Creating a dramatic, humanizing story that emotionally allows audiences to look inside of an event that has helped define American history, is a notable trademark of Robert Redford’s directorial and acting careers. From low-budget films to acclaimed big studio movies, the filmmaker’s career has emphasized how one event can drastically alter numerous people’s lives. From his critically successful historical mystery drama, 1976’s ‘All the President’s Men,’ to his new thriller ‘The Company You Keep,’ which is now in limited theatrical release and he directed and stars in, Redford regularly chronicles the ever-lasting radical effects of a small group of people’s passionate beliefs.

‘The Company You Keep’ follows Jim Grant (Redford), a public interest lawyer and single father raising his teenage daughter, Isabel (Jackie Evancho), in the suburbs of Albany, New York. His world is turned upside down, however, when a young reporter, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), exposes his true identity as a former 1970s antiwar radical fugitive wanted for murder. After living more than 30 years underground, Jim must go on the run across the country and rely on his former associates in the Weather Underground, including Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), Donal (Nick Nolte) and Jed Lewis (Richard Jenkins), to help exonerate him. But the FBI, including Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) and Diana (Anna Kendrick), is close behind Jim, ready to make the long-awaited, high-profile arrest.

Despite the warnings of his editor, Ray Fuller (Stanley Tucci), and the threats from the FBI, Ben is determined to track Jim down as well, knowing the significance of the national news story he has exposed. He knows the story can make his career, and is the opportunity of a lifetime. Determined to make a name for himself, Ben also travels across the country, also tracking down those involved in the case, including Henry Osborne (Brendan Gleeson), the police chief leading the investigation into the murder after it occurred. While interviewing Henry, Ben forms an attraction to the former chief’s daughter, Rebecca (Brit Marling), whose background in psychology makes him question his motivations in pursuing the case. As Ben uncovers the shocking secrets Jim has kept hidden for over three decades, they both are forced to come to terms with who they really are.

Redford generously took the time recently to sit down for a roundtable interview with several Internet reporters at a New York City hotel to talk about filming ‘The Company You Keep.’ Among other things, the director and actor discussed the ever-changing momentum of journalism, and how his admiration for the distribution of news, dating back to ‘All the President’s Men,’ convinced him to helm and star in the new thriller; how journalism has drastically changed since the Watergate scandal, because of the democratization of information on the Internet; and how his desire for change in his career convinced him to take on such drastically different films, such as the upcoming movies ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and ‘All Is Lost.’

Question (Q): Are all the reporters here from online?

Robert Redford (RR): Just think of this-10 years ago, and maybe even five years ago-you wouldn’t have been at the table. The fact that you’re all here highly represents the new directions where the media’s going. It’s pretty interesting.

I think more and more, certain kinds of film have declined, in terms of being made. Budgets have gotten much lower, studios are more into a tentpole situation where they will finance stuff that’s pretty guaranteeable, like franchise films-‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Bond’ or ‘Captain America’ from Marvel. That’s where they feel safe.

The rest of them are too risky. So films like the one that I made, like ‘The Company You Keep,’ probably would have greater financial support in the 1970s. But now it’s really, really hard, so it has to go more independent. That means you go for a lower budget, which makes the whole thing tougher. So what I’m getting at is that films like this rely more on websites and online support to get the word out.

Q: Do you think the film would have been if you hadn’t starred in the lead?

RR: I don’t think I made that much difference. But I suspect that there are rules the studios, or what’s left of the powers that be, work by. The rules are pretty rigid, so I don’t think I would have made much of a difference. It was still a low budget. (laughs)

Q: One of the central themes in the movie is how being a parent changes you. How has being a parent changed your perspective in filmmaking?

RR: I started a family when I was really young, when I was 20, 21. I was in New York, and we were in New York, and it was a struggle. I was still in school. I was told, and the myth around actors and family, was that it was almost impossible, you can’t do both. I accepted that as a challenge.

They said you can’t have a family and a career because a career takes so much out of you. Having a career meant you have to be into yourself. But I accepted that as a challenge. I wanted a career and to give to, and develop, my art. But I wanted to prove you can do both. So I think I did both well.

But there’s no question it was a struggle. Once you get into films, you’re gone all the time. You’re on locations and have to leave your family. You have to put your kids in school, so they’re going to be stuck in one place. As they get older, it becomes more of a challenge. But we’re all very close in my family. But I’m also divorced (laughs) and remarried. It wasn’t easy, but I wanted to prove you could do it.

It worked into the film, but it obviously has more than one theme. But if you had to break it down into what’s most important, I think the film speaks of what’s most important to my character, which is the love of his daughter. All the mistakes in his past, including the one he still has to live with, which is not having his true identity, are going to come up.

