contemplation of Mr.
Redford's twilight years and a retrospective outlook at the generations through
which he has lived and observed are all rushing at him in an instant and that he
is treasuring all of the great memories once again at this very second.
"All I would hope for is that they (young people) take some action. And
it's not, 'everybody should go into the military.' You can create another
peace corps. You can go into community activism. You can get
active. And don't let this kind of leadership ever come again.
"Lions For Lambs" opens in the U.S. and Canada on
November 9 and is written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, who also was a producer
of the film.
Robert Redford Speaks: Click here for the audio page of Mr. Redford's Interview
Redford, Streep, Cruise: Two and a Half
Generations, Three Cinema Icons