Amy Redford is in the movie biz and has been her entire life. Being the daughter of American movie icon Robert Redford will set one on that sort of path. However, she is not one of those entertainment-obsessed types who tend to populate certain highly insular strata of Los Angeles. Amy is an actress, a director, and a producer; please don’t hold that against her. Hanging out with her, what comes across is a woman and a mother who is deeply thoughtful and deeply caring. The entertainment industry is often rightfully thought of as being a shallow, entirely transactional world, a place utterly obsessed with itself, hoping that all of us will become just as obsessed with them as they are with themselves. But that is the dark side; there are also many truly amazing people working there whose interest is using their considerable skills to convey the human condition. Amy is one of these people.
This interview is longer than most because, frankly, Amy has a lot to say that we find inspiring. Stay with it. It is worth it.
How old are you?
How many kids do you have?
100, oh my god, you’re so prodigious. Amazing.
It was really fun. Just kidding. I have three children. I have a 14-year-old and 11-year-old twins. And the twins are about to turn 12 in November. My 14-year-old just turned 14 last week. But what was really funny about living in Los Angeles was when I’ve told people there that I had three kids, they would be like, “Oh, my god, that’s so excessive. Why did you do that?” And then I moved to Utah, and people are like, “Oh, that’s sad. Did somebody —” So, I guess I can’t really get it right, but I’ll take it.
They’re very big on reproduction here in Utah.
Yeah. I was 38 when I had my first child, when I was sort of like, “Oh, shit, I forgot to have kids.” And I managed to have one and was so pleased with the turnout. I was like, “Well, we did it. Yes, we made a child, she has all her fingers and toes. She’s amazing.” And then, we sort of called it because I was going in one direction, and my husband at the time was going in another direction. And we thought, “Well, this doesn’t make any sense. We should not make more people.” We’re not really big planners, but it was so exciting that we actually managed to have that conversation and plan, that we made twins that night.
The night we decided to not have any more children was the night I made twins in my body.
So, you are a single mom now?
What’s that like?
Hmm. I would say there’s sort of cost and benefit in many ways. It’s very easy to kind of point the finger at the other person that’s staring across the kitchen table from you when you’re doing parenting in the same house. And when you’re not, you have to take a lot more responsibility for the culture of your home in a way that’s pretty autonomous. And it’s made me have to look at some of my own instincts in a different light. And I think that part of that is also understanding that a lot of parenting is just setting themselves up to be the fullest articulation of who they are. And when me as a mom gets in the way and impose my own vision is where I go wrong. I’m just trying to figure out who these people are because they’re a mixture of so many things.
You mentioned alone time. What does alone time look like for you?
I don’t know. Hiding in a locked bathroom not answering when people call. I think it runs the gamut of spending the whole day up in a mountain with me and nature and being able to process without it being too heavy-handed. When you’re walking a trail that you’ve walked thousands of times, and it looks different, a lot of that has to do with your framing. So, it’s really helpful for me to keep returning to those spaces in places to reframe and reinvestigate who I am. So, it can be that.
Sometimes, it can be just having grown-up time with people I respect and love and need feedback from. And sometimes, it’s just a matter of exercise and taking some of the pressure off of achievement. I love to travel. I haven’t done a lot of it in the last decade or so. So, I’ve been doing more of that lately. Which is very, very, very good for my happy juice.
You’ve chosen to live in Salt Lake City. You used to live in New York and Los Angeles. What’s up with Salt Lake City?
Hmm. There’s sort of the diplomatic answer and the not-diplomatic answer.
Oh, come on. Give it to me. What you got?
2016, on the night of the election, I sort of felt like a crazy lady in a tinfoil hat jumping up and down on the street corner saying Donald Trump is going to be our next president. And I had that sensation run through my body after the first debate. And many of my very smart friends thought I was cuckoo pants because they were like, “Did you watch the debate? How could you come away with the conclusion after that debate that he was going to be our president?” I said, “Because it doesn’t matter what he says. It matters what he’s doing. He’s calling to people’s pain.” And there are a lot of people out there that have been dismissed and ignored and might just turn to this person who made it okay to be exactly who you are and be the President of the United States. Having spent time in places considered flyover states and talked to a lot of very smart, very principled people who were very tired, I could see that in a moment of exhaustion, that there were things that he was calling to that I think people thought: maybe that’s going to be the thing that’s going to help me.
And I had great concern, and being in Los Angeles, it sort of felt like I was just standing there screaming in a mirror. It was just like, “What is the point of this?” I wanted to be able to be in places where maybe, in some small way, I could help broker a bit of a disconnect and a divide through the kind of integration of the best of people through dialogue and through sort of helping us remember that we have more in common than we don’t in many ways. And a lot of the time, there’s probably 85% that we can agree on and 15% that we’re never going to agree on. So, why are we sacrificing the 85% we can accomplish in the service of the 15% that we will never accomplish?
