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Robert Redford Explores Aging in “A Walk in the Woods” and Fall of CBS Legend Dan Rather in “Truth”

StoryJanuary 29, 2015
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Image Credit: sundance.org/projects/a-walk-in-the-woods

Acclaimed director and actor Robert Redford discusses his new film premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, “A Walk in the Woods,” in which he co-stars with Nick Nolte. It is a comedy about walking the Appalachian Trail — and getting older. “What are you going to do with what time you have left? Are you just going to sit?” Redford asks. “One thing you don’t want to do is be a guy sitting in a rocking chair on a stoop somewhere in a bathrobe and say, 'I wish I would've, I wish I could’ve.’ So, you make the most of your life.” He also talks about his plans to play former CBS news anchor Dan Rather in the upcoming political drama, “Truth,” based on Rather’s 2005 memoir about how he was fired after reporting that George W. Bush received special treatment in the U.S. Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. ”CBS wanted a relationship with the administration. They asked him to back off,” Redford notes. “He said, 'I can't do that. My job is to tell the truth.’” Redford also discusses the attacks earlier this month on Charlie Hebdo magazine.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, from Park City Television. Here in Park City, the 31st annual Sundance Film Festival is underway. We’re spending the hour with its founder, Robert Redford, the Oscar-winning director and acclaimed actor. I asked Robert Redford about his latest film, A Walk in the Woods, in which he co-stars with Nick Nolte. It’s a comedy about walking the Appalachian Trail—and getting older.

ROBERT REDFORD: The reason I was attracted to it, one, it was a comedy. I wanted to do a comedy. I hadn’t done a comedy in a long, long time, and I kind of missed it. And I was doing some very serious, dramatic work, which was fine. I just wanted to do a comedy. I had done comedy on Broadway and in earlier films, and I wanted to go back to that. I felt that a lot of the comedy in the last few years was making its way with kind of—it was lower-grade, lower-grade comedy. It was good, it was fun, but it was kind of one-dimensional, in that it was—I won’t say bathroom humor, that’s too negative, but it was a certain kind of quality. It was down there, it was low. And I thought I would like to do a comedy that had pathos mixed in with it. This comedy was about friendship, a friendship lost for 30 years and then regained. And that journey on the Appalachian Trail was how it was found again, by two guys that once were very close, had a parting of the ways, went in totally different directions, and came back together again because no one else would walk the trail with my character. So I was stuck with this guy I hadn’t seen in 30 years. And I just thought that’s a great story.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he has a titanium knee and a trick knee?


AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip.

ROBERT REDFORD: That’s the least of it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of A Walk in the Woods.

BILL BRYSON: [played by Robert Redford] Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN KATZ: [played by Nick Nolte] Bryson, hey.

BILL BRYSON: Hey, Steve-o. This is my wife.

STEPHEN KATZ: You’re the British nurse I’ve heard so much about.

CYNTHIA BRYSON: [played by Emma Thompson] Certainly hope so.

STEPHEN KATZ: Good to meet you. That’s a little bit like a bear hug.

BILL BRYSON: Are you limping?

STEPHEN KATZ: Well, it is a titanium knee, and this one’s a trick knee. You know, it’s [inaudible]—say, can I get that? I get this—I’ve got to eat every hour or so; otherwise, I get these—

BILL BRYSON: What? Episodes?

STEPHEN KATZ: No, no, they’re—

BILL BRYSON: Seizures?

STEPHEN KATZ: Seizures, that’s right.

BILL BRYSON: You get seizures?

STEPHEN KATZ: Mm-hmm, yeah. You know, I ate some contaminated phenylthiamines about 10 years ago. Totally changed my system, you know.

BILL BRYSON: I thought you said you were in shape.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, as well. And especially for our radio listeners who aren’t watching this on television, the part where you heard a candy machine working, that was Nick Nolte sort of revving up, getting some fuel before his walk.


AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t it also a film about getting older?

ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s certainly about that. It’s about what—what are you going to do with what time you’ve got left? Are you just going to sit? And one thing you don’t want to do is be a guy sitting on a rocking chair on a stoop somewhere in a bathrobe and go, “I wish I would have. I wish I could have. I should have.” You don’t want to have that. So you make the most of your life. And these guys hit a point where they see the end of the road. It’s not that far away. What are you going to do? One last shot, one last effort to break through monotony, break through convention. Are you still young enough and able enough to try something risky? That might change the whole picture. So I think that was the motivation.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you continue to try risky things?


AMY GOODMAN: What do you consider—

ROBERT REDFORD: To me, there’s—the only risk is not taking a risk, in my mind. I think risk is what moves things forward. You’re not going to make it all the time. You’re going to fail. You’re going to—you won’t achieve what you want to. But as long as you’re willing to take a risk to move things forward.

