The Okay Gatsby
Robert Redford is not an actor one associates with words like “interesting”, or “necessary”, but once in awhile he’s actually surprising, which is one of the very best things an actor can be.
In Jack Clayton’s admittedly slightly flabby film of THE GREAT GATSBY (but note how, in this pre-air-conditioning tale of the ‘twenties all the fabulously rich people are covered with a sheen of sweat), Redford as the mysterious Jay Gatsby gives a brief precis of his history to date. The speech contains lies, and is delivered to someone who hasn’t asked for this information, which makes it all rather suspicious. There are various obvious ways it could have been handled:
1) The actor could try and be as convincing as possible, letting us discover the truth later.
2) He could show the audience, by some slight nervousness and evasion, that he may not be telling the whole truth.
3) He could be VERY unconvincing, using obvious hesitations and nervousness.
Redford reads the lines as if he’s reading lines, stuff he’s memorised by heart and is now TEACHING to the listener, so that he can repeat them to others. This is Gatsby’s actual hope, he wants to spread this information around. So he’s very slow and deliberate.
I think it’s quite a funny, weird effect, and brave, in the sense that it’s designed to look like bad acting. And it’s convincing as such. An audience could assume that Redford is just a lousy actor. I think we know he isn’t quite THAT, so we have to assume this is a deliberate choice. It’s also delivered like bad exposition, which makes it even funnier.
The speech is delivered in a car, with Redford concentrating VERY hard on the road, and he also appears to have been dubbed. Even better!
The most impressive piece of Redfordiana is maybe in Michael Ritchie’s THE CANDIDATE where he repeatedly corpses while rehearsing a political speech he has to give. I think it’s the word “integrity” that trips him up every time. Convincingly acting spontaneous and involuntary laughter, again and again, strikes me as a NEAT TRICK.