Redford’s performance as the Sundance Kid locked him in as a good-looking, intelligent actor with an edge. Studios desired him, whether or not he fit the part. Paramount execs insisted someone like Robert Redford play ‘The Godfather’s Michael Corleone, but the notoriously stubborn director, Francis Ford Coppola, would not have it. He tenaciously stood by his choice—Al Pacino. It was a bitter fight. Pacino recalled, “The studio didn’t want me after they hired me.” (They said he was too short to play Corleone.)
When Paramount studio executives made clear to Coppola their choice to cast Redford, Coppola dismissed it saying he could not picture a blonde Sicilian. He preferred an unknown actor who looked Italian-American to play the heir-apparent to the Godfather’s throne. Others considered for the role by the studio for the 1972 movie were Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Martin Sheen. The rest is history.
Too Handsome to Cast
As Redford’s career hummed along, he came across a role the director would not cast him in. Looking for an actor to portray the awkward Benjamin Braddock in the 1967 film 'The Graduate', director Mike Nichols screened Redford but eventually turned him down for Dustin Hoffman, who turned out to be the perfect fit.
As Nichols tells it, “Robert wanted the part. I said, ‘You can’t play it. You can never play a loser.’ And Redford said, ‘What do you mean? Of course I can play a loser.’ And I said, ‘O.K., have you ever struck out with a girl?’ and he said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he wasn’t joking.” The director simply could not envision Redford playing a young college graduate, and a virgin, struggling to get a girl.
The Blonde Stereotype
One thing Redford tried desperately to avoid was being typecast as the good-looking blonde guy. “This constant reference to me being the way I looked made me crazy like I was being put into a cage", Redford lamented. But it’s also true that Hollywood is a magnet for the prettiest people. Observe, that one of the differences between a modern Hollywood heartthrob and Redford is he doesn’t pose or flex or try to look good. It’s like he can’t help it.
Nevertheless, Redford wanted to be cast for his acting skills—for his craft, instead of his face. “The notion is that you’re not so much of an actor, you’re just somebody that looks well,” he said. Adding, “That was always hard for me because I always took pride in whatever role I was playing.” Later in life, the actor found a bit of an escape from the stereotyping, “The nice thing about getting older is you don’t have that so much anymore.”
Too Attractive to Ravish an Actress
Robert Redford debuted in a spy role in the conspiracy thriller 'Three Days of Condor'. But he had to sit one of the parts out. It wasn’t a stunt scene—as the athletic actor is always proud to mention he does most of his own stunts—it was a violent scene that was too much for Redford to handle. Actress Faye Dunaway, who starred opposite, playing a kidnap victim, later wrote in her memoir that the idea of being kidnapped and violated by Robert Redford was not at all terrifying.
To achieve an authentic-looking take, director Sydney Pollack took charge, furtively stepping in as the spy, and with cameras rolling, Dunaway recalls the fear. “He scared the hell out of me.” Dunaway said, during the take, the director lunged at her shouting, ‘I AM GOING TO GET YOU.’ She recalls, that he kept moving closer, “his eyes glaring at me as he went on detailing all the horrible things he was going to do to me, and let me tell you, Sydney has an inventive mind. He is also a great actor.” She called him relentless.
The Sundance Kid
Despite the bumpy start with the studio, 'The Sundance Kid' was the role Robert Redford was made to play. “When I read it, I thought, ‘This is perfect for me,’” Redford informed the Salt Lake City Tribune. He told them, looking back at the film 50 years later, he always related to the “outlaw sensibility,” ever since he was a kid. The studio, on the other hand, wanted him to play Butch in the 1969 Oscar-winning film 'Butch Cassidy' and the 'Sundance Kid'.
“The studio did not want me,” Redford explained, “and they tried everything to keep me out of the film.” But Paul Newman and writer William Goldman stood up to the studio until they kept him in. Paul Newman basically said he would only be in the movie if Redford played The Kid. Redford responded, “I never forgot that.” The two remained friends and developed a very close, decades-long bond since that shoot. In the end, The Academy passed Redford by, he missed a Golden Globe nomination, but the 'Sundance Kid' was granted a BAFTA from across the pond.