He was the driving force behind making the big-screen version of All the President's Men, but from the start Robert Redford did not plan to be in it. In fact, Redford thought another actor would play his part until Warner Bros. told him: "Either you star as Bob Woodward or the cameras won't roll at all."
See also: Robert Redford's 10 great roles
For once, the studio was right. The chemistry between Redford and Dustin Hoffman (as Woodward's Washington Post colleague Carl Bernstein) was the linchpin for arguably the finest newspaper drama ever made. Now, 37 years later, Redford, 76, figures heavily in two new films that cast a fascinating spotlight on how drastically journalism has changed since the Watergate era.
In The Company You Keep, a young reporter (Shia LaBeouf) digs for the truth about former members of the 1970s terrorist group the Weather Underground — and links it to a small-town lawyer, played by Redford.
All the President's Men Revisited, a Discovery Channel documentary produced by Redford and airing on April 21, combines scenes from the 1976 film with archival footage of Woodward and Bernstein as well as previously unseen footage of President Nixon in the Oval Office. Redford is also interviewed in the film. (Watch a trailer at the end of this page.)
Redford calls himself "a big supporter of journalism." Here he talks about his fascination with the Fourth Estate and shares a little gossip about All the President's Men.
Q: The Company You Keep is your ninth film as a director. What drew you to the project?
A: I'm fascinated by journalism. I put a keen eye, not a negative eye, on its role, particularly how it is changed by the times we're living in. The big moment for me was making All the President's Men. It was not about Watergate or President Nixon. I wanted to focus on something I thought not many people knew about: How do journalists get the story? The Company You Keep shows a journalist getting the story, too, but his motives are more ambiguous than Woodward and Bernstein's.
Q: Woodward and Bernstein were a study in contrasts.
A: That's what made the movie exciting and dramatic for me. One guy was a Jew, the other was a WASP. One was a Republican, the other a liberal. They didn't much like each other, but they had to work together. I developed the project over 3-1/2 years. I started it when few people were talking about Watergate. Later, I spent a lot of time with the two journalists. By that time they were working beautifully together.
Q: Were they surprised when you said you wanted to make a movie about them?
A: At first they refused to meet me. I found out later they thought they were being set up. They apologized and said, "We didn't think it was you." They knew they were under surveillance, but they didn't let up. What they did was totally heroic. It was journalism as a path to the truth. You don't see much of that today. I was so proud and so happy to make a film that celebrates how important journalism is and how it proved itself by hard work. Hard, truthful work by these two lowly journalists was able to undermine the top level of the U.S.: the president.
Next page: Redford on journalism and politics today. »