When David Lowery and Robert Redford first agreed to adapt David Grann’s 2003 New Yorker article The Old Man and the Gun — the true story of a septuagenarian bank robber who charmed his victims with a smile before snatching their cash — Lowery had no idea he’d be directing one of history’s most iconic stars in what might be his last starring role. The film ended up being perhaps the most fitting way for Redford to go out in style. An exciting crime caper by turns hilarious and sweet, Lowery deftly weaves together traditional cops-and-robbers tropes with his own sense of naturalistic style. After the TIFF premiere of his new film, Uproxx spoke to Lowery about his favorite heist movies, the importance of knowing one’s strengths, and the emotional significance of a simple shot of a man on a horse.
First thing I want to ask is, how did you get Robert Redford involved in this?
He brought it to me. One of the landmark moments in my nascent career was getting a call from his producing partner at the time, wondering if I would read the article and then be interested in coming in to talk to Bob about adapting it. And, of course, I said yes. When you get that phone call, you just say yes. I had seen him at Sundance and been in the same room with him, but I’d never spoken to him. I still remember walking into that room completely just a ball of nerves, and he has a way of instantly putting you at ease when he speaks to you. We sat down, and we had a conversation about the story and the character and about Texas — because his family’s from Texas. And at the end of that meeting we had a mutual agreement to make this movie. That was five years ago, so it took a little while. It was a real honor to know that he had seen my work, that he’d liked my work enough to want to meet me. That he wanted to want to work with me in that capacity was something I don’t take lightly.
Do you know which of your movies was the one that first got him interested?
It was Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, because it was a few weeks after that had played at Sundance. I think he saw that and thought, “Oh, an unusual tale of a bank robber in Texas!” It’s not the traditional outlaw movie but it still follows the tropes of that genre, and I think that appealed to him.
It’s a very classic story, the dashing anti-hero coming in and doing crime, but you still don’t want him to get caught.
Yeah, it’s the thing that he made his name doing. He’s played those parts before and done them in such a way that when you think of the dashing outlaw, a lot of people probably just think of the Sundance Kid. In a lot of ways, this was a spiritual sequel to some of his earlier work, or a follow-up.
It’s a really fitting alleged last film for him. So much of him is already in the story.
At what point did you know that this was going to be his last film?
He mentioned it in an interview a few months before we started shooting. [Laughs] I just got a lot of emails all of a sudden saying, did you know about this? To which I said, “No, I had no idea!” And at first, I just felt this immense pressure. We were a few months from shooting, we’d been location scouting, but I was still working on the script, and the thing that I had to do was just not think about it. Because otherwise I would have been overwhelmed. I would have tried to craft something that was a final statement, and that would have been a fool’s errand. It would have been folly to try to do that. The movie would not have been as good. I just had to not think about it at all. A few times on set, specifically the scene where he’s on a horse, I just remember thinking, oh, that’s the last time Bob will ever be on a horse in a movie.
I got really teary at that point.
That was an emotional day. Everybody felt it that day. Other than that, we didn’t really think about it. When we were making it, it was just another Robert Redford movie. Now it’s very likely his last movie.
Did you ever talk to him about it? Did he ever say, this is why I want to stop?
A little bit. He’s very open about it, he doesn’t think about it as, like, a defining moment in his life. It’s more, when you’re on set in a movie as an actor you spend a lot of time waiting for the camera to get set up or for the set to get lit, and I think he just doesn’t want to wait anymore. That’s just a part of his life that he doesn’t want to give up and he certainly has other things he does. He’s always involved, whether it’s producing, and he has other movies he wants to direct, and he’s so involved in the environment and so many wonderful causes. I think acting is just a part of who he is now, and, for him, retiring from that small sliver of his life that to us is so gigantic, doesn’t feel as significant to him.
He does a lot when you think about it. He started a freakin’ film festival.