LESS than two years after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974, Warner Bros. released "All the President's Men," the multi-Oscar-winning adaptation of the book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein chronicling how their investigation of the Watergate scandal led to the toppling of the president.
"It was an amazing experience for me to be traveling sidecar with historical events that were happening as you were making the film," recalled Robert Redford, who not only starred in the film as Woodward but helped produce the classic through his company, Wildwood Enterprises.
Redford will be discussing the making of "All the President's Men" at the 30th anniversary screening Thursday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Redford will appear before the film with Newsweek film critic David Ansen, and there will also be a panel discussion after the screening with members of the cast and crew.
Besides Redford, the film starred Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein, Jason Robards in his Oscar-winning performance as Post editor Ben Bradlee, Hal Holbrook as "Deep Throat," as well as Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Ned Beatty and Jane Alexander. Adapted by William Goldman and directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film was nominated for eight Oscars and picked up four. It lost best picture to "Rocky."
Redford said how the film came to be "is pretty well right up there with the movie itself -- the drama and the intrigue and the kind of detective story of how this thing came about."
He was promoting the movie "The Candidate" in 1972 when he began reading the articles about the Watergate break-in written by Woodward and Bernstein. "I had a great suspicion about Nixon," said Redford. "I was told by some press members there was something more to the robbery. There was a lot of cynicism about that Nixon was going to win in a landslide. I followed the paper that summer -- I was following it with a steely eye."
When the news broke that the Watergate burglars had connections to the Nixon White House, Redford thought a story on the two young journalists would make a great movie. "My initial idea was a little black-and-white movie that would have two unknowns that was simply a film about what these guys did the summer of 1972, not having any clue where the whole thing was going to go."
Redford was interested in them and their relationship because "it tied to a larger theme of what I think America is about," he said. "We still lived with a kind of Calvinistic ethic where hard work can produce results. What other place in the world is there where two guys who were basically a cut above cub reporters, who through just sheer hard work and courage and relentless tenacity, do work that few others were doing or willing to do that would bring down the highest order of the land? That is a great homage to the role of journalism and the role it played in protecting our 1st Amendment."
But in 1972, Redford couldn't get either of them to talk to him. Bernstein just didn't return his calls. Woodward told him he didn't have any time. Eventually, Redford got Woodward to agree to meet him in Washington, D.C.
"I met him secretly," he said. "When we met he confessed that he didn't think I was for real. That I was a setup. They were so paranoid. They knew they were being watched."
Woodward and Bernstein told Redford that they were contracted to write a book about the Watergate scandal but the focus would be from the point of view of the five burglars. "I told them that wasn't the course I was interested in. I was interested in them and their relationship. That is where I want to go with this."
The reporters took Redford's advice and asked their editor. She agreed with the actor, and the rest is history.
Nobody was interested in making the movie, Redford said, because the studios thought audiences wouldn't be interested in a story where they already knew the outcome. He replied that the movie should be positioned as a thriller.
Redford first approached Elia Kazan to do the film. The two-time Oscar-winning director turned him down, partly because of the script.
He then approached William Friedkin, an Oscar winner for "The French Connection," "because the film was going to have to do with pencils, paper, telephones and heads and it would need an almost a kind of violent energy."
Friedkin also passed. So Redford went to Pakula, whom he had known for several years. Pakula had produced the 1965 film "Inside Daisy Clover," in which Redford appeared.
"He was very keen on it," said Redford. "He and I had a series of discussions, and it was clear to me it could be a really terrific relationship. We would both be approaching the film from a similar point of what's the psychology of this and what are the subtleties and the grace notes to be hit. He had a lot of refinement and dignity."
Because the script "wasn't quite where it needed to be," Redford and Pakula set up shop at the Madison hotel across from the Post.
"We did a lot of the writing and lot of the work ourselves," he said. The two were frequent visitors in the Post newsroom, and Redford spent a lot of time discussing the story with Woodward. Though the reporters had brushed him off initially they became welcome participants in the project, even giving Redford and Pakula their notes from their interviews.
Redford, who has championed independent filmmaking through his Sundance Film Festival, said that a major studio wouldn't make a film like "All the President's Men" today.
"The whole formula for filmmaking has drastically changed," he said. "The audiences have changed. The adult fare pretty much resides in the independent film area."
'All the President's Men'
Where: Samuel Goldwyn Theater, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hillls
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Price: $3 to $5
Contact: (310) 247-3000 or go to www.oscars.org