He began his acting career in 1980 in an off-Broadway production of Album, and made his feature film debut in Director Paul Mazursky's 1982 film Tempest.
He married fellow actor Suzy Amis in 1986 with whom he appeared alongside Kevin Costner in Fandango. Their marriage produced a son, Jasper, and ended in divorce in 1994. In 1997, Robards married the Danish model Sidsel Jensen. They have two sons, Calvin and Sebastian.
Robards appeared alongside his Father in 1988's Bright Lights, Big City, in their only film collaboration (his Father died in 2000). He co-starred with his mother in the 1993 Robert Altman film Prêt-à-Porter. He portrayed Harold Ross, first Editor of The New Yorker, in the Dorothy Parker biographical film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle in 1994 for writer-director Alan Rudolph. His film résumé also includes Fandango, Casualties of War, American Beauty, Beautiful Girls, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Life as a House, The Other Side of the Tracks and The Art of Getting By.
In the theatre, Robards was nominated for Broadway's 2002 Tony Award as Best Actor (Featured Role – Play) for Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All the Luck. In July 2008, Robards took over the role of Richard Hannay in the New York City theatrical run of The 39 Steps.
Robards's television credits include a recurring role on Get a Life as well as appearances on Spin City, The West Wing, Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Sex and the City, The Outer Limits, and Body of Proof. His recent projects included recurring roles on the series Gossip Girl (ended in 2012) and Treme (ended in 2013), and a regular role on Twisted (cancelled in 2014).