Robert Redford, Stanley Tucci, Brit Marling & Jackie Evancho Learning About Life and History From The Company They Keep
by Jay S. Jacobs
About the time that the Weather Underground was forming and gaining infamy for their sometimes violent protests, Robert Redford was well on his way to becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Downhill Racer and Jeremiah Johnson were all released during the group’s heyday. Redford was familiar with the generational revolt going on in the late 60s and early 70s. However, he was a part of a different world: a young family man whose career was starting to explode. Still he was always sympathetic to the youthful causes and that fascination has led 40 years later to his latest film, The Company You Keep.
The film is directed by and starring Redford as Jim Grant, a long-time small-town lawyer who is exposed as a former member of the Weather Underground. He had settled down after being on the run for 40 years since a protest went wrong, leading to a bank guard’s death. When one of his cohorts (Susan Sarandon) is captured by the FBI and a reporter (Shia LaBeouf) starts sniffing around him, Grant must drop his young step-daughter (singer Jackie Evancho, making her acting debut) with his brother (Chris Cooper) and go back on the run.
However, this time, Grant isn’t running away. He is running back to his past to track down old friends from the movement, particularly the one woman who can prove his innocence (Julie Christie). In the meantime, LaBeouf’s reporter and the FBI are on his tail, finding his old secrets and the grown daughter he had to leave behind (Brit Marling).
The movie takes a fascinating look at the hippie era and its reverberations into today’s world. The Company You Keep shows a nostalgia for the ideals of peace and love, but also takes a hard look at the wrongs committed by the Weather Underground, a rogue faction that sometimes used violence to make their points.
A few days before the film’s debut in New York and Los Angeles, Redford, Tucci, Marling and Evancho held a press conference to discuss their film and their feelings about the sixties movements that inspired it.
What drew you to the material? Had you read Neil Gordon’s novel or was it Lem Dobbs’ screenplay that attracted you to this?
Robert Redford: It was the book, that I read five or six years ago. I was drawn to the book because it’s a big, wide-ranging book. It had a lot of plot lines. It had a lot of email stuff going on. It had many, many characters. There was something at the core that captured my attention, and so the next four to five years was spent shaping that material into what could be a film. So yeah, I was drawn to the material. That’s what started it. For the whole other reasoning that I won’t get into, but that’s how it started. Then Lem Dobbs came as a result of hiring him to write the screenplay. That’s how that came about. Then it was many, many iterations. It was reshaped and reshaped and reshaped. Kind of sculpted.
Brit, you’ve starred in idiosyncratic independent films like Another Earth and The Sound of My Voice, both of which you co-wrote. Is there much difference between the low-budget indie films and bigger, star-driven films?
Brit Marling: I guess in some respects there are differences. I mean, the craft service table is a different craft service table. (chuckles) Honestly, for me it always comes down to the story. How attracted you are to the story and how compelled you are to be a part of telling it. When I read the script, I was really moved by the Weather Underground and how it’s not set back then. It’s set in present day. This group has come into age and wisdom and experience and are looking back and are wondering about the radicalism of their youth. If they made the right choices and would they do it differently now. My generation is grappling with a lot of the same ideas so I was very attracted to that part of the story.
Stanley Tucci: I think that is something universal…
Robert Redford: We were overjoyed to launch her first film and her second one – Another Earth and The Sound of My Voice – at the Sundance festival. That’s how I came to know Brit. The whole idea was: her work was really, really special and I thought well someway, somehow, sometime I’m going to find a way to work with her. I was very motivated by what I had already seen, so it was a particular joy for me to be able to invite her into this film.
Brit Marling: I should add to that the fact that I may be able to make a living as an actress and writer I owe entirely to this man. And to the institution he created as a safe haven for artists and filmmakers to make quirky, independent releases. Without that I don’t know, I might be investment banking. Who knows what I might be doing right now?