His life’s going to be under threat, because he’s an innocent man who’s thought of as being guilty. What he has to do to clear the air to be a real father, rather than be a good father with a false name, is go on the run against impossible odds. The odds are mostly against him to be able to pull this off. But he’s desperate because of the love of his daughter.

Then there are other themes, such as living with past mistakes and living without your true identity. Also, what happens when you’re totally passionate and committed to something in your youth, but then it evaporates and you grow out of that position. But you’re still stuck because of the trap you’ve created for yourself when you’re young. You have to take a false name and go underground to stay free. What’s the cost of that?

Also, how change is inevitable, and how it affects people as time goes on. Changing times and attitudes change an individual, but they’re still stuck. All that interested me, and that’s what the film is really about. It’s not about that event in 1970-that’s sort of the kickoff. It’s really about what our lives are like now.

Q: As a journalist, you sort of get stuck on the journalism side of the story.

RR: My character says to Shia’s character, you still print the news? (laughs)

Q: Does Shia’s character arc lie in the changing nature of journalism today? With all the access to the Internet, everyone can print anything they want. Did you purposely decide to include that aspect?

RR: Obviously I’m fascinated by journalism. I’ve made journalism a point in some of the films that I’ve made. I think I might put a critical eye on journalism occasionally, but fundamentally I’m such a supporter. I think journalism is so important. I put a keen eye on the role of journalism, as it’s changed by the times we’re living in.

I think the big moment when I really took the bull by the horns was making ‘All the President’s Men.’ That was not about Watergate or President Nixon; it was about those two guys and the work that they did. I wanted to put a spotlight on something that I didn’t think many people knew about, which is, how do journalists work? How do they get the story? That was 1975, and to me, the film was about hard work.

What made it exciting and dramatic to me was the profile of the two different guys who were forced to work together. One guy was Jewish and the other guy was a WASP. One guy was a Republican and the other guy was a liberal. They didn’t much like each other. One guy was a better writer than the other guy. But they had to work together. That fascinated me, and I wondered what that was like.

I developed that project over four years. It was all about them, so I spent a lot of time with the journalists to find out how they worked. At that point, they were working beautifully together. I think they realized that if they did, they would be superstars. (laughs)

At that time, my view of journalism was totally heroic, because I see journalism as a path to the truth. I was so happy and proud to make a film that celebrates how important journalism is and how it proved hard work was able to undermine the President of the United States by two lowly journalists. To me, that’s what it was all about. The whole event was received very well, and it got a lot of attention, probably too much so. A lot of people went to journalism school because they thought a movie could be made about them.

Then things changed so drastically. That was just a moment in time, and since things are changing so drastically, can that moment ever come back? I don’t think so.

So here we are, 30, 40 years later, it’s so drastically changed because of the democratization of information. Anybody can put something up, anybody can tweet. So therefore, it’s harder and harder to find where the truth is. When you have barking dogs on television that are so extremely to the right, they’ll lie right to their face with such conviction. Then people will think, that’s what the truth is. It’s brazen, but they’re allowed to do it. There aren’t any rules licensing them.

The rules that governed journalism when I was younger, which was that you had to get two people to go on record before you could quote a source, is gone. I think what took it away was the effort to compete; you had to compete, and therefore you had to scoop. Sometimes you couldn’t wait around to do it the ethical way, you just had to jump to get ahead of the next guy. So that helped change journalism. Now it’s so vastly different, and it makes Watergate seem like a little piece of American history. It can’t come back.

Q: Stanley Tucci’s character in ‘The Company You Keep’ shows how there’s not always a lot of time to foster people’s search for certain truths.

RR: At the core of the film, you have to be very clean and simple about where the emotional power lies. Outside of that, there are other points to that are more subtle.

It was sort of my effort to say this is how journalism has changed, this reporter-Shia LaBeouf’s character-is a reporter of today. You can see how he behaves: he’s ruthless, he’s brilliant, he’s amazing, he’s skilled, highly skilled, but he’s tricky. Is he going after the story for his on aggrandizement, is he going after it for his own ego satisfaction? Or is he going after it because he really wants to get the truth? I think both.

The fundamental story point is, this is news. Where were we, and why weren’t we on it? If you go outside of that, there’s an editor under such pressure. His bosses are looking for a return, financially, but they’re not getting it because journalism has changed so much. The editor is under pressure, and that’s making him edgy and cranky, and he’s extra angry.

What you feel is the outer pressures on him. Maybe the readership is dwindling, and that affects him. Readership dwindles, revenue dwindles and his job is in jeopardy, which puts him under pressure. So it isn’t just about get this story. So every scene in the movie has rings around it that are about something else. At the core of the film is get the story, but should you?