AMY GOODMAN: When have you failed and seen that as—

ROBERT REDFORD: Right now in this interview.

AMY GOODMAN: And seen that as—

ROBERT REDFORD: Oh, I have. We don’t need to go into it. There’s a lot of times in my life.

AMY GOODMAN: And seen it as, actually, in retrospect, because it’s very hard to feel it when you fail, but as an important turning point that actually led you in a direction you wanted to go in?

ROBERT REDFORD: Well, I think taking chances, again, is risk, taking a chance. I began my life—my early adult life, I thought I was going to be an artist. I had gone to Europe to study art. I saved up enough money to last for a year kind of on the bum. And that travel exposed me to a real education that I didn’t feel I was getting in the classroom. Getting out in the world and experiencing other cultures, other languages, different people with different views, that became my education. And so, I thought, to keep myself company, I would have a sketchbook. I would go to bars and hitchhike along the way, and I would sketch people. I was alone. And so, I thought I was going to be an artist. And I studied in Paris, and I came back to New York. And through a series of serendipitous turns, I ended up in a dramatic school. I wasn’t planning that. But what happened when I went into it was something clicked that I hadn’t expected, and my life took a different turn. And suddenly I was an actor.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you draw now?


AMY GOODMAN: Do you draw now? Do you paint?

ROBERT REDFORD: I do. I keep—yeah. It’s the way I tell a story to myself. If I’m sitting in a restaurant and I’m alone—I used to be able to sketch—

AMY GOODMAN: Are you ever alone in a restaurant?

ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, yeah, I am. What I would do would be, because I was alone, to keep myself company, I would sketch people I would see. I can’t do that now, because somebody’s looking at you. But it gave me great comfort. And I would sketch—there was a story being told at another table, and I would sketch the person or the couple or the group, and then I would imagine what their story was. And on the right-hand side of the page I would write what I thought their story was, to correspond to the picture. So, in my mind, I was putting the picture and the story together, in my mind. And so, that’s what I thought I was going to do with my life, ’til I became an actor.

AMY GOODMAN: Truth. Can you talk about this new film you’re working on?

ROBERT REDFORD: Truth is a story—it’s a wonderful story. It has elements of Greek tragedy to it. Dan Rather, well-known anchor, along with the two other anchors from the other networks—it was that moment in time where Dan was at the top of his game, and he fell from grace very quickly. His producing partner, Mary Mapes, they were producing incredible work. And he ran afoul of his bosses, CBS, at that time, who felt that he was pushing a little too hard against George Bush on his Air National Guard record, which was flawed and had holes in it. And he was beginning to pursue what the real truth behind that was.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you just remind people what that National Guard story was about?

ROBERT REDFORD: Well, it got complicated. It had to do with a memo. But what it was, was that the administration was covering up the fact that he didn’t show up, didn’t do a physical, didn’t show up, went to Alabama to campaign rather than showing up for duty, and all that kind of stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: Way back when he served in the National Guard.

ROBERT REDFORD: Way back, way back. And so, Mary Mapes was doing the research, getting the facts together, and Dan was putting it on the air. But CBS didn’t want it, because they wanted a relationship with the administration. They asked him to back off. He said, “I can’t do that. My job is to tell the truth.” They said, “You can also tell it too much.” So, anyway, there was a tension that ended up—because he did not stop. He said, “This is my job.” So they fired him, and her. And that was a fall from grace that took place in a very short amount of time. So this film is just about that moment where he was at the top and then fell.

And I talked to Dan. I called him before I did the film. And he’s a hard character to play, for me, because he’s so well known. You know, you’ve got a public face that’s very well known. And you want to be careful. You don’t want to imitate that person. That could become a caricature. You also want to find the essence of the person, so you can be truthful to his type of person. So I called him and told him about this. I asked him if he was going to be uncomfortable with it. He said no. I said, “Well, then tell me something. What was it about you and Mary Mapes?” because Cate Blanchett plays Mary Mapes in this. “What was it?” And he says, “I’ll tell you what, Bob. It was about loyalty.” He said, “She and I were loyal to each other. And we were loyal to our boss. The heartache, the tragedy was that we were—our faith in our bosses wasn’t acknowledged. There was no reciprocation for that. And so, we were fired. But we stayed loyal to each other. We’ve stayed loyal all these years to each other because that was the core of our relationship: loyalty to get to the truth. And we were kind of done in by our own bosses, who we were both very loyal to. We believed in them.” I thought, that’s a great story.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see—do you—

ROBERT REDFORD: It wasn’t my idea.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there any echoes of All the President’s Men in this?

