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It is a bright April Southern California morning, the temperature rising lazily to the 80s, and Redford is having breakfast—a bowl of fruit and a glass of cranberry juice—on the patio of his beach house north of Malibu. His blond handsomeness is firmly in place. He is 46 but looks no older than 36, which is roughly the age of Hobbs in the second part of the movie. Redford plays the young Hobbs mostly in shadows, and he suggests his youth with mannerisms conveying callowness. He is of medium height—roughly 5'11"—and he has a trim athletic build, the result not of the latest athletic fads but of honest toil at the sports he enjoys, primarily tennis and skiing. He is wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a light blue T shirt, on which is emblazoned the logo of his Utah ski resort and cultural center, Sundance.
He rubs some tanning lotion on his famous features—strong jaw, slightly beaked and bent nose, prominent cheekbones—and settles back to watch the Pacific Ocean. He seems to this manner born, as indeed he was. The son of an oil company accountant, he was born in Santa Monica and reared in nearby Van Nuys, a middle-class Southern Californian to the navel. But, as with so many things about Redford, his background is deceptive.
"It seems to me I spent most of my life wanting to be someplace else," he says of his early years. "I was miserable in high school. I hated it. I just wanted out. I didn't feel like I fit anywhere. I was big at cutting classes. Oh, I appreciated Southern California living, but I didn't appreciate it as much until I got away and realized what had happened to Los Angeles. When I grew up here, you could smell the jasmine at night and see beyond two miles in daytime. I was very adjusted as a little kid, but as I grew older, I wanted to find out for myself what was out there. I felt as if L.A., with all the freeways, skyscrapers and high-tech cookie monsters, was sliding down the manhole. It didn't feel right to me. In a way I may have felt too comfortable. I suspected that the rest of the world wasn't quite that way."
He takes a long draft of juice and shifts in his chair. Redford is an active man who seems uncomfortable in repose. His manner, though, is casual. He looks and sounds like the screen Redford, but he's far more voluble.
"I played every sport as a kid, baseball through American Legion ball," he says. "I'm lefthanded all the way, so I played first base. My dad taught me how to play. It was no big deal between us, though. We always got along. I had no problems with my parents. I was into all sports aggressively. Then somewhere in my teens, I just lost interest in team sports. I stopped caring. I believed from the beginning that you played by the rules and that it was how you played the game, not whether you won, that counted. My disillusionment came when I realized that that wasn't the way things were at all. It was winning that counted. I wanted to put some of that in Downhill Racer. That character I played wasn't exactly lovable, and I wanted to show that merely by winning, his behavior could be excused. I was playing a character that was a lot of guys I grew up with—and unquestionably there was a bit of myself in there. I wanted him to be a Californian because I wanted to bring my background into the character. I wanted some of that California arrogance in him. The writer, Jim Salter, wanted him to be more of a Billy Kidd type, a New Englander. We compromised on Colorado.
"So 15 years later, a Southern California kid, a brash guy who says he's gonna smoke the Austrians, wins the downhill. Bill Johnson epitomized the naked truth that you can be or say anything you want as long as you win. It was life imitating art. His character was very much like the one I played. The parallels were incredible. Why, he and I are from the same town—Van Nuys. Somehow, after all these years, I feel vindicated."
Redford rises to answer the phone. There are no maids or housekeepers on the premises, so Redford handles his own calls, and according to his associates, no entertainer since Georgie Jessel has spent more time on the telephone. Redford only leases this beach house. His permanent residence is in Utah, but he lives about half the year in New York where his wife, Lola, is doing graduate work in history. "I like the balance of the city and the mountains," says Redford. "I can't imagine one without the other." The Redfords have two daughters, Shauna, 23, and Amy, 14, and a son, Jamie, 21, who's a college junior.
"I probably could've had a career in college sports," Redford says, resuming his seat in the sun. "But I'd been playing one sport or another since I was six years old. I think I was burned out on team sports by the time I got to high school. I'd already begun climbing mountains at 14. I was shifting steadily toward individual sports. I suppose it's that I want to have the most direct communication possible with an audience. That's why I studied painting [at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn]. What can be more direct than the painter and his canvas? There's no one else involved." He laughs. "And yet here is the contradiction: Film is a collaborative medium, and there's nothing I enjoy more than working well with another actor who's giving you something. It's like music. It's as if you're playing a symphony. I am a contradictory character.
"Anyway, I played a lot of American Legion baseball—for Brown's Sporting Goods—and I intended to play in college, but I discovered drinking instead and flunked out. So I went off to Europe to climb mountains. I didn't really play ball again until we filmed this picture. Then, 27 years later, I discovered what it was I liked about baseball. Everybody in life wants his time at bat, after all. And there I was, standing up there and hitting one out. Yes, I did, before a crowd of thousands—all extras. Of course, the rightfield foul line was only 310 feet, but I did get one out of there. Like Ted Williams. Williams was my hero as a kid. This was really before television, you know. With contemporary baseball, there's just too much television. I feel as if I'm pummeled by analysts and instant replays. Now somebody breaks a leg and there's a mike in his face. It's an incredible invasion of the imagination. It just makes me want to spend more time on a mountain in Utah. I don't respond to the current assault on my senses. I prefer to know less and imagine more.
"Now Williams I could just see in my mind's eye in Fenway Park. I copied his stance the way I'd seen it in pictures. The first time I was ever in New York—must've been 1957—I was standing on top of the RCA Building asking the guide what all the buildings were, when off in the distance I saw this flash of light. 'What's that?' I asked. The guard said it was Yankee Stadium, and I realized the Red Sox were playing the Yankees that night. I got in a subway and rode out to the ball park and got a seat in the bleachers. Right, Williams wasn't in the lineup. Then he came up to pinch hit in the ninth. I said to myself, 'Bob, this is for you.' And I'll be damned if he didn't hit one right over my head for a home run. I remember it was a 3-1 count. I'd had some good days myself, but that was my biggest thrill in sports."