The Sundance King: Nurturer Is Redford's Acclaimed Role

In his salad days, Robert Redford added a
In his salad days, Robert Redford added a "Twilight Zone" role to his credits. (Sci Fi Channel)
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 4, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO

Robert Redford bursts into a conference room at the San Francisco Film Centre with a winded "Ugh," having just driven two hours from his home in Napa Valley. He holds meetings here all the time, but for some reason he's been unable to get into the building. "I've been here for 25 minutes!" he says with flustered disbelief, doffing a blue baseball cap emblazoned with a red 9 -- the number of his childhood hero, Ted Williams -- and exchanging his sunglasses for a pair of clear wire-rims.

Slightly built and fit, he darts around the room, opening the French doors to let in the breeze, taking off a leather jacket the color of butterscotch and pulling a bottle of water out of a nearby refrigerator.

Robert Redford is late. Again. It's a problem that has dogged the actor throughout his career. To a person, the colleagues and friends interviewed for this article predicted that Redford would not be on time and that the only question was by how much.

"He's been late all his life," says director Sydney Pollack, who in 1962 starred in Redford's first movie, "War Hunt," and has directed him in seven films. "He goes through phases. I've worked with him when he's been better, and I've worked with him when he's been worse."

Redford delivers a familiar, irresistible grin when he's asked about this. "I've heard about it," he says, his eyes twinkling. "It's a myth."

Let the record reflect that Robert Redford is indeed almost an hour late for a 10:30 interview, but let the record also reflect that an assistant called precisely at 10:30 to say he was caught in traffic and would be half an hour late, which makes him only 25 minutes late, which according to Redford Standard Time qualifies as early. Paul Newman, who has known Redford since they did "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in 1969, once gave his co-star a pillow stitched with the saying "Punctuality is the Courtesy of Kings." To this day, Newman says of Redford, "He thinks that punctuality is reserved for criminals, whores and politicians."

His Brilliant Careers

Redford has finally settled, opening his water, rebuttoning his blue oxford shirt and leaning back comfortably in a heavy oak chair. Tan, his tousled hair still strawberry blond with just a hint of gray at the temples, Redford retains the boyish good looks that made him a sex symbol in the 1970s, but not in a way that suggests a nip and a tuck with some Botox on the side. He looks his age. It's just that a 68-year-old grandfather of four rarely looks this cute.

"Let me ask you something," he says. "What's the deal? Is this Kennedy?"

He means the Kennedy Center Honors, which Redford will receive tonight. As it happens, one of his fellow honorees is Julie Harris, who starred with Redford in the play "Little Moon of Alban" in 1960.

By "what's the deal," however, his meaning is less clear. As difficult as it is to believe that he has been having trouble getting into a building with which he's intimately familiar for nearly half an hour, it's even harder to feature him not knowing exactly who's sitting in front of him at any given moment, and why.

Redford may live a life unencumbered by such details, or he may just be very good at seeming to. Either way, here goes: Yes, this is for Kennedy and we're with The Washington Post ("Ay-yi-yi!" is his reaction), where we're a film critic (" Are you?), and we've been given the happy -- and, okay, right now just slightly surreal -- assignment of writing an article about an extraordinary, even brilliant, without doubt hugely influential career.


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