Robert Redford
  View More Photos
Credit: Photograph by Mark Seliger

Some nights, Redford would retire to his room to recuperate – "I had tequila on my side" – but other nights he would head out with Chandor and the crew for dinner, charming the women, his fire still burning bright. One night, Redford and Chandor headed out when they learned movie exec Richard Zanuck had died at the age of 77. Redford had been frenemies for years with Zanuck, the scion of a famous filmmaking family, who originally argued that Redford wasn't right for the role of the Sundance Kid. Over drinks, Redford revealed he'd known Zanuck all his life, battling him on the tennis courts as a teenager. The more Redford talked, the more heated he became.

"He and Dick Zanuck are still in a tennis match when they were 14 and he's the poor kid, the milkman's son," says Chandor.

It's hard to watch "All Is Lost" and not focus on Redford's mortality – or, hell, your own mortality. It's the type of unvarnished role his advisers had been urging him to take for years, but he'd become encased in his own dilemma. He'd spent his entire career rebelling against just being another good-looking guy but only partially leaving his comfort zone. Every film Redford has been involved in for the past half-century has him playing a hero; it might be subverting the cliché – like in 'The Candidate' – but it's still the hero. In 'All Is Lost,' Redford doesn't play a hero; just an old man trying to survive.

Robert Redford turned 77 a few weeks before Telluride. He still carves turns on his own mountain, but it is now easier for J.C. Chandor to raise money for his next film than it is for Redford. In a grand irony, the actor's next role is the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the sequel to Captain America, the type of blockbuster that led Redford to flee Hollywood for Sundance.

"This is the new deal," Redford explains. "This is the way the film business is going, with high-tech, high-budget, high things. So many parts of it were not recognizable to me. I thought it'd be interesting to have the experience."

While he now claims he's trying harder to stay in touch with his past, there is little evidence. I mention that I'd recently interviewed James Salter, a former Redford confidant who wrote 'Downhill Racer.' His face lights up. "I've read his new book twice. My daughter asked me who from my past I'd like to reconnect with, and I said ‘Salter.' " What is left unsaid is that he never called him.

Old habits die hard. But Redford's contradictions just remind us he's human, not a golden god, and that's something Redford has been trying to tell us for decades. Let's go back to the start of our story. It is unlikely Redford would have come to Telluride just to be honored; he thinks he has too much road still ahead for that. But the convergence of his past and future – 'All Is Lost' will be released on October 18, almost 40 years to the day after the release of 'The Way We Were' – reminded everyone that they were in the presence of an icon. After the house lights went up, Ralph Fiennes jumped on the stage and hugged a surprised Redford, kissing his hand. The two hadn't seen each other since he directed Fiennes in Quiz Show.

For a second, I thought Redford was going to cry, a rare moment of public vulnerability, but he regained his composure and took his seat on the stage. Dressed in a black blazer, jeans, and cowboy boots, with a silver Telluride medallion around his neck, he looked like a Roman oracle via Ralph Lauren. He would never admit it, but you could tell he loved the moment. His stories were a bit self-serving and unkind to the dead. Asked about acting with Marlon Brando in 1966's 'The Chase,' Redford showed little mercy.