Everybody’s under pressure, including my character. Everybody in this film are under intense pressure when my character shows up. That activates the energy of the film. Everyone was living a comfortable life, but it was a lie. When I show up, suddenly there’s this negative energy. Some people don’t want to see me, and are shocked to see me. Occasionally he’ll find somebody who says, we’re old friends, I’ll help. All that stuff interested me in making the film.

There were themes in the film that I wanted to explore. As long as they had emotional feeling attached, and you can say, I understand why this guy’s being this way, and I understand why my character’s driven, because of the love of his daughter, I wanted to do it.

Q: Your role of Bob Woodward in ‘All the President’s Men’ is still so iconic. Do you think the character still resonate with audiences today?

RR: Well, on April the 21st, we’re having a premiere in DC about a documentary I made, called ‘All The President’s Men Revisited.’ I spent about a year and a half making it. I’m very proud of it.

The documentary threads together scenes from the film and actual footage of Bernstein and Woodward working. There’s actual archival footage that no one has ever seen of Nixon in the oval office talking to (H.R.) Haldeman and (John) Dean, and he’s actually saying things like ‘What are we going to do about the Jews?’

When he’s denying that he knew anything about Watergate, he’s saying ‘How do we stop this Watergate thing?’ That’s archival footage where the tape is spinning and he’s got his feet up in the Oval Office that people have never seen. How this man recorded his own mistakes, thinking he was going to be this fabulous historical figure, is beyond me. It showed how delusional he was. Then there’s scenes from the actual hearings that took place. Dustin and I, today, were interviewed here in New York about how we felt working together then.

This is all threaded together in this film, and I think if there’s a point, it will try to be subtle with how journalism has changed. By making this documentary about what it was like then, because it’s all about then, and then having the voices of today talking like Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and Tom Brokaw, you also have how they remember that. Some of them hadn’t even been born then. Rachel Maddow was a baby, and she said “I don’t remember,” but she has ideas about it.

We make no statements about today, we say this is how it was done then. You leave it to the audience to compare and say “Wow, things have really changed.”

There’s a real key point in the film, like at the hearings where you have senators trying to get to the truth, and they’re questioning John Dean and H.R. Haldeman and all the people connected. Both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, were working together to get tot he truth. So there was a moral tone over those hearings that you didn’t think of then, because they were doing what they were supposed to be doing.

They were supposed to be working together to get to the greater good. All you have to do is see that, and imagine how it’s supposed to be today. First of all, there would be no hearings. Secondly, they’d be fighting. Republicans would never be looking for the truth, because all of their lies might be exposed. You let the public draw the comparison. I’m very proud of this film.

Q: Which directors that you’ve worked with as an actor, such as Alan J. Pakula for ‘All the President’s Men,’ have influenced your approach to filmmaking?

RR: I hired Alan J. Paulka, not to sound self-serving. I had spent two-and-a-half years on that project-I was producing it-before I hired the director. So I was well into doing the research and working on the script before he was hired. I spent four years on that project.

It started in 1972, when I was on a train promoting a film called ‘The Candidate.’ That was a very low-budget film. It was a movie I wanted to make, to make a statement about America being all about winning. My character’s unqualified, but he wins because of the way he looks. It was about cosmetics, rather than substance. That’s the point I wanted to make in 1971.

While we were promoting it, we were on the train. The media was part of it; there was the entertainment media and the political media on the train. I heard these people gossiping about the Watergate break-in that happened just two weeks before. So we’re talking about early July in 1972.

So I’m asking the journalists, “What happened with that? It just kind of went away.” They looked at each other like they knew something, like they suspected something. They said, “Whatever is going on, it’s not going to come out.” I said, “Why?” They said, “First of all, Nixon’s gonna win. Secondly, everybody does it-it’s dirty tricks, both sides do it.”

I got so upset by the fact that I didn’t think they were going to do anything. I went home, naive about that, and was kind of depressed. I went back to Utah and was reading The Salt Lake Tribune. Then, about a week and a half later, a little story popped up-two guys, a dual byline. I thought, “Somebody’s doing something!”

A few days later, another one. This thing kept popping, on a regular basis, it was always two names. I couldn’t remember the names, but I was focusing on the fact that somebody was doing something.

Then, the whole thing blew wide open in September, and I realized, wow, I was already tracking something just on a personal notion. Even though the media people said it wasn’t going to come out, somebody proved them wrong. Then the whole thing went so high, everyone got involved-The New York Times and all these big papers.

