NEW YORK (AP) — When Robert Redford first called Bob Woodward to talk about a movie that eventually became “All the President’s Men,” the Washington Post reporter didn’t call back.
Redford’s call came early in Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s reporting on the coverup that later toppled President Richard Nixon. Redford, who portrayed Woodward in the movie, said the writer later told him he didn’t believe it was the actor on the phone and was worried about being set up.
“I don’t know if it was that,” Woodward told The Associated Press. “I think we were busy and wondering why he might be calling.”
They were certainly busy, and a Discovery network documentary, “All the President’s Men Revisited” which airs Sunday (April 21) at 8 p.m./7c, shows why. Ultimately the focus is far more on the Watergate case than the film about it.
“I didn’t want to make it too much about the movie,” Redford said. “That would be self-serving. The intention was to look back at that time and stay in that time, leaving any comparison with where journalism was or Congress was in that day compared to today to the audience to decide or think about.”
Politically, the contrast to today’s hyper-partisanship was most obvious when a House committee voted on articles of impeachment. The documentary lingers on the solemn roll call, making the point that members of Nixon’s own party had limits to how much they could stomach.
Redford hopes the Discovery show will bring the story of Watergate alive to young people who know about it only from books.
“It is so far removed that maybe the younger generation may not know that this is a piece of recent American history that may inform them,” he said.
Filmmakers also try to give a contemporary context by interviewing people like Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow and Joe Scarborough along with many of the people who had been involved with the story at the time.
The film opens with a deeply weird moment that may stun people who didn’t live through the time. Nixon is shown before television cameras just before he was to go on the air and tell the nation he was resigning, and he made an uncomfortable joke to journalists about the cameras catching him picking his nose.
That example, along with film of Nixon’s perspiration-drenched speech before White House staff the morning of his resignation, are important character studies, Woodward said.
“Kids are going to say that how was that possible that this man was president of the United States?” Woodward said. “He is emotionally untethered.”
For Woodward, the journey began with a Saturday in the office, when he and Bernstein are put on a story that seemed unremarkable at the time, a June 1972 break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters at Washington’s Watergate Hotel.
“No one flashed a message to me that this was going to be the most important day of my life,” Woodward recalled in the documentary.
As he got to know Woodward and Bernstein, who is played by Dustin Hoffman in “All the President’s Men,” Redford became intrigued in a movie about how these very different men learned to work together and persevere in a pressure-filled situation.
It wasn’t a natural for Hollywood: A political scandal where the outcome is known, with journalists as lead characters. Redford also wanted to be sure to illustrate the tedium involved in the detective work done by the reporting team. A lesser star than Redford may not have gotten the movie made.
Because he didn’t want to lose a key dramatic element, Redford fervently hoped that the identity of Mark Felt, the shadowy source known as Deep Throat, would not become known before the movie came out. It took decades, actually.
Woodward never told him who Deep Throat was, of course, but did let slip that the real source actually bore a strong resemblance to Hal Holbrook, who had that role in the movie.
Redford said in the documentary that he didn’t expect the echo of “All the President’s Men” to remain for so long. He was reminded about this when his grandchildren saw and were impressed by it. Woodward said he believed Redford has come to see it as one of the most important movies he has made, and that led to the documentary.
“There were so many elements to Watergate that it’s hard to pack them all in,” Woodward said. “I’m biased, but I think they did an excellent job doing that.”