LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - In more than 40 years in show business, actor Robert Redford has been many things — leading man, sex symbol, Oscar-winning director of “Ordinary People” and founder of the Sundance Film Festival.
Redford, 71, returns to cinemas on Friday as actor and director of new movie, “Lions for Lambs,” which uses the current conflict in Afghanistan as a backdrop to look at apathy for civic involvement by U.S. citizens, the media’s handling of war stories and the motivations of U.S. politicians.
Tom Cruise portrays a pro-war U.S. Senator, Meryl Streep a journalist and Redford a college professor trying to help a disillusioned student. Already, the movie has been labeled liberal by conservative commentators which Redford disputes.
He took a minute with Reuters to answer questions about “Lions for Lambs.:
Q: You’ve had a long career, but directed only seven movies. What themes must a screenplay have that make you want to direct as opposed to just being an actor or producer?
A: “My interest is in America and the life within. There was family life with ‘Ordinary People,’ entertainment with ‘Quiz Show,’ sports with ‘The Natural and ‘Downhill Racer and politics in ‘The Candidate’ and ‘Lions for Lambs.’ What runs through it all is American life and its different aspects, critically and positively.”
Q: Before ‘Lions for Lambs’ is even in theaters, it has been branded a ‘liberal’ movie.
A: “First of all, it isn’t. If you’ve seen the film, every point of view is expressed. It’s so predictable, but that’s part of what’s wrong with America, this bias before anybody even knows anything. To categorize me as a liberal? Show me the movies where that’s true. “All the President’s Men” was fact. It was about hard work that journalists did. “The Candidate” was about how we elect people in this country, and it wasn’t left or right. “Butch Cassidy?” It’s about outlaws.”
Q: You said you want the movie to challenge people. Why?
A: “That goes to me, my role in society and what I can do about my country that I care a lot about. I can provoke thought about where we are and the responsibility to change. Morality has almost disappeared. Lying is treated as a political asset. Playing the fear card is a strategy, that’s not healthy. As an artist, all I can do is take a look at a slice of American life — a hard look — and say, ‘what about this?’”
Q: There is an irony that the apathy ‘Lions for Lambs’ addresses is also present in audiences, and we can see that at box offices. War movies like “In the Valley of Elah” are not drawing crowds this fall.
A: “Exactly. There you have it. It’s a paradox that becomes an irony. I expected that. Looking at the ads, people say, ‘ah, there’s a lot of talk, therefore why would I go see it.’ This movie is very much about what an audience will listen to, but it’s not a preachy film. It’s not a lefty film, nor is it an anti-war film. It takes the issues and presents them in a dramatic enough way where you can think about them.”
Q: You’ve said Hollywood films are safe and that no risky movies get made. How does ‘Lions for Lambs’ fit that thinking.
A: “Since the youth market became so strong and Hollywood followed the youth market, the movies got younger because it was what suited younger people. Films with broad distribution are less risky than movies that ask you to think or ask you to pause and take a look American life.”
Q: You went on a college tour to promote the movie. Did you find that sense of apathy?
A: “It would be really dangerous to make black-and-white assumptions about our society. It would be very wrong to say to all media was at fault, all the public was asleep, all students were apathetic, all politicians were evil. I was really curious to take the film out to colleges ... I was very encouraged by what came back to me. It seemed to energize a debate.”