Transcript: Robert Redford Says Goodbye to Newman

The following is an excerpted transcript of ABC News' interview with Hollywood legend Robert Redford on the death of his co-star and longtime friend, Paul Newman, for "World News With Charles Gibson" on Sept. 29, 2008.

QUESTION: First, let's start, just off the top of your head, any reflections that come to mind immediately about your friend, about Paul, on this day?

REDFORD: Yes. There are a lot of things that come into my mind. I think probably the first thing would be what the country saw, that this was a man who lived a life that really meant something and will for some time to come.

In my -- you know, there will be a lot said about Paul, and all of it deserved, and there'll be a lot of accolades and a lot of, oh, postmortems on his life and career, and I think that will speak well for him.

My issue is just the fact that it was a personal friendship and relationship, and that I come at it from probably a more personal place that started years ago. And the durability and the length of this friendship has created a pretty deep root. And so that's sort of where I come from.

I mean, I -- when I first met Paul, I came in contact with one of his virtues, which was generosity. In the film "Butch Cassidy," I wasn't -- the studio didn't want me. I wasn't as well known as he was. And he wanted me in the film and the director was, "Well," but he wanted me in the film. Now, he didn't have to do that. I mean, the fact was he was quite well known. I wasn't.

The studio didn't want me because of that. But he said, "I want to work with an actor," and that was very complimentary to me, because that's, I think, how we both saw our profession, that acting was about craft, and we took it seriously, because we both came from the same background of theater in New York.

So that was the first, the first indication with Paul. And then once the film started, once we went forward, we then discovered other similarities that just multiplied over time, a common ground that we both had between us, interests and so forth, and differences.

The differences we had great fun with, you know. But anyway, what happened in the film was that we played characters -- we focused on the characters, and I think because of our respect for the craft, we focused on the characters.

The iconic stuff is not anything we paid attention to and whatever came out of the relationship of the two characters was kind of not our business. That was for others. But it was just that connection of playing those characters and the fun of it that really began the relationship.

So the partnership in the movie that started cinematically then became -- it just sort of went into life in a very natural way. So we became friends, then we did the other film, "Sting." Again, different characters, but playing them the same way. And by that time, we had developed a friendship that then grew beyond that. So over time, because I lived in Connecticut for a while, about a mile from him, we got even closer then.

What we -- I think what we found out over time was that the things that made us friends were -- had a lot to do with values, what we saw as valuable in society. Obviously, Paul was very socially responsible. He was very generous, as I said, and he had a lot of integrity and all those qualities were pretty fierce, and I liked that.

I mean, that's, I think, what hooked us up. Respect for privacy, personal privacy, that's another common connection. Family, that Paul's concern and his commitment to his family is huge.


REDFORD: The thing that moved along is that Paul really likes to have fun and he loves to laugh and he really especially loves to laugh at his own jokes, and some of them are just really awful.

So the fact that he enjoyed them so much, you forget about the joke and you'd start to laugh with him because you're so caught up in his enjoyment of them.

Then he's just a man who really loves fun. Well, I guess that's the kid in you. You know, I feel the same way. So we played these tricks on each other.

And we were at a restaurant once and the idea was you would never acknowledge the trick that was played on you. So we were at a restaurant once in California. The waiter came up to me at the table and he says, "Oh, Mr. Redford," he says, "Mr. Newman, Mr. Newman's in the next room."

I said, "So?" I said, "Can't you see I'm busy?" The guy was so completely shattered. And when I walked out of the restaurant, this woman charges up to me and starts shaking my hand. She seemed like a crazed old bird, and she was shaking my hand.

And I thought, oh, she's -- this critic that had savaged both of us was apologizing and saying, "You must hate me." And I thought, well, this is Newman, he's put this person up to it, and it was the real person.

There were a lot of times we played these gags on each other and they were great fun. And one of them was that he used to -- when he went into racing, he just drove me crazy talking about racing, because he was obsessed with it, and, obviously, great at it -- by the way, great at it.

And I said, "Geez, can't we talk about something else?" He said, "Well, I want to take you up to the track and we'll do this and we'll do that." So for his 50th birthday, I happened [to be], in Connecticut, to find a trashed Porsche and it was just totally demolished and I had them wrap it up and leave it on his kitchen back step, wrapped in paper with a ribbon around it, that said "Happy 50th."

And so a couple weeks went by and I didn't hear anything, and then I went up to my house a couple weeks later and walked in the living room and there was this gigantic box in the living room, and it was so heavy you couldn't lift it.

In fact, it was so heavy, it had created an imprint on the floor, and this was a rented house. Well, by the time I crobarred it out, there was just this block of metal that had been taken down.

The [towing service] came and took it away ,and they said, "This is great." I said, "OK, look, hang on." And I called a friend of mine who was a sculptor in Westport.

I said, "If I give you some material, can you create a sculpture." He said, "That's great, absolutely." So these guys come take the thing over to her, and she did a sculpture. I said, "Make it a garden sculpture."

So she did. Had the towing guys take it to Newman's garden and just plump it there. Now, to this day, neither of us had ever spoken about that, never even -- that was -- there were many other situations like that, but that was ...

