When he finally starred in a movie that qualified for Sundance, it took some arm-twisting for Redford to agree to show it at his own independent-minded festival.
"The Clearing" (search) is one of the few independent movies Redford has made in a career dominated by studio-financed projects such as "The Horse Whisperer," "Spy Game" or his two pairings with Paul Newman, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting."
Sundance director Geoff Gilmore saw "The Clearing" and wanted it at last January's festival. Redford had strong reservations.
"I was concerned about the appearance of being self-serving," Redford, 66, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The actor eventually was persuaded by Gilmore, who told him, "`Look, I want it because I think it's the kind of film we should have, and the fact that you're in it basically says you're contributing to the very thing you created,'" Redford said.
Directed by Pieter Jan Brugge, "The Clearing" stars Redford as a self-made rental-car tycoon kidnapped by an envious failure (Willem Dafoe). Helen Mirren co-stars as Redford's wife.
Unlike Redford's studio flicks, which open simultaneously in thousands of theaters, "The Clearing" follows the indie pattern of debuting in a handful of cinemas over the Fourth of July weekend and gradually expanding to wider release.
Late this year brings "An Unfinished Life," directed by Lasse Hallstrom and starring Redford as a recluse reconnecting with his daughter-in-law (Jennifer Lopez), whom he blames for his son's death.
Redford also hopes to direct and star in a follow-up to "The Candidate," his 1972 satire about an idealist sucked into the reality of compromise politics when he runs for the U.S. Senate.
AP: You've been the most visible backer of independent film for more than 20 years. Did you feel overdue for a smaller, independent feature yourself?
Redford: Yeah, but you know there's a little bit of confusion there. The truth is, most of my career, a lot of films I've made have been independent films or independent-natured films. But most of them have been financed within the mainstream, because I had the good fortune of doing a mainstream feature then asking them, "If I do this, can I do that?" So I was able to do "Downhill Racer," "The Candidate, "Ordinary People" or "Quiz Show."
AP: Where are you at with the sequel to "The Candidate"?
Redford: That's moving into final draft form. I had never really wanted to do it, but the thing that inspired me was imagining myself watching myself on ads run by my opponent, drawn from the first film. Showing ads from me as a young guy running for office. Whatever happened to this guy? I thought, that'd be a hell of a thing, to play a guy 30 years later looking back, where you could actually use your own film turned around as negative ads against you.
AP: Peter Biskind's recent book "Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film" renewed questions about whether commercial interests had co-opted your festival. What's your reaction when someone says Sundance has gone Hollywood?
Redford: The fact is that Sundance hasn't gone Hollywood. That's a very shallow outside view. You'll get people like Britney Spears who show up, which has nothing to do with the festival, those people come and they bring the paparazzi. When you get that kind of attention and you're far enough outside, you get the impression that it's gone Hollywood. No. The fact of the matter is, we have never, ever changed our policies for how we program our festival. It's always been built on diversity. As a matter of fact, when I first started, people said, well it's never going to go anywhere because it's not going to be commercial. We said, well, it's not about that. It's about diversity. It's about letting new voices have a place to be seen. The rest is up to somebody else. We're nonprofit, for God's sake. The fact is that the diversity has become commercial. Because independent films have achieved their own success, Hollywood, being just a business, is going to grab them. So when Hollywood grabs your films, they go, "Oh, it's gone Hollywood."
AP: You've largely played good guys and heroes, or at worst, lovable outlaws. Will we ever see you playing a truly bad man?
Redford: There's one project I have now that's a Western that deals with the issue of what's good and what's evil, and I would play that side. The evil side. I'm very attracted to it, because I've played a lot of people who were on the side of good, struggling to preserve the good or to put the good out there. When I started my career, I played almost exclusively just villains. Nobody knows that, because it was in television. It was in live TV in New York, early TV out here. I would play killers, rapists and all kinds of crazed people. ... I love as an actor playing the dark side of things, as long as it's smart, as long as it's complex.
AP: You have "An Unfinished Life" coming with Jennifer Lopez. With all the press over Lopez's love life and her flop with last year's "Gigli," can she ever be taken seriously as an actress?
Redford: She's a very good actress, let me tell you something. What, are they going to blame her for that film? I didn't pay any attention to that. All I know is what I saw when I worked with her. She's a natural talent. She is a talented actor, and she's a talent, period. Fortunately, that's what I connected with.
AP: There's been wishful talk for decades about you and Paul Newman working together again. What are the chances?
Redford: We keep talking about it all the time. I have one project that may or may not work for Paul and me. I think that obviously, we would both like to do it. But it's sort of surprising considering the penchant for sequels and remakes and things like that, that more hasn't come to us that would be viable for us to do as kind of partners. But it hasn't.