Long before Watergate and a starring role in All The President’s Men, Robert Redford knew there was something off about Richard Nixon.
Chatting last night with LA Times “Indie Focus” reporter Mark Olsen at his new Sundance Cinemas on Sunset Blvd. after a newspaper subscriber screening of The Company We Keep, the actor-director remembered the time he was presented at age 13 in Santa Monica with a high school athletic award. “I didn’t know who he was,” Redford said of the 1949-50 school year encounter. “He was just a guy in a suit. But it was Earl Warren, the governor, and Nixon, then a senator. When Nixon handed me the award and shook my hand, it was just a vibe. I thought, ‘I don’t like this guy.'”
There was also some great reminiscing during the Q&A about how Redford gradually became interested in the investigative efforts of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. “When I read an article about them, I realized one was a Jew and one was a WASP,” Redford recalled. “One guy was a Republican, the other was a radical; one guy was a very good writer, the other wasn’t so good. They didn’t like each other, but they had to work together. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s fascinating, that’s a great story.'”
The efforts of Woodward and Bernstein are even more laudable given the general fourth estate attitude back then. “I heard some journalists arguing about the Watergate break-in, and I remember asking, ‘What was that about?'” Redford explained. “And they said, ‘No one is ever going to get to the bottom of that one.'”
“And the implication was because it led to the White House,” he added. “I said, ‘Wait a minute, is that possible?’ And they just sort of looked at each other and smiled. I said, ‘Are you guys going to do anything about it?’ And they smiled even more. They said, ‘You don’t understand how it works. Nixon’s going to get in, on a landslide, and nobody wants to be on the wrong side of that guy when he comes in. He’s going to go after the media, no one wants to mess with him.'”
Redford also had some interesting things to say about All The President’s Men Revisited, the two-hour documentary he executive produced that is set to premiere April 21 on the Discovery Channel. Looking back at old footage of the Watergate hearings, the actor was struck by the relative “dignity” of the proceedings. If those same hearings were held today, he speculated that toxic bi-partisan grandstanding would prevail rather than a simple commitment from both sides of the floor to get to “the truth.”
The LA Times “Indie Focus” screening series began last summer and usually takes place at the Laemmle NoHo 7. But as Olsen joked, when the director of your featured film also owns a movie theater chain, a road trip is in order. The Redford Q&A was filmed and will be posted in the near future on the newspaper’s website.