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‘The Old Man & the Gun’ director on pressure of making Robert Redford’s last movie

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the old man the gun 3 final
Sissy Spacek and Robert Redford in “The Old Man &
the Gun.”

Fox
Searchlight


  • “The Old Man & the Gun” director David Lowery looks back
    on trying to ignore the fact that he was directing Robert
    Redford’s final acting performance.
  • The legendary actor announced five months before shooting
    started that he was retiring after the movie. 
  • Lowery tells Business Insider what Redford’s final day on set
    was like.

 

David Lowery was taking a jog when he got the news.

It was November 2016, and Lowery’s brief escape from the constant
presidential election coverage was suddenly interrupted by his
phone vibrating non-stop. He glanced down to find numerous texts
from friends sending him stories about Robert Redford, one of the
greatest actors who ever lived and the star of Lowery’s next
movie, “The Old Man & the Gun” (in theaters on Friday),
announcing that it would be his final film. Redford would be
retiring from acting.

“The weight on my shoulders was immediately immense,” Lowery told
Business Insider while sitting in the lobby of a midtown
Manhattan hotel last week, thinking back on that moment, which
came five months before production began. “But I realized I can’t
think of that or I’ll consciously craft a swan song as opposed to
making a great Robert Redford movie.”

It was just the latest wrinkle in a movie Lowery and Redford had
been trying to get off the ground for years.

Juggling a Robert Redford movie and rebooting a Disney
classic

The two connected following Redford’s Sundance Film Festival in
2013, where Lowery premiered his gothic crime drama, “Ain’t Them
Bodies Saints.” Redford was so taken by the 1970s-influenced feel
that he contacted Lowery and presented him with a movie he wanted
to do — the life of career criminal Forrest Tucker

Based on a 2003 New Yorker story on Tucker, who since age 15 had
spent most of his life getting sent to prisons and eventually
escaping from them (by Tucker’s count, 18 times successfully and
12 times not), the movie would look at Tucker (played by Redford)
at age 70 as he goes on a string of bank heists after escaping
San Quentin State Prison.

“To get a call from Robert Redford asking if you want to develop
a movie with him was one of those pinch yourself moments,” Lowery
said.

But Redford wasn’t the only person in Hollywood who wanted to
work with the writer-director. The same day Lowery met with
Redford to talk about the movie he also had a meeting at Disney
for another life-changing moment: an offer to direct a reboot of
“Pete’s Dragon.”

Suddenly Lowery was juggling writing scripts for two major
pillars in Hollywood. It played out that “Pete’s Dragon” got off
the ground faster than “The Old Man & the Gun,” so the
director had to have the uncomfortable talk with Redford about
putting their movie on hold for a couple of years.


Pete's Dragon David Lowery Disney final
David Lowery on the set of
“Pete’s Dragon.”

Disney

“He just wanted to make sure that I still wanted to make the
movie,” Lowery said.

The meeting went so well that Lowery came out of it with Redford
agreeing to take a small role in “Pete’s Dragon.”

Though the movie wasn’t a huge moneymaker for Disney, it raised
Lowery’s profile in the business (he’s now prepping to make a
reboot of “Peter Pan” for the studio), and the time on set with
Redford led to both being very comfortable with each other going
into “The Old Man & the Gun.”

With “Pete’s Dragon” out of the way (Lowery also made the indie
“A Ghost Story” shortly after), Lowery could focus on how to make
“Old Man & the Gun” into the kind of cops-and-robbers movie
that would play best to his strengths.

Lowery admitted that in early drafts of the script he wrote his
best imitation of a Michael Mann heist movie like “Heat” or
“Thief,” but realized he was just kidding himself. Instead, he
turned to his star as his inspiration.

“I’m interested in folklore and myths, and there’s something
about actors who have been around for as long as Robert Redford
that ties into that,” Lowery said. “He has become part of the
folklore of our culture, and he is a legend, and that became the
focal point for me.”

Recapping a legendary career with just one take

“The Old Man & the Gun” is a movie that feels like it’s not
from this era, and that’s probably why Redford sought out Lowery
to make it. Shot on grainy Super 16mm, it matches the movie’s
analog early 1980s feel, down to the big town cars and Casey
Affleck’s bushy mustache (he plays the cop after Tucker).

“When everyone saw the first cut it took everyone a moment to get
on the same page,” Lowery said about showing the movie to its
distributor, Fox Searchlight. “But we showed it to Redford and he
said, ‘Don’t change a frame.'”

The heart of the movie is Redford’s performance. With a sly grin
and a twinkle in his eye, he plays Tucker as the charming bank
robber without a care in the world. And to create a mythology for
Tucker, Lowery used the iconic status of his star. While showing
flashbacks of Tucker’s past escapes, old photos of Redford are
used for Tucker’s mugshots and a brief clip from one of Redford’s
old movies, 1966’s “The Chase” (in which Redford plays an escaped
convict), is used to portray Redford as young Tucker on one of
his escapes.

“At a certain point you know you need to see his face,”
Lowery said of getting the footage of a younger Redford. “You
want to see it.”


the old man the gun 1 final
(L-R) Robert Redford and David Lowery on the set of
“The Old Man & the Gun.”

Fox
Searchlight


It’s hard to say if Redford is really retiring from acting (at
“The Old Man & the Gun” premiere he sort of walked it back
when talking to Variety), but if this really
is his last movie, his last day on set proved he ended his career
in the slick Sundance Kid style that made him a legend.

Redford’s last day wasn’t a complex scene, Lowery recalled, it
was just a shot of him talking in a phone booth. But how he
performed it was what will stay in the director’s mind.

“We planned on doing a couple of angles of the phone booth shot,
so we set up a dolly shot first, but in just one take he nailed
the whole thing,” Lowery said. “The whole way through had the
perfect tone and I said, ’It’s perfect, let’s call it a day,’ and
we said that was a wrap on Robert Redford and everyone applauded.
I know from ‘Pete’s Dragon’ that he always gives a little speech
at the end of the movie to make sure everyone feels as
appreciated as they deserve to feel, so he did that, and then he
got in his car and drove away.”

Redford’s flawless one-take of the scene is in the movie, and
though most will not recognize its significance, Lowery wouldn’t
have it any other way. Disguised as a minor scene, he
accomplished his mission of making just a great Robert Redford
movie, not his coda.

However, the brief moment speaks volumes for Lowery,

“You can see him almost laughing in that take, like a weight has
been lifted off his shoulders,” he said. “You can tell that after
we say cut he can go home. Seeing that shot and then thinking
about his career, I can just see the joy on his face.” 

 

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