Last month we had the chance to sit down with director/star Robert Redford at a roundtable to discuss his new film Lions For Lambs. In Lambs, Redford stars alongside Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise in “a powerful and gripping story that digs behind the news, the politics and a nation divided to explore the human consequences of a complicated war.” In the interview, Redford discusses the political issues inherent in the film. Lions for Lambs hits theaters on November 9th.
Question: Been a crazy day so far?
Robert Redford: Ahh…No, no, it’s a beautiful day. Physically, it’s a beautiful day. What I don’t like, and you should know about it, is those for minute sound byte interviews, that’s hard. I said look, I’d rather not do that. I’ve done that. I don’t think anybody likes it. I don’t think the press likes it. The subjects don’t like it, and, Ah, I know, It doesn’t do any good anyways so if we can have be a little more relaxed. So, today’s fine.
Question: You will have a question to answer tonight in a screening with students. So what does that mean to you, to like go out with students and show them, like what do you hope to get out-
Robert Redford: It was my idea, um, to do that. When we were talking about promoting the film I knew it would be difficult because there were so many films out and business is changing so much in terms of distribution, marketing and all that. So I knew it was going to be very, very hard. And I said, I don’t want to do, the normal stuff, the press junkets we got to do in hotels, me and tons of people. Everybody has to act like they’re interested and excited in so on and so forth, so I said, I’d rather go, to the areas and meet the preferred groups, ya know, take time. And I would be particularly interested because of the film and what the film is about, to, to involve young people to go to schools, go near colleges, see what they think, because fundamentally, if you’ve seen the film, in the last moment, it is about the future. It goes to the young man, what’s he gonna do? We don’t provide the answer, it’s simply meant for you to think about. And why not put that in front of students and let that, be curious what they have to say.
Question: In the film, you play a mentor to that young man, when you are appearing in front of a college crowd like the one you will be tonight do you feel, do you see that as an extension of that role?
Robert Redford: As me teaching? As me teaching? I would be petrified if I was a teacher in front of these guys considering I never got… I never… I got kicked out of school. So I hope that biography doesn’t come up…. Ah, No, it’s a Q and A when you say, what do you want to talk about? Have you seen the film? What’s on your mind? Also, I’ll let the other guys that I’m with, the other actors who played the students, Michael and Andrew let them throw some out, answer the other students. I don’t have any idea how its gonna go, I would imagine someone’s gonna start it off with a question. The film is not so much focusing on current events as they change…They’re too volatile. It’s really what’s underneath it, what are the fundamental factors that keep repeating themselves that create these situations that we’re in right now with this administration. This country, having lost so much in the last six years, it’s not the first time, this has happened, it happened with McCarthy-ism, Watergate, happened in Iran contrary, so there’s a fundamental pattern that keeps repeating itself, that involves the same characters, that think the same way. So you dramatize that, into 3 categories. The young people because there’s no draft, there’s no spark to energize the young people, they either accept or deny, they don’t have to, they don’t have to make a decision. And how is that played out? In the public place, kids not getting interested in their country, cuz they don’t have to. And yet things are getting worse and worse and we need to pay attention cuz one day you might wake up and things will be much worse. These are the sort of issues that are put forth in the film. There’s sort of a general idea that young people over the last 10 or 50 years have grown more apathetic, more cynical…Which I think is true for probably, for some good reason. But now its dangerous. If this continues, if that’s the way its gonna be with young people they’ll move further and further away with involvement of the system. It’s getting worse and worse and worse. On the other hand, the film just puts that out there, the film just suggests ‘Give the kid a choice; you wanna take the easy road, don’t come to class.’ Cuz I’m here to do something and you’re not interested then don’t, don’t hurt me by not showing up, just don’t come. Well he’s trying to activate the kid to make up his mind and push him, do you wanna take the easy life, do you really think this is the easy life? What good do think this is gonna do for you? Do you want to get involved? And the kid comes back with a legitimate argument and says why would I get involved with a system that’s this diseased, this corrupt? The retort is; precisely because it is. You’re the one that’s gonna have this future not me. So that duel back and forth was exciting to me and it doesn’t mean that there aren’t young people today that are beginning to get active so there might be a shift that’s actually beginning to occur. You’d know more then I would. It just may be that that attitude that prevailed this last several years might be starting to change. I hope so.
