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Even at the premiere of a film that centers on a real-life man who escaped from prison 16 times and robbed banks well into his late 70s, the possibility that The Old Man & the Gun could be Robert Redford‘s last film as an actor was virtually all anyone could talk about.
“He’s like lightning in a bottle,” said Redford’s onscreen love interest, Sissy Spacek, at the movie’s New York premiere Thursday at the Paris Theater. “When I found out this was going to be his last film, I was like, ‘Oh my God!'”
Redford portrays the bank-robbing Forrest Tucker. Also inspired by a real person — in this case, the detective hellbent on catching Tucker — is Casey Affleck’s John Hunt. He called Redford “everything that you hope he might be.”
Other cast members echoed Affleck’s sentiment, while also expressing how surreal it was to even work with Redford, let alone on what could be the last film of his acting career. “It’s an amazing feeling, because I gotta tell you, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be the guy in his last film,” Isiah Whitlock Jr. told The Hollywood Reporter. “That, I’ll wear with a badge of honor.”
Tika Sumpter, who plays Hunt’s wife, agreed. “For a girl from Hollis, Queens, to work with Robert Redford — that’s not supposed to happen,” she told THR.
Perhaps the most shell-shocked by Redford’s potential retirement was The Old Man & the Gun‘s writer-director David Lowery. “I just try not to think about it. It’s just too overwhelming,” he told THR. “As a fan, it gets really emotional. I think of [The Old Man & the Gun] as just another great Robert Redford movie.”
As for Redford himself, he wanted to both maintain the mystery surrounding the fate of his acting career — “You never know” — and keep the focus on the film and those involved with it. “This is not about my retirement,” Redford said during a Q&A post-screening. “That got too much attention. It’s not about that. Because if I’m going to retire, I’m going to go quietly into a new direction and not talk about it. So I was concerned that was getting too much attention and taking away from what the real value of the story was, which is, this is David’s concept.”
Redford explained that he simply approached Lowery — the two have previously collaborated — with the 2003 New Yorker article about Tucker’s unique career and Lowery “took it from there.”
“I love movies about people who are doing what they love. As someone who has been lucky enough to do what I love as a profession, I enjoy seeing that onscreen,” Lowery told THR. “So I felt in many ways that it was a metaphor for me making movies, and for Bob making movies as well. He’s someone who has just never quit, and I aspire to that myself, and I saw that in the story.”
A film about Tucker’s life was apparently something that the bank robber himself wanted. In David Grann’s New Yorker article, Tucker said he attempted to spark Hollywood’s interest with two written accounts of his crimes. He even claimed to have spoken with Clint Eastwood’s secretary, who supposedly told him that Eastwood wouldn’t read anything unless Tucker had an agent.
Lowery said The Old Man & the Gun has actually been “simmering on the back burner” for a while now. The film seemed to come together after he worked with Redford on the 2016 Pete’s Dragon remake and with Affleck on 2017’s A Ghost Story.
“[Redford] encouraged me to find the fun in the story, and that was the thing I wanted to do,” Lowery said, adding that ultimately, he wants just viewers to enjoy themselves.
The Old Man & the Gun hits theaters Sept. 28.
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