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He and his wife, a teacher and education consultant, have a teenage daughter Lena and a son Dylan, who has overcome dyslexia to make the honor roll at Middlebury College. Redford’s own childhood was divided between school years in New York City, his hometown, and summers in Sundance, Utah, the town that his father essentially built after buying a mom-and-pop ski resort in 1969. As a Dalton grad who grew up playing after-school sports on Randall’s Island, he sees New York wide and clear.
“Every time I come across the Triboro, or I guess it’s now The RFK, I have this sensation that everything else in my life — my family, my marriage, my work — is some sort of an illusion and I am actually stepping back into my reality,” he says. “There is something so strong about having grown up in New York City that when you come back it seems as though everything else is just a dream.”
Dream or not, he also characterizes his childhood as “kind of schizophrenic.”
“When I’d get to Utah I’d be so freaked out by the dark; And when I’d get used to that, I’d go back to New York and sure enough then I’d have a fear of the heights,” he says with a laugh. “It was sort of a never-ending period of adjustment.”
His parents are no longer married, but Redford is constantly in touch with them, often exchanging ideas. His mother Lola Van Wagenen, a lifelong educator, recently launched Cliohistory.org, a site that visualizes history. As for his father, Redford says most people would be floored by his “extraordinarily good sense of humor.…He can put you on the ground with funny stories. He’s old-school so he will just pick up the phone when it rings. Sometimes he will impersonate someone else until he realizes who is on the line.”
Despite a summer reading list that includes Sebastian Junger, Jon Krakauer and Malcolm Gladwell, the younger Redford also has a more spirited side.
“For complete and utter joy, I read Keith Richards’ biography three weeks ago,” he says. “If you play guitar and I do. I play in a band on weekends in Marin Country, Olive and the Dirty Martinis. We play covers from the Sixties and Seventies. He gave away some really sweet secrets in that book about how to re-create The Rolling Stones sound. It was like a gift from God.”
He has hung up his mountain biking helmet after too many trips to the E.R. for broken bones, ribs and concussions, but he still hikes and surfs all the time near his Bay Area home. As for how he measures his own success, he says, “Well, I have to feed myself. I didn’t inherit a mountain of gold so there are certainly those realities.”
“I was just watching a rough cut of my dyslexia film and there is a certain moment when you’re working and working, editing and editing, and you’re not satisfied,” he says. “Then there’s a moment where you feel things coming together and it’s like when I was kid. I used to build these towers on the beach with sand and I would put a tennis ball that would roll around and around and it would come out and come down to the ocean. From the top to the bottom. But it took a lot of time to make that work. You had to work at the mountain, work at the sand and then finally you would drop the ball down and it would go all the way. There is a moment in any kind of writing or film project where you have that feeling, that it’s finally coming together. I think that’s the best feeling.”