Charles Robert Redford Jr. (born August 18, 1936) is an actor, director, producer, businessman, environmentalist, and philanthropist.
Redford’s career began in 1960 as a guest star on numerous TV shows, including: The Untouchables, Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Twilight Zone, among others. He earned an Emmy nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Voice of Charlie Pont (1962). His greatest Broadway success was as the stuffy newlywed husband of Elizabeth Ashley in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park (1963).
Redford made his screen debut in Tall Story (1960). After his Broadway success, he was cast in larger feature roles in movies. In 1962 Robert Redford got his second film role in War Hunt. He was cast alongside screen legend Alec Guinness in the war comedy Situation Hopeless … But Not Serious, in which he played a soldier who has to spend years of his life hiding behind enemy lines. In Inside Daisy Clover (1965), which won him a Golden Globe for best new star, he played a bisexual movie star who marries starlet Natalie Wood, and rejoined her along with Charles Bronson for Pollack’s This Property Is Condemned (1966)—again as her lover, though this time in a film which achieved even greater success. The same year saw his first teaming (on equal footing) with Jane Fonda, in Arthur Penn’s The Chase. This film marked the only time Redford would star with Marlon Brando. Fonda and Redford were paired again in the popular big-screen version of Barefoot in the Park (1967) and were again co-stars much later in Pollack’s The Electric Horseman (1979).
After this initial success, Redford became concerned about his blond male stereotype image and turned down roles in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. Redford found the niche he was looking for in George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), scripted by William Goldman, in which he was paired for the first time with Paul Newman. The film was a huge success and made him a major bankable star, cementing his screen image as an intelligent, reliable, sometimes sardonic good guy.
Redford suffered through a few films that did not achieve box office success during this time, including Downhill Racer (1969); Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969); Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970), and The Hot Rock (1972). But his overall career was flourishing with the critical and box office hit Jeremiah Johnson (1972); the political satire The Candidate (1972); the hugely popular period drama The Way We Were (1973); and the biggest hit of his career, the blockbuster crime caper The Sting (1973), which became one of the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time when adjusted for inflation and for which he was also nominated for an Oscar.
Between 1974 and 1976, exhibitors voted Redford Hollywood’s top box-office name. His hits included The Great Gatsby (1974), The Great Waldo Pepper (1975), and Three Days of the Condor (1975). The popular and acclaimed All the President’s Men (1976), directed by Alan J. Pakula and scripted once again by Goldman, was a landmark film for Redford. Not only was he the executive producer and co-star, but the film’s serious subject matter—the Watergate scandal—and its attempt to create a realistic portrayal of journalism, also reflected the actor’s off-screen concerns for political causes.
He also appeared in a segment of the war film A Bridge Too Far (1977) before starring in the prison drama Brubaker (1980), playing a prison warden attempting to reform the system, and the baseball drama The Natural (1984). Redford continued his involvement in mainstream Hollywood movies, though with a newfound focus on directing. The first film he directed, Ordinary People, which followed the disintegration of an upper-class American family after the death of a son, was one of the most critically and publicly acclaimed films of the decade, winning four Oscars, including Best Director for Redford himself, and Best Picture. His follow-up directorial project, The Milagro Beanfield War (1987), failed to generate the same level of attention. Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa (1985), with Redford in the male lead role opposite Meryl Streep, became an enormous critical and box office success and won seven Oscars including Best Picture, proving to be Redford’s biggest success of the decade and Redford and Pollack’s most successful of their six movies together. His next film, Legal Eagles (1986), was only a minor success at the box office.
Redford continued as a major star throughout the 1990s and 2000s. He released his third film as a director, A River Runs Through It, in 1992, which was a return to mainstream success for Redford as a director and brought a young Brad Pitt to greater prominence. In 1993, Redford played what became one of his most popular and recognized roles, starring in Indecent Proposal as a millionaire businessman who tests a couple’s morals; the film became one of the year’s biggest hits. He co-starred with Michelle Pfeiffer in the newsroom romance Up Close & Personal (1996), and with Kristin Scott Thomas in The Horse Whisperer (1998), which he also directed. Redford also continued work in films with political context, such as Havana (1990), playing Jack Weil, a professional gambler in 1959 Cuba during the Revolution, as well as Sneakers (1992), in which he co-starred with River Phoenix among others.
He appeared as a disgraced Army general sent to prison in the prison drama The Last Castle (2001), directed by Rod Lurie. In the same year, Redford reteamed with Brad Pitt for Spy Game, another success for the pair but with Redford switching this time from director to actor. Redford, a leading environmental activist, narrated the IMAX documentary Sacred Planet (2004), a sweeping journey across the globe to some of its most exotic and endangered places. In The Clearing (2004), a thriller co-starring Helen Mirren, Redford was a successful businessman whose kidnapping unearths the secrets and inadequacies that led to his achieving the American Dream.
Redford stepped back into producing with The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), a coming-of-age road film about a young medical student, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and his friend Alberto Granado. It also explored political and social issues of South America that influenced Guevara and shaped his future. With five years spent on the film’s making, Redford was credited by director Walter Salles for being instrumental in getting it made and released.
Back in front of the camera, Redford received good notices for his role in director Lasse Hallstrom’s An Unfinished Life (2005) as a cantankerous rancher who is forced to take in his estranged daughter-in-law (Jennifer Lopez)—whom he blames for his son’s death—and the granddaughter he never knew he had when they fled an abusive relationship. The film, which sat on the shelf for many months while its distributor Miramax was restructured, was generally dismissed as cliched and overly sentimental. Meanwhile, Redford returned to familiar territory when he reteamed with Meryl Streep 22 years after they starred in Out of Africa, for his personal project Lions for Lambs (2007), which also starred fellow superstar Tom Cruise. After a great deal of hype, the film opened to mixed reviews and disappointing box office. Redford more recently signed on to direct and star in an update of The Candidate.
Redford appeared in the 2011 documentary Buck, where he discussed his experiences with title subject Buck Brannaman during the production of The Horse Whisperer. In 2012, Redford directed and starred in The Company You Keep, about a former Weather Underground activist who goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity. In 2013, he starred in All Is Lost, directed by J.C. Chandor, about a man lost at sea. He received very high acclaim for his performance in the film, in which he is its only cast member and there is almost no dialogue. In April 2014, Redford appeared in the Marvel Studios super hero film Captain America: The Winter Soldier playing Alexander Pierce, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and leader of the Hydra cell operating the Triskelion. Redford was a co-producer and, with Emma Thompson and Nick Nolte, costar of the 2015 Broad Green Pictures film A Walk in the Woods, based on Bill Bryson’s book of the same name. Redford had optioned the film rights for the book from Bryson after reading it more than a decade earlier, with the intent of costarring in it with Paul Newman, but had shelved the project after Newman’s death.