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Robert Redford on Retiring From the Screen: ‘I Felt My Time Had Come’

Screen legend Robert Redford gave the crowd gathered to see the world premiere of “The Old Man & the Gun” Friday just the smallest bit of hope when asked if it is indeed his final film.

“I also said ‘never say never,’” he reminded.

But then he let them down gently. As he sees it, it’s simply time to ride off into the sunset.

“The truth is that I really do feel that it’s time for me to move into retirement,” the 82-year-old star said. “I’ve been doing this since I was 21. I’ve put my soul and heart into it over the years. I thought, ‘That’s enough. Why don’t you quit while you’re a little bit ahead? Don’t wait for the bell to toll. Just get out.’ So I felt my time had come and I couldn’t think of a better project to go out on than this film.”

The movie, about jovial real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker, is a breezy ode to Redford’s screen presence and his cinema spirit, as director David Lowery put it. Redford said he was drawn to the role partly because it was the polar opposite of “Our Souls at Night,” his previous endeavor with Jane Fonda.

“That was a pretty heavy movie. It was very sad, very dramatic, and it left you sad doing it,” he said of Ritesh Batra’s picture. “In my career I’ve always made a point of going in the opposite direction after I’ve finished a film. I was attracted to Forrest because he was happy. Normally we would see robbers or villains as sort of dour characters, but he was just this happy guy.”

Tucker robbed 17 banks, was caught 17 times, went to prison 17 times and escaped 17 times. It was too delicious a story to turn down. “And I can also relate to that,” Redford quipped.

The film makes for as good a swan song as any, if indeed he’s done. There are moments that feel pulled from the landscape he’s left behind, from a tip of the cap to “The Sting” to a horseback moment that can’t help but conjure “Jeremiah Johnson.” It could put him in the awards hunt if the narrative takes hold; that certainly became part of the push for Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread” last year.

Or maybe it’ll turn out that Redford is a little bit like Tucker. He can’t help himself. It’s the thrill of doing it. Can someone who’s dedicated his life to that pursuit really leave it behind?

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