“I think we underestimate people’s ability to metabolize stories and to have empathy, even if it’s in a landscape that they’ve never been in before”
And I had some very inspiring people here, who were walking those lines that were helping to broker those conversations in a way that had dignity on both sides, and I sort of felt intuitively that that’s the space I wanted to be in. And with my little toolbox as a filmmaker, I could bring that into these spaces and maybe create some storytelling that was with that audience in mind instead of saying, “Well, they’re just in the way,” of the New York, LA, sort of San Francisco audience. Because I think we underestimate people’s ability to metabolize stories and to have empathy, even if it’s in a landscape that they’ve never been in before.
And on another note, I had a kind of a primal tug, I guess is the way that I felt it was, connected to being a fifth-generation Utahn. And I felt like I couldn’t continue to frame my kids’ childhood in a way that could pump the brakes a little bit and slow things down. They’re all from three different planets, and I was having a hard time catching all three of them in my hands. When I was in the service of one, I was forsaking another, and I wanted to be in a place that was a little less pressured.
And also, the land of entertainment wasn’t necessarily the predominant force. Entertainment has its place, of course, and cultural influence is really important. I mean, this is why I’m talking to you today. But so are other things. [chuckles]
And to be around a slightly more diversified workforce where a lot of people are accomplishing many things and their lives do not begin and end with the Academy Awards. It just felt important to me to kind of be able to re-establish some of my core values and maybe try to infuse my kids with that as well. It’s a very long-winded answer to your question, but…
“I’ve kind of learned that the biggest mistake I can make is try to do something I’m not excited about”
Talk to me a little bit about what you’re working on now. I know you have projects in various stages of production. What are you excited about?
I’ve kind of learned that the biggest mistake I can make is try to do something I’m not excited about. So, everything that I’m working on right now, I’m excited about on some level or another. I am making a film in February called The Town That Jack Built that is about the town of Picher, Oklahoma, and what happened to that town, which is now a sort of abandoned ghost town because it was contaminated. I think it’s still the third worst contamination site in this country. Old baseball town, and this story centers around these three kids, sort of one that’s the have, the have-not, and the girl that brokers the divide. But it was a town where Mickey Mantle was born. And so, baseball was a very important element of this town because the sports stars were the rock stars, right? And baseball served as a way into the heart of the town, and it also served as a way out of the town. And so, we are hoping to kind of articulate the endangered species of small-town America through what happens to this town. It’s a bit of a cautionary tale because I’m worried that we’re no longer a tapestry, but we’re sort of just, a bit of like, a whiteboard. It’s like we’re not holding up the characteristics of each of these small towns as valued. They’re becoming overwhelmed by chains and franchises. And you go from one mall to another, and it’s exactly the same thing.
And I think that so much of the essence of this country has been small-town America, and the industriousness, the community that I think needs to be understood and refreshed so that it has more equity, it’s got more opportunity for all, but that we don’t lose what is important about small town life and experience. Bigger is not always better in that way.
So, that’s that project and I will be directing it. I’m working on two other films, one is called No Nuts, which is a comedy with a woman named Skye Emerson, and it’s basically about a woman who’s somewhat fatigued by her trail of tears around men and the lengths at which she goes to cure herself of that disease. So, that has been really fun. Nothing autobiographical in there at all, I assure you.
I’m trying not to be mean. I’m having so much fun, though. My deepest desire in that film is to have my celebrity crush, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, make an appearance. So, I’m writing a part exactly for him. And another one with the writer of the film I premiered in Toronto in September. That movie is called Roost.
The Scrappy Broads
Tell me about this. What’s this Scrappy Broad thing?
The Scrappy Broads is a podcast that I am working on that is simply that. I became kind of interested in a certain category of women that I think fit in that very subjective characterization. And I’ve been distilling: What are those common denominators of scrappiness? What makes a woman a self-determined broad? The first person that agreed to do our interview was Madeleine Albright, because she fits into that category for me. She was just an amazing collision of dynamic personality traits that didn’t always seem like they belong together, which I think is really interesting, that we don’t all have to be one thing. And then, we lost her, which was a tragic loss.
I have this amazing community of women here in Salt Lake who have been helping me to refine and articulate this. And the Scrappy Broads of Salt Lake are the most industrious, funny, off-color, no-bullshit, get-it-done women. And my podcast would not be happening without all of them. And we’re sort of like this weird subversive sewing circle of women who come together to get things done. And then, we laugh a lot. So, that helps too. So, that is in development right now.
