Robert Redford
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Credit: Photograph by Mark Seliger

"He was throwing it away, and it was not easy to watch," Redford told the Telluride crowd. "He was trying to wash away or turn away something he had done. I didn't want to watch that."

The audience ate it up. He brought some to their feet when he was asked which presidents of his lifetime he admired. "Nobody," was all he said. (Apparently, Jimmy Carter's Cheerios were not enough.) They even believed him when he said he had no regrets about his career.

The next morning's repeat was less giddy. There was no Fiennes, no Chandor in the audience. Redford was largely alone. He didn't arrive for the clips and took the stage looking disheveled and tired. Someone asked him what kept him motivated as he closed in on 80. He mentioned his characters in 'All Is Lost' and 1972's 'Jeremiah Johnson,' in which he played a mountain man who carries on after the murder of his family.

"They share one thing in common," said Redford, speaking softly. "When times are tough and survival looks impossible, some just quit; they give up. Because it's obvious they can't go any further. And others just keep going. They don't know anything more than to just continue. And I guess that goes for me, too. I will just keep going."

Maybe it was the early hour, but the crowd clapped uncertainly. A few minutes later, Redford put his microphone down. As he exited stage right, hands reached out to touch him, just as they've done for 50 years. Redford stopped for a moment, embracing the limelight. But then, just as quickly, he bolted for the door.

Contributing editor Stephen Rodrick wrote the cover story on Damian Lewis for the October issue.