Question: Do you think that the youth of the young people is also the answer to breaking that cycle because it seems to me that in the film, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep kind of, taken into this role and their opposite views and then it’s the young people that is making up their minds and use their views to shape up the future to what they want it to be?
Robert Redford: Well, Meryl and Tom, Tom is a very convicted man, he’s totally, he’s a very singular and narrow point of view. Because that is basically the point of view we have in the administration right now, it’s very singular. And it’s very ideological, you can’t shake’em you can’t make them think there’s any other way to think. There not doing it very well, and it’s beginning to show up, it’s beginning to be transparent, that this attitude is very flawed. Tom’s character portrays a guy who has the same convictions but he’s gonna be better at it. He’s smarter, more charming, which makes him more dangerous. And she’s trying to figure out what he’s doing, and challenging and challenging and challenging and to the point where he say’s listen this is legitimate, every point of view is represented in this film. He turns to her and says is this how its gonna go, are you gonna keep talking about yesterday, well she says don’t you think its important, to think about how we got here? Well no I don’t, because we’re hear now. It doesn’t matter, we’re here. Well he has a point. We can ask ourselves about 9/11 all we want, how do we get there, did we have warnings before? The fact is, we’re here now. We got to think how we’re gonna move forward, so he’s got a point and she’s got a point, and you put it to the audience and the way you position it and the argument you got to decide what their point of view is but he does have a point he says ‘Sorry, you don’t think we should bring the troops home that’s an option, and he says lets play it out, we bring them home and the Taliban turns twice as big, well they have. Cuz this movie started last January. So a lot has happened.
Question: And he throws down a challenge to Meryl’s character as well and mentions her character and what she’s done and thinking about her role and getting her to be in perspective. The thing I wanted to ask you, cuz you’ve talked about the varying crisis’s in America’s political system in the last 20 or 30 years, how long did you have the idea to make this particular film? Cuz you could have made it in any of the political eras that have come along. So how long ago did this idea develop for this kind of film?
Robert Redford: A year ago. I was sent the script, which had been around for awhile and I think that about a year and a half and nobody was willing to make it, I’ve always been interested, no matter how many films I’ve done along the years, I’ve tried to do a lot of diverse film, there’s usually a fundamental theme underneath all of it. But I’m always interested in the political theme. Have been since 1970. I did the Candidate, I did All the Presidents Men, Quiz show, there are various films that are about power of media and film, but times have changed so drastically since I started doing it, its like there’s always a new film to be made about the new condition. This is different because this is about what is fundamentally unchanged, what are the conditions that lead us into this situation and we find ourselves if during McCarthy, during Watergate, during Iran, and now here we are again. What’s underneath it that creates this? Not this, but what’s underneath it. It’s a mindset, it’s a sentiment that belongs to a certain kind of character and a way of thinking. And they don’t go away, you woulda thought after Watergate that all those people that did those dirty tricks for Nixon and lied and cheated and his efforts to withhold the truth and hide the truth, conceal the truth, and the press going after him, you would have thought after that high point was reached, that would never happen again. It is! Only worse. So you say, ‘that’s an interesting film to make, not about what’s happening, about the factors underneath that’s happening. Cause it to repeat itself. That’s why Tom Cruise represents something about winning. Winning, winning, winning. That’s very American. Both good and bad. And her representing a category that was much stronger 30 years ago. After Watergate, the press was at its highest point, now look. And she’s desperate, she’s up against her own network against her own conscious and she knows he’s wrong. He’s running right over her, so therefore it’s really about the condition that we’re in. That makes these things happen.
Question: What is Robert Redford’s problem with America, did you read this in the New York Times?
Robert Redford: I have no problem with America other then I love it. It’s the problem I have is that I love it so much I don’t like to see what they’re doing with it.
Question: Traditionally American films usually have like a moral or kind of stabs you with it, like this is the theme of the film, this movie makes the audience ask questions and really is kind of vague do you think there is a benefit of this type of film in American cinema today?
