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Robert Redford, Unedited

The famously press-shy artist is ready for his close-up

Robert Redford

Robert Redford, who turns 75 this year, is the 2011 winner of AARP The Magazine's Movies for Grownups Lifetime Achievement Award. — Photo by Art Streiber

En español  |  He steps from his dusty silver Acura and chuckles sheepishly, explaining how he got lost en route to our interview in Santa Fe, where he has owned a home off and on since the '80s. He wears a gray T-shirt, jeans, and brown- and-beige lace-up Merrells. His full head of strawberry-blond hair is tousled, his smile luminescent. His features have softened with age — his skin has weathered — but Robert Redford's magnetism still electrifies.

Redford will turn 75 this year. "Thanks for that reminder!" he sarcastically responds when I mention the milestone. No, he's not planning a party. "When Jane Fonda, whom I'm very close to — I've done three films with her — turned 40, she sent me a note: 'Please come to my 40th birthday celebration.' I wrote her back and said, ' When I turned 40, I went into hiding!' We're very different in how we celebrate ourselves." Which isn't to say that Redford isn't thriving. "When you get older, you learn certain life lessons. You apply that wisdom, and suddenly you say, 'Hey, I've got a new lease on this thing. So let's go.' "

In a wide-ranging, candid interview, Redford lets us in on a secret: If he was once in hiding, he's at last ready to open a window onto the experiences that have shaped him — and that frame the current chapter of his life.

We sit at a small round table in a classroom at Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Redford, known to friends as Bob, has requested Chinese chicken salad, water, and coffee for lunch. "Mind if I steal an egg from your salad?" he asks, as if we're old pals. He smiles at my surprise, then settles in: "What can I tell you?" he begins.

Pop-culture buffs might trace the shedding of the überprivate Redford persona to his appearance last year on The Oprah Winfrey Show to surprise his fellow guest, Barbra Streisand. Since costarring in The Way We Were in 1973, the two had never been interviewed together. "When I got into the business, I had this naive idea that I'd let my work speak for me. I just was never interested in talking about myself," Redford says. "However, we're in such a different time, and celebrity is so much in the mainstream. I thought, 'I might as well enter this zone, but go a toe at a time.' "

In February Redford will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from AARP The Magazine at its annual Movies for Grownups® Awards gala in Beverly Hills. That he accepted the honor further confirms that he's more comfortable talking about his life — though he cringes when he's called a living legend. "That really bothers me," he says. "Does that mean I'm bronzed? Whoa! It's not over yet, folks!"

To the contrary, Redford's latest directorial project is soon to be released in theaters. The Conspirator tells the story of Mary Surratt (played by Robin Wright), whose boardinghouse was a meeting place for John Wilkes Booth and fellow plotters of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Charged with conspiring in the president's murder, Surratt is reluctantly represented at trial by a young Union war hero (James McAvoy). The political climate of post-Civil War Washington — when individual rights sometimes took a backseat to national security — mirrors post-9/11 America, Redford admits: "We don't seem to learn from our own history. But whatever parallels exist are up to the audience to find; it won't be a needle in a haystack. My focus is on the emotional arc of the characters. What I loved about this story was the two characters who start off at opposite sides and move together and across each other."

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