ROBERT REDFORD: Maybe a little bit. I think in All the President’s Men, what attracted me to that story was showing what two reporters did that nobody knew anything about. Everybody knew about Nixon. Everybody knew all the headline stuff. But these two guys were doing something nobody else was doing. They were digging and digging.

HARRY ROSENFELD: [played by Jack Warden] There’s been a break-in at Democratic headquarters. They were bugging the place. Woodward, Bernstein, you’re both on the story. Now don’t [bleep] it up.

NARRATOR: Redford.

BOB WOODWARD: [played by Robert Redford] I’m Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. Mr. Markham, are you here in connection with the Watergate burglary?

MARKHAM: [played by Nicolas Coster] I’m not here.

NARRATOR: Hoffman.

CARL BERNSTEIN: [played by Dustin Hoffman] Hi, this is Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post, and I was just wondering if you can remember—

NARRATOR: All the President’s Men, the story of the two young reporters who cracked the Watergate conspiracy.

OPERATOR: White House.

BOB WOODWARD: Howard Hunt, please.

OPERATOR: He might be in Mr. Colson’s office.

BOB WOODWARD: Who’s Charles Colson?

CARL BERNSTEIN: Did you know a Howard Hunt?

SHARON LYONS: [played by Penny Peyser] Well, the White House said he was doing some investigative work.

CARL BERNSTEIN: What do you say?

NARRATOR: They stumbled into leads.

BENNETT: Certainly it comes as no surprise to you that Howard was with the CIA.

BOB WOODWARD: No, no surprise at all.

NARRATOR: They tripped over clues.

BOB WOODWARD: We’d like to see all the material requested by the White House.

LIBRARIAN: All White House transactions are confidential.

CARL BERNSTEIN: This whole thing is a cover-up that’s right under our noses.

NARRATOR: And piece by piece, they solve the greatest detective story in American history.

BOB WOODWARD: There is no way the White House can control the investigation.

BOOKKEEPER: [played by Jane Alexander] I don’t want to say anymore, OK?

CARL BERNSTEIN: You’ve been threatened, if you tell the truth?

BOB WOODWARD: Is there a cover-up?

DEEP THROAT: [played by Hal Holbrook] Can’t you understand what you’re on to?

BOB WOODWARD: Mitchell knew?

DEEP THROAT: Of course Mitchell knew.

BEN BRADLEE: [played by Jason Robards] Woodward, Bernstein, get in here!

NARRATOR: At times, it looked as if it might cost them their jobs.

BEN BRADLEE: You guys are about to write a story that says the former attorney general, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in this country, is a crook.

NARRATOR: Their reputations.

RONALD ZIEGLER: Why is the Post trying to do it? I don’t know.

NARRATOR: Perhaps even their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, Bernstein and Woodward, yeah. And to me, it was about their relationship. One guy was a Jew, the other guy was a WASP; one guy was a Republican, the other guy was a liberal. They didn’t like each other. One guy was a good writer, the other guy wasn’t so good. Didn’t like each other, but they had to work together. And I thought, that, to me, is a great story. I wasn’t interested in anything other than what these guys did at a certain time that nobody else was doing, and what was their relationship like. That, to me, is what All the President’s Men was. Now, if you want to liken that to Truth, I don’t know that you can, other than that it’s about the media, and it’s about hard work. But aside from that, I don’t think there’s much correlation, because Dan was well known. These guys weren’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Robert Redford, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

ROBERT REDFORD: No, thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to end with this question. “Je Suis Charlie,” the—what took place in France, the whole idea of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, but also the backlash, the concern about Islamophobia and communities under siege, whether we’re talking about in France or here at home, the Black Lives Matter movement, your thoughts on where we are today?

ROBERT REDFORD: Well, I mean, now we get down to democracy. I mean, I think it’s very important to listen to other people’s points of view, to be open, to be tolerant. I think what happened in Paris is tragic. I feel a, really, responsibility, because I spend a lot of time there. But I think it has to do with not acknowledging a segment of society. It sounds to me—I don’t know enough about it, but it seems that it had a lot to do with the Muslim population that was sort of cast aside. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it seems like that was at the core of what was going on. Well, if it had been more inclusive, had that community been more included, given jobs, made feel a part of the social environment they were in, I am not sure this would have happened. So I’m all for diversity and democratic behavior. That might not have happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Robert Redford, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

ROBERT REDFORD: Thank you. Thanks you. Stay on the air.

AMY GOODMAN: The Oscar-winning director, acclaimed actor, Robert Redford, founder of the Sundance Film Festival, now in its 31st year here in Park City, Utah. That does it for the broadcast. If you’d like a copy of today’s show or any of the Sundance broadcasts, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. On Friday, January 30th—that’s tomorrow—I’ll be speaking at Dolly’s Bookstore on Main Street here in Park City at 1:00 p.m.

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