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Redford's interest in Watergate began when he heard a group of reporters discussing the bungled breakin. Ironically they were covering the actor's promo tour for The Candidate. They all thought Nixon had probably known about it and that no one—least of all their fellow newsmen—would ever pursue the matter far enough to confirm or deny their suspicions.
Redford was shocked: "I've always had a very low regard for cynicism; I think it is the beginning of dying." He had a less philosophical reason for focusing on the burglary. Back home in Van Nuys, Calif., when Redford, then 13, had won a tennis tournament, Senator Richard Nixon had awarded him the trophy. Young Bob was not impressed: "I thought, what a nonperson!
This fake human!"
As the Watergate case slowly built, Redford noted two particularly interesting reporters among those plugging away at the story. When he read brief biographies of Woodward and Bernstein he was fascinated by the odd-couple quality of their pairing—a Wasp and a Jew, one cool and controlled, the other more voluble and volatile. Characteristically—he is a man much more interested in people than in ideas—"that was the first time I saw the potential film." He adds: "I remember thinking, 'This is very interesting, a study in opposing characters and how they work together.' I'm really fascinated by how people do things."
But it was when the Woodstein team appeared to be doing things wrong that Redford got in touch with them. The Post had claimed that H.R. Haldeman had been named in grand jury testimony as one of the controllers of the Watergate dirty-tricks fund. He had not been named before the grand jury, thus allowing the White House to cast doubt on the accuracy of everything Woodward and Bernstein had reported. "I wanted to see them when they had bottomed out," says Redford. "People who take wild shots and miss interest me."
The fact that Woodward and Bernstein interested him most when they looked most as if they were going to be losers is an expression of Redford's truest—or at least oldest—self. Approaching 40, he may currently be the world's ranking movie star. He, his wife Lola and their three children jet back and forth between their Fifth Avenue apartment and their retreat outside Provo, Utah, near the ski resort he owns and where he revels in his role as conservationist and spokesman for various good causes.
But it was not always that way. Los Angeles-born and middle-class bred, Redford was a college dropout and, for a time, a quick takeoff artist, bombing the interstates and bumming his way around Europe, vaguely thinking of becoming an artist. Some of his friends were convinced that he would never find himself, would wind up a loser, and Redford remains fascinated by the type. Since Woodward and Bernstein could possibly be seen as anti-Establishment goads, that also probably drew him to them. In short, he may have become a Goliath in his trade, but his heart belongs to the Davids.