An Afternoon with Robert Redford: The Sundance Kid sits down with students from across the city

A small suite in the Four Seasons had been revamped, a round table with seven nervous college newspaper writers substituted for a bed. Here we have the “college press” room; actually my second stop on the 34th floor, one step closer to the Redford roundtable. Somehow amid a harried late arrival, I was misdirected to the “professional press” room with the Sun-Times, the Trib, etc., where I enjoyed at least two cups of coffee and overheard an ample amount of movie nerds in sweater vests quipping and quivering in anticipation. Natalie Portman received a “giggity-giggity-giggity” and Michael Moore was much disdained for his indecorous late arrival at a previous interview (smug name-dropping also featured Jason Schwartzman, Clare Danes, et al). Movie star lore galore had me realizing I had no idea what I was getting into.

My awkward presence was finally acknowledged and I was whisked away by a flouncy-skirted publicist to the aforementioned “college room.”

We were booked first on Redford’s schedule, and I arrived just in time to meet an assortment of anxious journalists from such Chicago institutions as Northwestern, Columbia, Northeastern, UIC, and “DePaul University” (as aspiring actor-reviewer Luke Collins proudly pronounced). Jokes and excited banter were instantaneously quieted by the announcement of His arrival. “Should we rise?” I mumbled to myself, unprepared to meet one of the few living classic movie stars. With no ado, there he was: the Sundance kid himself adorned with a turquoise ring, firmly grasping my hand and smiling with his bright blue eyes piercing deep into my very rapidly beating heart.

“I’m Bob,” said Redford after shaking hands around the table, assuaging our worries with his genial, humble demeanor. Redford has aged well; apparently the rugged look is durable. At least, if he were pronounced “hot,” the majority of American women would not say “Ew, he’s seventy-one.” Dressed in Diesel jeans, loafers sans socks, and horn-rimmed glasses, Redford received his cappuccino from an anonymous publicist with a “thank you,” and the questions and answers began.

Though the interview was supposed to focus on his soon-to-be released film “Lions for Lambs,” the question and response session quickly devolved into the political situation of our country. Redford has great hopes for our generation, in fact, rather than use the platitudinous “We are the Future” he blurted “You’re all we have.” In his movie, Redford says he carefully avoided making determinations, but rather wanted to create some “fodder for thought,” raise some questions. Though only five years old at the start of WWII, Redford has lived through a maelstrom of political ups and downs. He mentioned watching Joseph McCarthy on the television in his teens, wondering, “What a sweaty, dangerous, ugly man. How did he get that high, that powerful?” In one of the stories interwoven into the film’s triptych, Tom Cruise plays a power-hungry politician in “Lions for Lambs,” and though he lacks the charm of over-perspiration and a paunch, he embodies the power-driven, do-anything-to-win politician that Redford heavily criticized.

Although the film has an unfortunately cheesy tagline (“If you don’t STAND for something, you might FALL for anything”), Redford stuck to its sentiment. The most essential contribution a young citizen can make is being active and choosing to think for him or herself. I wanted to ask for more specificity, and jotted down a question to the tune of, “Does it matter what sort of ‘something’ or just that it’s a ‘something’ and not an ‘anything’?” Redford offered little commentary on his own political perspectives. In my attempt to ask a question, the mention of the UofC was met by a young gentleman from Columbia College, who added the very a propos, “I was at the screening–you were standing like ten feet away from me!” Bob responded with a grin on his face, “Are you the guy that asked if I was a Republican?”

The scene–which it resembled more than an interview by the end–closed as a precocious UIC student inquired about good ski-spot suggestions, as Redford was being escorted out. “Vail’s not what it used to be,” he responded over his shoulder. Then the real world settled in again, and I couldn’t help but consider not washing my hand for at least a day.

“Lions for Lambs” is scheduled for release on November 9th, 2007.