QUESTION: No one ever says "gotcha?"

REDFORD: No, no. That would diminish it. No. The idea was you just never acknowledged it.

But anyway, the point is that the fun of the relationship, the humor had a lot to do with it and underneath that were other things that I said, you know, the commitments we shared, politically, socially. Both had a very strong feeling about putting something back if you were fortunate enough or successful enough that you should put something back if you could, and he certainly did that in spades.

So we had that commonality and his family I knew very well. My kids were his children's age. And so when you finally cut it down, am I sad? Of course I am. He was a real friend and that humor that we had, I'll miss that. I'll miss him.

QUESTION: You said something about you really valued your privacy. He was one of the first actors that managed to carve or make a real line in the sand between the private and the personal. And how do you think he did that?

REDFORD: I think Paul was able to maintain that because of the personal value system that said I'm not going to the way of all flesh. It would certainly be tempting for him, as it has been for me, but for Paul, a lot longer.

And I think he made a decision somewhere along the line, I think, "I'm going to have a life and my life, if I'm going to have one, it has to be private. And I'm committed to family. In order to do that, I've got to come up with a scheme to avoid the usual stuff that sucks people into the exalt of our business." And I agree with that.

QUESTION: What was the scheme?

REDFORD: How you move around publicly and how you maintain yourself privately. Not easy when people are outside your door and looking for ways to get in and all that kind of stuff.

You just had to get very -- you get paranoid. You take on paranoia as a strategy. It's not fun. That's not a great way to live, but you have to do it to protect yourself. And I think his being able to balance between when he decided to go public for something and being private, he just did very well.

But I think it took time. I mean, I can't speak for him. I just saw the result of it and I thought he did damn well.

QUESTION: And legacy-wide, professionally and, also, personally, what do you think the legacies are in terms of the human being and as an actor and as a friend?

REDFORD: Well, as a friend, the friend, of course, is more personal. But as an actor, I think he would share with a lot of other actors the fact that he was really committed to his profession, I mean, through and through. That's something that -- there's a legacy in that simply because of all the films he made. They'll be there and they'll be there for posterity.

QUESTION: Was there a sea change in acting? Did he do something that changed in some way in terms of what you might have learned as an actor? [...] You said he really lobbied to get you on that film. Was there something about working with each other that ...

REDFORD: Well, I think Paul was, at that point, anyway, he was a little skeptical of just being with so-called personalities for stars, because of where he came from, and he respected acting and the commitment to acting and I think that's the way he saw that. I can't -- I can't answer that question fully, because I don't know what was on his mind. I just know he stood up for me. The studio didn't want me. I didn't have to be in it. I wasn't as well known as he was.

But the fact that he committed to it, I think, started something rolling in terms of our friendship, because I put a lot of emphasis on loyalty and generosity and integrity. That means a lot to me.

QUESTION: Do you think he'd change anything about the craft, the way people act and the way they approach the films?

REDFORD: Yes. He covers so many decades, you have to shift, you know. He covered a lot of ground. I suspect if he looked at the earlier films he did, he'd gasp.

I think Paul, as he went on, he just got better and better. And when I acted with him, I think Paul was in a real groove, a wonderful groove. About the earlier films, when he talked about them, they were unforgettable.

QUESTION: Just one other thing, only because this has to go on the air in 20 minutes.

So basically, anything about his philanthropy and beyond the ...

REDFORD: Well, look, I mean, the fact is we can all be really sad here, and I am sad. I've lost a really good friend and you're going to take some of the things we had together that were fun, like humor, you take that off the table, I'm going to miss that.

But the fact is that the person he was, the person he is, because he's going to be lasting, I think has got to do with the way he lived his life, the commitments he made and what he put back, and the fact that he was a realist. I mean, it's very easy to lose your mind, your brains in this business, and he was a realist. He never -- he knew enough not to take himself too seriously, and that was another thing that we shared in common. We went after each other's flaws just to remind ourselves that we shouldn't take ourselves seriously. He was very much focused on that. I think that kept a kind of balance for himself. I think that his commitment to his family was intense and quite wonderful.

So I think those things that are out there the country has seen and will continue to see, will just be there. So that's a legacy, if you want to look at it that way. So there's the public legacy that I think is there for everyone and a very impressive legacy, and then there's the reason I'm doing this, and I won't do a whole lot more of this, because I respect the fact that we both respected privacy and I want to respect his.

QUESTION: Why was he a great actor or you said a craftsperson, as well?

REDFORD: I think because of his commitment to the craft. You know, as I say, we both started in the theater and so, therefore, there's a built-in respect for craft, because you don't get through the theater without it.

And it was before the personality culture became so intense, where you could be in another profession and cross over because of your personality, because the business changed, the world around us changed.

But I think that Paul started, I think, back in the '50s, and so at that time, it was a different world that we lived in and craft was everything, and you went to Hollywood or you went into movies from theater or television. You just didn't pop in there.

So there was a built-in respect for that and I think that him following that and being serious about his role, I mean, very, very -- he was a very serious actor.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.