May 22, 2000 12:00 PM

Growing up with a movie icon for a father, Amy Hart Redford quickly learned celebrityhood has a downside. When she was a little girl, she recalls, “drunk women would come and sit at our table in restaurants.” Paparazzi intruded on the family’s life, and fans followed them down the street. As a teenager, Robert Redford’s youngest child rebelled against the attention, shaving half her head and wearing seven rings in one ear. “I was like, ‘You’re going to look at me?’ ” she says. ” ‘Well, look at this!’ ”

Now 29, Redford is taking a more welcoming approach. A rising young actress with a few low-budget films under her belt, she has also made her mark in Off-Broadway plays. Earlier this spring she starred in a drama, The Messenger, with Troy Garity (the son of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda)—earning praise from critics and, maybe not unexpectedly, a rave from one famous actor-director. “It’s complicated for any parent to suddenly see his daughter onstage,” says Redford père, 63. “But once I got past that, I thought, ‘She’s good!’ ”

Growing up in an apartment on New York City’s Upper East Side and on her dad’s Sundance ranch in Utah, Amy repressed her showbiz dreams. “Dad kept us way, way out of the spotlight,” she says. “So it was almost embarrassing when I wanted to be an actor.” The reflected glare was so distracting, in fact, that she dropped her last name and went by Amy Hart (Dad’s mother’s maiden name) while at the University of Colorado. She remained Amy Hart after-transferring to theater schools in San Francisco and, later, in London—where she finally gained confidence in her acting. “I pushed through in London,” she says. “When I got back, I think my dad recognized that, ‘Okay, now she’s going to fly.’ ”

Since 1996, when she returned to New York City and became a Redford again, Amy has steadily built up her résumé—including a guest shot as a doctor on The Sopranos. “I was terrified because I love that show,” she says. “My big agenda for the day was, ‘Don’t knock over any furniture.’ ” No one’s prouder of her work than her historian mom, Lola, 61 (divorced from Robert in 1985), and her siblings—screenwriter Jamie, 38, and artist Shauna, 39. Amy’s father—who starred on Broadway in 1963’s Barefoot in the Park—is so inspired he may even return to the stage himself. “I’m anxious to do a play,” he says. “She asked if I’d like to work together, and I said, ‘Fine!’ ”

Amy herself is feeling more than fine. Last year she became engaged to a Scottish photographer (she declines to name him), who popped the question in a Manhattan park. “It was much better than a fancy restaurant,” says Redford, who’s a bit of a homebody though she occasionally cuts loose. After a stressful Messenger rehearsal, she and Garity blew off steam at a club. “She danced and danced,” he says. “When no one else was on the floor, she was dancing.”

After marrying later this year, Redford will keep her surname, at least professionally. But this time she’s set on making it her own. Like other celebrity kids she knows a legacy can carry you only so far. “A lot of times I get in the door for an audition where others don’t,” she admits. “But once you’re there, you have to prove yourself.”

Russell Scott Smith

Natasha Stoynoff in New York City

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