If anyone regrets saying that The Old Man and the Gun would be Robert Redford’s last movie, it’s undoubtedly Robert Redford — if only because that seems to have become the focus of media coverage of the film rather than the film itself, much to his frustration. Nonetheless, it was this feeling of saying goodbye to that part of his life that fueled the veteran actor’s desire to play real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker.
As Fox Searchlight Pictures notes, “In the early 1980s, at a septuagenarian age, Tucker embarked on a final legend-making spree of heists with the ‘Over-the-Hill Gang,’ a posse of elderly bandits who employed smooth charm over aggression to make off with millions. Tucker never stopped defying age, expectations, or rules — he made his twilight the pinnacle of his life of crime. If the sole art form he knew was robbery, he was darned if he wasn’t going to try to perfect it, no matter how elusive the dream.”
Notes Robert himself, “Never say never, but I pretty well concluded that this would be it for me in terms of acting. I told [director David Lowery] the one thing this movie had to be is fun. Forrest is a wonderful, complicated character, so full of life and risk and enjoying danger, but he also was about having fun.”
Basing his script on a profile of Tucker written by David Grann for The New Yorker, the writer/director took the actor’s suggestion to heart, attempting to give the story the sense of a modern Western, aided in no small way by the setting of the 1980s which was the era before mobile phones and the Internet changed everything. Says the studio, “It was a time with less hurry and more room to hide, which made the chase that erupted between Tucker and the lawman who pursued him a thing of slow-burning beauty both men relished. And as Forrest is chased, he too is chasing something: a last chance at love and at a legacy, even if it must be an outlaw one.”
“Bob and Forrest Tucker were always intrinsically related in my mind,” says David. “I saw all sorts of parallels with the various characters he’s played over the years, but it wasn’t until I worked with him on Pete’s Dragon that I got to know him personally. That was what allowed me to tailor the part specifically for him. It was a real luxury to have that month together in New Zealand, hanging out and working together.”
In reality, Forrest Silva Tucker grew up during the Great Depression in Florida, reportedly beginning his life of crime while in his teens, eventually spending his entire adult life in and out (escaping 18 times) of prison, including San Quentin. He passed away at the age of 83 in 2004, having served four out of a 13-year sentence for a Texas armed robbery.
At the same time, Tucker took a non-lethal approach to his robberies, which was particularly appealing to Robert, who muses, “Forrest never shot anybody. He used a gun, but it was never loaded”
For David, working with Robert on the role was one of the great pleasures of the film. “We talked about it a lot over the years, as Bob read various drafts of the script, but once we had a draft we both liked, we didn’t have to discuss it that much,” he recalls. “The character was so well honed on the page, and so attuned to Bob, that we were able to leave things more open. We talked a lot about his relationship with Jewel [his wife, played by Sissy Spacek]. That was probably what we worked the most on while we were on set.”
Robert was especially excited by his co-stars. “They kept it edgy and they kept it real,” he says. “I was just so lucky to have these colleagues and I have huge respect for them. Sissy and Casey Affleck have done so much incredible work. Then you have Danny Glover, who I never worked with before, but I certainly admired. He and I are from the same part of California, so we had that connection. And I’ve long been a fan of Tom Waits, so the idea that we could be working together… well, it was all a kind of blessing.”
The end of the road is something Tucker always sought to avoid, one of the reasons perhaps he became one of the world’s greatest escape artists. Robert notes that it is Tucker’s desire to keep upping his game that draws the law to him one last time. He could have walked away from a life of bank robberies and never faced a jail cell again, but as the actor explains, “Forrest was someone who thinks, ‘yes, it’s been fun doing these smaller jobs, but something is missing. I think I need the really big one.’ And that’s when he stepped into a trap.”
One of the appeals for producer James M. Johnston was seeing Robert’s sense of humor come to the forefront in the role. “Bob is naturally funny,” he says, “so David knew he could give him a line that might be very subtly humorous and Bob would take that and make it shine. With just a wink Bob has the ability to light up the screen and make everybody swoon.”
Producer Toby Halbrooks adds that every day brought the unexpected when it came to Robert: “Bob is pretty subdued when he’s not on camera and when he’s getting ready to perform. And then he’ll come in and do something so beautiful and you think, ‘Wow I didn’t see that coming.’ We also didn’t know how well the chemistry would work with him and Sissy. You have your hopes and your dreams about that pairing, but we watched as Bob and Sissy each compelled the other to take it up a notch. It was just continually surprising in the best ways.”
It was Robert’s way of fully embodying Forrest without stamping him as sinner or saint that impressed everyone on set. Notes executive producer Patrick Newall: “Like David’s script, Bob’s interpretation of the character didn’t judge Forrest. It was exciting to see Bob at his pinnacle playing a role that capitalizes on everything he brings to the screen. He’s enormously charming. He’s subtle. He made it look effortless. But he’s also brought deep subtext, and whenever he was on camera, something more than you expected came to life.”
Yeah, like this would be Robert Redford’s last film.
But we’re not talking about that, are we?
The Old Man and the Gun opens on Oct. 5.