Robert Redford: That’s a good question. I don’t know. The film was designed in a way that didn’t wrap up the answers. We didn’t tie it up with a ribbon. It could have been very easy to do that. We could’ve had a scene where the student comes in walks in the back of the classroom and the music rises up and the teacher looks up as he comes through the door and you know he has come back….We don’t know what he’s gonna do. We know one thing, he’s thinking, so therefore your asking the audience to think about how they feel. And when Tom Cruises character, the senator, finishes with her, he sweeps her right out, ‘Okay thanks, he’s gonna go on doing what he’s going to do, the ways he’s gonna do it. He tried to use her, he thinks he did and she thinks… Good god, what happened? She goes back and say’s I can’t write and her editor says ‘you just talked to the top guy? And we can’t put it up and she say’s no there’s nothing, she’s up against her own people. And then of course the two soldiers are caught in a mission that is not prepared for, and they’re being the cost. They’re lives are gonna be the cost. And their realization that they did something right, fight for their country, that they could make a difference. All those thing come together, I just wanted the audience to think about it. Not giving them any answers other then ‘what did you feel about this?’
Question: The film is very centered on how America does seem to be pretty introspective on the part that we all play, in the war at hand (“Hopefully.” Interjects RR). Is that why perhaps we never see the enemy?
Robert Redford: Yes. Exactly. It’s almost mystical, it’s not the point of the film, seeing the enemy. We’ve seen the enemy in documentaries, TV shows, there will be a lot of movies dealing with Iraq, and probably Afghanistan, It was meant to be a concept. The enemy is the enemy is the enemy. That enemy will show up as they have in time over and over again. Also that particular enemy has foiled everyone’s attempt to take then out. And they have been shadows. They have defeated people with tanks and guns and airplanes by going in and out of caves much the way the American Indians for some time defeated American Calvary would come in by the thousands and 25 Indians would out fox them by hiding underground. So this is a kind of situation I wanted to do more impressionistically I wanted to stay focused on the guys and their efforts to do the right thing. See them struggle against impossible odds, stay alive, be soldiers. Not knowing what is happening. That to me was more important than focusing on the enemy, it would have created another distraction in the film, I wanted to keep it focused on these 3 stories and the characters within these 3 stories.
Question: You mentioned earlier, we don’t have a draft right now, what would make people get involved in thinking, do you hope, do you think we do need a draft? If not, are you hopeful still that people will wake up now that things have gotten more out of control?
Robert Redford: Yeah. I’m worried about my country obviously, I’m a little bit in mourning, for what I’ve known in my life are pretty great things. I never in my lifetime and I lived through a lot of events, WW2, McCarthy-ism, to the assassination of the president, the vice president, Iran. I’ve never seen my country in bad a shape as it is now, how we’re perceived now, how the world perceives. What one administration could do to trash so many categories it makes me sad, it breaks my heart, but what are we gonna do about it? The only thing I can do is create a drama that puts certain things out there for people to think about, cuz if we don’t get involved, some how some way, this will continue. And I don’t know how many chapters so therefore we say young people should get involved, all I would hope for is that they would take some action, and its not that everyone should join the military. There’s the peace corp., you can start in a community activist, but get active! Don’t let this kind of leadership come again. Real quick.
Question: 35 years ago you kinda identified today’s moment with the candidate. The ending. When the characters elected then say’s now what? Is that what this kind of thinking leads to?
Robert Redford: Yeah. I think that character has shown up, maybe too often in our political world. Ill equipped. But looked good, and sounded good. Ya know, said things they think the audience wanted to hear… Took advantage of the lower parts of our sensibilities, very entertaining, you say ‘He’s a good guy, right? I want to hang out with him.’ So therefore he’d be a good president. So therefore looking at that we see characters like Dan Quayle. Bush….So ill equipped… Pathetically ill equipped…. When they get power…It’s scary. So yeah your right, to answer your question. These are the kinda things, these are the kinda films that say how we elect people in our country. Trying to be (?) at the time, 1970, saying its not about substance, its about cosmetics. I just didn’t realize it was gonna be so much…
Transcribed by Zach Lawrence.