And then, I’m executive producing three different doc series. I’m a producer on the doc series about the Lincoln Project, and sort of the anatomy of that organization and what is in the underbelly of how they do what they do.
Another one is about the unsheltered population in Salt Lake and how it serves as a bit of an articulation of what the unsheltered conundrum is in many cities, including here, and how it’s become a bit of a hot potato issue and what it is like for each person that ends up with a potato in their lap, and what they have to do about it. So, this series is going to attempt to embed with each of those stakeholders and show what this issue looks like from their perspective, ranging from the mayor to the guy on the street, who you sort of try not to look at as you pass them by. And what are the contributing factors. And it’s an interesting conundrum, because it just doesn’t belong to Republicans or Democrats, it runs the gamut.
And then, another project that concerns a lot of the four in particular subjects of the LGBTQ+ youth community in Utah, and what they navigate with their predominant religion that is not terribly affirming of their chosen identity, and what it’s like for them and their families to walk that divide. My greatest aim in all of these projects is not to demonize anyone interested. If I have done that, I will feel like I have failed. Because even if we don’t agree with somebody who maybe is not affirming, most of the time, that person believes they’re doing right on behalf of their child, whether we agree with them or not. It’s usually something that they have been told or feel is in their child’s best interest. And so, we want to talk about that a little bit.
Because it’s a very confusing landscape. I mean, I find myself confused all the time about how to feel, how to act, what questions to ask and not to ask. And hoping to make it a little bit more accessible to those of us that have walked a mile and are still trying to understand a lot of the language, a lot of the fluidity, things that we just weren’t raised with. And I think there are a lot of improvements, and there’s a lot of fear from all sides. And people can’t seem to agree.
You know a thing or two about movies. What are your top three favorite movies?
Oh, my god, I hate this question. The only reason I hate this question is because it feels to me a little bit like, what’s your favorite color? What a boring world we’d have if everything was blue. Right?
All right. New question.
No, no, no, but I’m happy to say — I’ll just talk about the movie that I have a poster of in my upstairs hallway. Which is Singin’ in the Rain. Growing up, I played Singin’ in the Rain at every one of my birthday parties from the time I was about 6 to the time was about, I don’t know, 13 or 14. And I love that movie. Because I think in many ways when you look at it, you go, “Oh, my goodness. Nothing has changed ever.” It was so brilliant in so many ways in terms of social commentary. Obviously, there are parts of that film that are somewhat culturally outdated. But I love Donald O’Connor. I love Gene Kelly, of course, first crush, but I really loved Donald O’Connor because I thought there was this elegance of somebody who can have such amazing skill and talent and sort of encapsulating it in humor.
And I thought that’s the ticket right there, the best way to get a message across is to soften the receptors with comedy, with humor. And I thought he was amazing at that. And the design, and the innovation, and the kind of psychedelic nature of that movie, that was just bonkers. I thought it was kind of brilliant.
And yet, it’s not the sort of genre of films that I endeavor to make myself. I think other people do it a lot better than I do, but that triple-threat skills, sing, dance, act thing, you watch it now and you go, “Holy moly, this is just so mind-blowing. To hold all of those things in equal balance is pretty incredible.”
“I think curiosity is sort of the fountain of youth, in many ways”
What are your three non-negotiables in your life?
The first word that comes to mind is kindness. I don’t always achieve it, but I try. I feel bad when I don’t. And I want that for my kids. The way that people— just the expression on somebody’s face when they’ve received kindness is a way to be self-defining. So, if my kids are kind, they’ll see that coming back at them and it helps them be self-defining as kind. And I want that for them. And it doesn’t mean— kindness and weakness are not the same things. There’s a lot of strength in finding kindness and I’ve had various degrees of success and failure in that regard.
Other non-negotiables: Curiosity, I would say. I think curiosity is sort of the fountain of youth, in many ways. It’s a really great way to assimilate quickly into any environment. It makes things more fun.
Hmm, third. I’m wrestling between two. I think one sounds better and one’s probably more true. The one that sounds better is humility. Again, I’ve had various degrees of success and failure with that quality. As I get older, I see it as the highest ROI that you could get. Which is kind of hard to explain but I think that you get a huge return on your investment in humility, and something that I continue to try to achieve. And that one is battling with returning to the idea of solitude because I think it’s very easy to pollute your time and space with things that can be distracting from what needs to be your essence. And by achieving a little bit of solitude now and again, I think it will implicate you to be in the present and not be hung up on what can be but what is. And as a mom, as an activist, as a whatever, I think it’s an important thing to maintain. So, I broke your rules. Those were four.
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