Then some false things that made it seem as though these two guys were wrong. It went to the Grand jury, and it seemed like they made a wrong step. That’s when I read a little article on the side about who these two guys were. When I saw that profile about their differences, and yet they both worked together, I thought, “Gee, I wonder what that was like. I bet that’s a little movie.” I thought, “I’d like to make a little black-and-white movie that I could produce with two unknown actors, and just have it be about what they did.”

One thing led to another and I finally met them. They refused to meet me at first. I found out later after they did agree to meet me was that initially they didn’t trust that it was me. They thought they were being set up because they were paranoid. They apologized, and said they knew they were being followed and were under surveillance.

One thing led to another, and I told them what I wanted to do. They said, “We’re going to be writing a book.” I said, “I’m not interested in a book, I’m just interested in what is not being talked about, which is what you guys did, how you did it.” A year-and-a-half later, they said, “Well, we’re told we have to write our book first. We’ll make sure sure you get the film rights.” Finally the book came out, and it was a big success.

The studio bought the rights and they said, “Well, you have to be in it.” I said, “I think that might distort it.” The studio said, “Well, we’re not going to make it unless you’re in it.” I told them if they wanted me in it, they would have to have someone like Al Pacino or Dustin (Hoffman), so that’s when I went to Dustin. We really had to confirm ourselves to be those two characters. That was fun and exciting to work on. That project took a long time.

Director Sydney (Pollack) and I became very, very close friends acting together in a movie in 1960, a little black-and-white independent film (‘War Hunt’). He played my commanding officer and I played a young recruit.

He told me then that he wanted to be a director. I told him I wanted to go back to Broadway, and I went back into the theater and did a couple of plays. He then started directing television.

Then we came back together when I was coming to Hollywood to do my second film (‘This Property is Condemned’), and I was working with Natalie Wood. We had this script, it was a mess, and no director really wanted to touch it. On the list of directors, Sydney’s name was way down at the bottom. I said, “Oh, get that guy!” I figured, he’d be my friend! (laughs)

Natalie said, “Who is he?” I said, “He’s an up-and-comer.” So one thing led to another, and Sydney Pollack calls me and he said, “I got a call from Natalie Wood-she wants to see me!” (laughs) I said, “Well, go see her!” He said, “Yeah, but my hands sweat when I get nervous.” I said, “Well put gloves on and go see her!” (laughs) So that’s how it all happened, and the rest was history. Then history was made, and she and I were in the film, and Sydney directed it.

Our relationship wasn’t something I was interested in talking about in public. But we were so close and saw things in the same way. So we would collaborate behind-the-scenes on the script. When it was time to go forward, he was the director and I was the actor. I was comfortable with that, because I trusted him and I knew him so well. He knew how to manage me as an actor. He and I become so close and collaborative over the years on so many films, that it became a comfortable relationship.

George Roy Hill did it all himself. He was a master of his own work. When he was a child, he always read the funny papers, and he was captivated how a story could be told in four or five panels. He took that in his head, in terms of telling stories> He thought the story had to be compressed. He was heavily disciplined and was a military guy in the marines. But he was fun.

By that time, Paul Newman and I had become friends (after starring in Hill’s ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and ‘The Sting’). George took a chance on me in ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.’ Paul fought for me, and I was about 11 years younger than him. He was a star, and I was just an actor for hire. I forever owe them. Then the three of us did ‘The Sting’ together. So my relationship with George came from those projects.

Q: Going back to big budget films, you’re now entering a big Hollywood adaptation with ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier.’ Can you give us any insight into who you’re playing? Was there something about the character you’ll be playing that’s a little more familiar to you?

RR: (I’ll be playing) the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. in ‘Captain America.’ ‘The Company You Keep’ is the film I put everything into. But the ‘Captain America’ sequel is very simple; I wanted to do something different, and that felt like a good thing to do. That’s it, there’s nothing more to it than that. It’s bold, in terms of expectations.

But the film that would probably be of interest to you would be a film I made with (‘Margin Call’ writer-director) J.C. Chandor, called ‘All Is Lost.’ That’s coming out in September. I’m the only character in the film, and there’s no dialogue. It’s about a man and what he has to go through during a giant storm in the Indian ocean.

I did it because it was different. I said, at this point in my life and career, I’d like to break loose and do different things. We made it down in Mexico, and it was really grueling and hard. It was physically damaging, but I really enjoyed it because I was putting myself out there. It’ll probably be getting a lot of attention in a few months.

But ‘The Company You Keep’ took four years to make, and it took a lot out of me. So I want to make sure it gets the attention it deserves. It’s an interesting commentary. It’s a great lesson about what you’re willing to take a risk for.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Interview Robert Redford Talks About The Company You Keep

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *