Robert Duvall, co-star of the "Kicking & Screaming" Movie!
One of Hollywood's most distinguished, popular, and versatile actors, Robert Duvall possesses a rare gift for totally immersing himself in his roles. Born in San Diego, CA, in 1931 and raised by an admiral, Duvall fought in Korea for two years after graduating from Principia College. Upon his Army discharge, he moved to New York to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he won much acclaim for his portrayal of a longshoreman in A View From the Bridge. He later acted in stock and off-Broadway, and had his onscreen debut as Gregory Peck's simple-minded neighbor Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).With his intense expressions and chiseled features, Duvall frequently played troubled, lonely characters in such films as The Chase (1966) during his early film career. Whatever the role, however, he brought to it an almost tangible intensity tempered by an ability to make his characters real (in contrast to some contemporaries who never let viewers forget that they were watching a star playing a role). Though well-respected and popular, Duvall largely eschewed the traditionally glitzy life of a Hollywood star; at the same time, he worked with some of the greatest directors over the years. This included a long association with Francis Ford Coppola, for whom he worked in two Godfather movies (in 1972 and 1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979). The actor's several Oscar nominations included one for his performance as a dyed-in-the-wool military father who victimizes his family with his disciplinarian tirades in The Great Santini (1980). For his portrayal of a has-been country singer in Tender Mercies -- a role for which he composed and performed his own songs -- Duvall earned his first Academy Award for Best Actor. He also directed and co-produced 1983's Angelo My Love and earned praise for his memorable appearance in Rambling Rose in 1991. One of Duvall's greatest personal triumphs was the production of 1997's The Apostle, the powerful tale of a fallen Southern preacher who finds redemption. He had written the script 15 years earlier, but was unable to find a backer, so, in the mid-'90s, he financed the film himself. Directing and starring in the piece, Duvall earned considerable acclaim, including another Best Actor Oscar nomination.
The 1990s were a good decade for Duvall. Though not always successful, his films brought him steady work and great variety. Not many other actors could boast of playing such a diversity of characters: from a retired barber in 1993's Wrestling Ernest Hemingway to an ailing editor in The Paper (1994) to Billy Bob Thornton's father in the harrowing Sling Blade (1996) to James Earl Jones' brother in the same year's A Family Thing (which he also produced). Duvall took on two very different father roles in 1998, first in the asteroid extravaganza Deep Impact and then in Robert Altman's The Gingerbread Man. Throughout his career, Duvall has also continued to work on the stage. In addition, he occasionally appeared in such TV miniseries as Lonesome Dove (1989) and Stalin (1992), and has even done voice-over work for Lexus commercials. In the early 2000s, he continuing his balance between supporting roles in big-budget films and meatier parts in smaller efforts. He supported Nicolas Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds and Denzel Washington in John Q., but he also put out his second directorial effort, Assassination Tango, which allowed him to film one of his life's great passions -- the tango. In 2003, Kevin Costner gave Duvall an outstanding role in his old-fashioned Western Open Range, and Duvall responded with one of his most enjoyable performances.
Robert Duvall Joins Bana's 'Lucky You'
Robert DuvallAcademy Award winner Robert Duvall is to play Eric Bana's father and poker opponent in Warner Bros. Pictures drama Lucky You, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The feature, helmed by Curtis Hanson, follows a professional poker player (Bana) who gets a lesson in life from a struggling singer (the already cast Drew Barrymore) as he collides with his estranged father (Duvall) at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
The film is set to begin shooting on location in Las Vegas on March 23. It's scheduled for a December release.
Meet Robert Duvall
Actor and director Robert Duvall was born on January 5, 1931 in San Diego, California, the son of a career military officer who later became an admiral. Duvall majored in drama at Principia College (Elsiah, IL), then served a two-year hitch in the Army after graduating in 1953. Duvall began attending The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre In New York City on the G.I. Bill in 1955, studying with Sanford Meisner along with Dustin Hoffman, with whom Duvall shared an apartment. Both were close to another struggling young actor named Gene Hackman. Meisner cast Duvall in the play "The Midnight Caller" by Horton Foote, a link that would prove critical to his career as it was Foote who recommended Duvall to play the mentally disabled Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), his motion picture debut.
Duvall began making a name for himself as a stage actor in New York, winning an Obie Award in 1965 playing incest-minded longshoreman Eddie Carbone in the off-Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge," a production for which his old roommate Hoffman was assistant director. He found steady work in episodic TV and appeared as a modestly billed character actor in motion pictures, appearing in Arthur Penn's The Chase (1966) with Marlon Brando, and in Robert Altman's Countdown (1968) and Francis Ford Coppola's The Rain People (1969), both of which he co-starred with James Caan.
He was also memorable as the heavy who is shot by John Wayne at the climax to True Grit (1969) and was the first Major Frank Burns, creating the character in Altman's Korean War comedy MASH (1970). He also appeared as the eponymous lead in George Lucas' directoral debut, THX 1138 (1971). It was Coppola, casting The Godfather (1972), who reunited Duvall with Brando and Caan and provided him with his career breathrough as Mob lawyer Tom Hagen. He received the first of his six Academy Award nominations for the role.
Thereafter, Duvall had steady work in featured roles in such films as The Godfather: Part II (1974), The Killer Elite (1975), Network (1976), The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), and The Eagle Has Landed (1976). Occassionally, this actor's actor got the chance to assay a lead role, most notably in Tomorrow (1972), in which he was brilliant as William Faulkner's inarticulate backwoods farmer. He was less impressive as the lead in Badge 373 (1973), in which he played a character based on real-life NYC policeman Eddie Egan, whom his old friend Gene Hackman had won an Oscar playing, in fictionalized form, as Popeye Doyle in The French Connection (1971).
It was his appearance as Lt. Colonel Kilgore in another Coppola picture, Apocalypse Now (1979), which solidified Duvall's reputation as a great actor. He won his second Academy Award nomination for the role, and was named by the Guiness Book of World Records as the most versatile actor in the world! Duvall created one of the most memorable characters ever assayed on film, and gave the world the memorable phrase "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."
Subsequently, Duvall proved one of the few established character actors to move from supporting to leading roles, with his Oscar-nominated turns in The Great Santini (1979) and Tender Mercies (1983), the later of which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Now at the summit of his career, Duvall seemed to be afflicted with the fabled "Oscar Curse" that had overwhelmed the careers of fellow Academy Award winners Luise Rainer, Rod Steiger, and Cliff Robertson. He could not find work equal to his talents, either due to his post-Oscar salary demands or due to a lack of perception in the industry that he truly was leading man material. He did not appear in the The Godfather: Part III (1990) as the studio would not give in to his demands for a salary commensurate with that of Al Pacino, who was receiving $5 million to reprise Michael Corleone.
His greatest achievement in his immediate post-Oscar period was his acclaimed characterization of the grizzled Texas Ranger in the TV mini-series "Lonesome Dove" (1989) (mini), for which he received an Emmy nomination. He received a second Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the Soviet dictator Stalin (1992) (TV), and a third Emmy nomination playing Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in _Man Who Captured Eichmann, The (1996) .
The shakeout of his career doldrums was that Duvall eventually settled back into his status as one of the premier character actors in the industry, rivalled only by his old friend Gene Hackman. Duvall, unlike Hackman, also has directed pictures, including the documentary We're Not the Jet Set (1975), Angelo My Love (1983) and Assassination Tango (2002). As writer-director, Duvall gave himself one of his most memorable roles, the lead of the preacher on the run from the law in The Apostle (1997), a brilliant peformance for which he received his third Best Actor nomination and fifth Oscar nomination overall. The film brought Duvall back to the front ranks of great actors, and was followed by a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod for A Civil Action (1998).
Robert Duvall will long be remembered as one of the great naturalistic American screen actors in the mode of Spencer Tracy and his frequent co-star Marlon Brando. His performances as Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird," Jackson Fentry in "Tomorrow," Tom Hagen in the first two "Godfather" movies, Frank Hackett in "Network," Colonel Kilgore in "Apocalypse Now," Bull Meechum in "The Great Santini," Mac Sledge in "Tender Mercies," Gus McCrae in "Lonesome Dove," and Sonny Dewey in "The Apostle" rank as some of the finest acting ever put on film. It's a body of work that few actors can equal, let alone surpass.
More fun facts about Robert Duvall
Spouses: Sharon Brophy (1 May 1991 - 1996) (divorced)
Gail Youngs (August 1982 - 1986) (divorced)
Barbara Benjamin (1964 - 1975) (divorced)
Living with Luciana Pedraza. [1997 - present]
Studied acting with Sanford Meisner at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York.
Is a direct descendent of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Fractured several ribs in April 2002 after falling off a horse while rehearsing for role in Open Range (2003).
Served in the U.S. Army (serial #52 346 646) from 19 August 1953 to 20 August 1954, achieving rank of Private First Class and awarded the National Defense Service Medal.
Received star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [18 September 2003]
Was roommates and good friends with Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman while all were struggling stage actors in New York before any of them struck it big. Among the three, Hoffman and Duvall were known for their ways with the women, and Duvall and Hackman were known for their short fuses, which led to numerous bar fights. The three often bonded over elaborate practical jokes.
Can speak Spanish fluently.
Owns a large estate in rural Virginia, where some skirmishes of the Civil War were fought (he has found shells and other artifacts on the property). Some scenes in Gods and Generals (2003) were filmed on his land.
Being descended from Robert E. Lee, he can actually trace his family back to President George Washington. Washington himself had no biological children, but his wife, Martha Custis, did, and he adopted them after the death of Martha's first husband. Her son, John Custis, had a son of his own, Washington Custis, whose daughter, Mary Custis, was Robert E. Lee's wife. Interestingly, Duvall played Lee in Gods and Generals (2003), opposite Jeff Daniels, who had played Washington in The Crossing (1990).
His favorite city is Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is an avid Tango dancer.
His father was a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy.
Was director Robert Altman's first choice for country singer in Nashville (1975), but he used Henry Gibson instead when Duvall insisted that Altman let him compose and sing his own songs in the film. Duvall later won an Oscar for assaying country singer Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies (1983), a film for which he wrote and sang the songs.
While a struggling actor, he worked at a post office as a clerk but quit after six months. He says he didn't want to be there 20 years later, still working in a post office.
His personal quotes:
[on the reason he didn't appear in The Godfather: Part III (1990):] "If they paid Pacino twice what they paid me, that's fine, but not three or four times, which is what they did. (Francis Ford Coppola) came to my farm, parked his car ... went in the kitchen. (I) said: 'I know you always wanted the crab cake recipe, let me cook it for you.' Oh, he loves to eat, so I cooked the crab cake... and he wrote it down ... and he forgot it, so he called twice. He was ... more concerned that he forgot the crab cake recipe than would I be in Godfather III." [January 8, 2004]
"They should keep their mouths shut." - on Hollywood political activists
"Being a star is an agent's dream, not an actors."
The Godfather (1972) $36,000
Robert Duvall Does The Tango
Get to know Robert Duvall, and you may get more than you bargained for. He’s a lot like the characters he’s played in over 80 movies — blunt, tough and honest, sometimes brutally honest.
In a business where appearances are everything, Duvall, at 73, is the real thing. And Correspondent Charlie Rose saw that firsthand when he visited him last winter in his favorite city in the world, Buenos Aires, Argentina. “This is Black’s. This is supposed to be the best, classiest house of ill repute in the world. You got the beautiful women from Paraguay, Peru, all over the place,” says Duvall, taking Rose on a tour of his favorite city.
But Duvall, who is known for playing colonels and cowboys, doesn’t come to Argentina for the women. He comes here to dance, and he spends his nights with his longtime girlfriend in Buenos Aires tango clubs. It’s his obsession.
“It gets in your blood in a quiet way, kind of a sweet thing that sits there,” says Duvall. “He’s leading, he’s telling her what to do, but she embellishes. But in our politically correct world, up in the United States, they call it the leader and the follower. Down here, they call it the man and the woman. Haha.”
It’s such an odd picture: tough guy Robert Duvall tango dancing the night away. It’s not the scene he is most known for – as Lt. Col. Kilgore, in “Apocalypse Now.”
“People come up to me on the street and they figure only they and I know that line. And nobody else in the world but us two share that,” says Duvall, about one of the most famous lines from the movies. “And the last rehearsal before we rolled, ‘I love the smell of napalm,’ ‘cause Brando was coming … ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like victory.’ I did Brando.”
“Apocalypse Now” is just one of many milestone roles. In “Tender Mercies,” Duvall’s laconic portrayal of Mac Sledge, a burnt-out, washed up country singer, was a masterpiece of understated acting, and won him the Oscar.
So far, he’s earned six Oscar nominations, playing roles that run the gamut. Even in small parts, he can steal a movie with just a gesture or a look. His characters are down-to-earth, tenacious and uncompromising – and, as he admits, there’s a bit of Robert Duvall in all of them.
“Has to be. It's you underneath,” says Duvall. “You interpret somebody. You try to let it come from yourself.”
As the son of a Navy officer, Duvall began his career Off-Broadway in New York City. It was the '50s and his acting buddies were Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and James Caan. But Duvall got the first important role as the mute and mysterious Boo Radley in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” He conveyed a world of emotion without uttering a word.
Still, he spent another 10 years doing B-movies and television series before his breakout role. He played loyal consigliore Tom Hagen, in Francis Ford Coppola’s first two “Godfather” films. But he didn’t work on “Godfather III.”
“I said I would work easily if they paid Pacino twice what they paid me, that's fine. But not three or four times, which is what they did,” recalls Duvall.
Movies made Duvall a star. But it was a television role that made him a cult figure. In the 1980’s miniseries, “Lonesome Dove,” Duvall played the definitive western trail boss Augustus MacRae.
He says one scene in particular, where Augustus has to kill his best friend, is one of his finest moments ever -- and it almost didn’t make the final cut.
“It worked. And I didn't plan it. It was like a subconscious thing -- something happening emotionally that I didn't even plan,” says Duvall. “And they cut it. Thank God, I saw it beforehand and the producer put it back in the film. The director and the editor cut it for whatever reason. Sabotage is the only thing I can think of -- unless they were morons.”
Brutally honest about others, he's just as candid about himself -- and his Argentine companion of seven years, Luciana Pedraza. He found her in Buenos Aires -- or rather, it’s where she found him, when she approached him on this street outside a bakery.
“I said, 'Mr. Duvall, my name is Luciana and I would like to invited you … invite you - to the opening of a tango shop,'” recalls Pedraza.
And what was Duvall thinking? “So what’ve I got to lose,” he says.
Both of them were born on the same day, Jan. 5, four decades apart.
“When I called up and met her father over the phone, he says, ‘Well now, I don’t know whether to call you father or son,’” recalls Duvall, who was at least 20 years older than Pedraza’s father. “When she told me how young she was, I started yelling, ‘Policia, policia, come arrest me.’"
Duvall’s last three marriages ended in divorce. Why? “I don’t know, you don’t connect,” he says. “You withdraw. You don’t connect. You try to make things work. Sometimes, they don’t.”
“One time, a relationship wasn't working out and I was moping around the house. So I went down early in the morning to the village there and got in the phone booth. And here I'm moping around the house and I didn't realize my wife had followed me down -- was outside the phone booth -- and here I'm on the phone with somebody else. So happy,” adds Duvall.
“Hung up, went out. Oh my God, I was caught. That was the way I was caught because through that glass there was this transformation of me into this happy, ecstatic guy. So what's the lesson? The lesson is to be more subdued in a phone booth, I think."
No subject is off limits for Duvall – and his politics are no exception. Fiercely libertarian, he’s always eager to weigh in. At his favorite café in Buenos Aires, one topic was Steven Spielberg’s recent visit to Cuba in 2002 -- and Spielberg's widely reported meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Duvall says Spielberg should never have gone in the first place.
“Now, what I want to ask him -- and I know he's going to get pissed off – ‘Would you consider building a little annex on the Holocaust museum, or at least across the street, to honor the dead Cubans that Castro killed,’” says Duvall. “That's very presumptuous of him to go there … I'll tell him that. I'll never work at Dreamworks again, but I don't care about working there anyway.”
Spielberg's spokesman, in a statement in response to Duvall's comments on 60 Minutes, said the Hollywood director's trip to Cuba was authorized by the U.S. government as a cultural exchange program: "His trip to Cuba in 2002 was cultural, not political. It was an opportunity to share his films and his values with the Cuban people. In addition to screening eight of his films for hundreds of thousands of Cubans, he visited with the Jewish community, paid his respects at the Holocaust memorial in Havana, and met with U.S. diplomats stationed there."
At this stage in his life, Duvall can afford not to care what others think. He’s made a very good living playing tough men who make tough choices and then make no apologies. They’re among Hollywood’s most original and memorable characters, and so is the man who created them.
Duvall promised Rose that he would end the interview with his famous line from “Apocalypse Now.”
“I had a bunch of 'em,” says Duvall, laughing. “'Charlie don't surf. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory.’”
Robert Duvall slams Spielberg
'I'll never work at DreamWorks again'
Actor Robert Duvall probably won't be making any movies for DreamWorks any time soon.
In a CBS "60 Minutes II" interview set for broadcast Wednesday, the Oscar-winning performer sharply criticized filmmaker and DreamWorks SKG studio co-founder Steven Spielberg for visiting Cuba in November 2002.
"Spielberg went down there recently and said, 'The best seven hours I ever spent was actually with Fidel Castro.' Now, what I want to ask him, ... 'Would you consider building a little annex on the Holocaust museum, or at least across the street, to honor the dead Cubans that Castro killed.' That's very presumptuous of him to go there," Duvall told Charlie Rose, according to excerpts of the interview released by CBS.
The actor, who won an Academy Award for his role in the 1983 film "Tender Mercies," added, "I'll never work at DreamWorks again, but I don't care about working there anyway."
Spielberg's spokesman, Marvin Levy, responded by issuing a statement saying the remark Duvall attributed to the director about his meeting with Castro is "totally false."
"He never said it, or anything like it," Levy said, adding Spielberg's trip to the Communist-ruled island had been authorized as a cultural exchange by the U.S. government.
Spielberg spent four days in Cuba, launching a showcase of eight of his movies, meeting with Cuban filmmakers and paying visits to Havana's largest synagogue and a memorial to Holocaust victims at the city's Jewish cemetery.
The Oscar-winning director of "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List" also dined with Fidel Castro, spending about eight hours with the Cuban leader discussing art, politics and history.
During his trip, Spielberg made headlines by calling for an end to the 40-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, saying it was time to bury old grudges from the Cold War and expand interactions between Americans and Cubans.
Robert Duvall: Open Range
Like all good cowboys, when Robert Duvall fell off his horse, he got right back on.
Preparing for "Open Range," in which he played quiet but assertive Boss Spearman, the 73-year-old actor broke several ribs. But by the time filming began, Duvall returned to the saddle, with hat, chaps and tobacco at the ready.
The role seemed to suit the actor perfectly. Soft-spoken yet to the point, Duvall gravitates toward a Western. Shortly after receiving the script for "Open Range," the actor called director Kevin CostnerKevin Costner and agreed to join his posse.
"Ten minutes after reading it, I told him I was in," Duvall says.
Not that every Western agrees with him. He's not particularly enamored with most of John Ford's films and has little tolerance for pics that lack authenticity.
Duvall's career, which includes six Oscar noms and a win for "Tender Mercies," dates back to the early 1960s. Although he was born in San Diego, Duvall owns a ranch in Virginia and comes across as a Southerner. One of his favorite filming locations is Darlington, S.C., where he co-starred in "Days of Thunder" with Tom CruiseTom Cruise.
He prefers a director who doesn't use too many takes. On "Open Range," which took about 13 weeks to film in the picturesque plains of Alberta, Canada, Costner rarely shot a scene more than three or four times.
"Good performances don't come from rehearsals. That's not the way to keep things fresh," Duvall says.
He says he's seen Marlon Brando use up to 80 takes for a scene. The actors have worked together on "The Chase," "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now," the latter two pics helmed by Francis Ford CoppolaFrancis Ford Coppola.
As to who is Duvall's favorite director these days, Ken Loach quickly comes to mind. Duvall, who appears in a majority of big studio films but who seemingly appreciates smaller material even more, was quite impressed with "My Friend Is Joe" and the more recent "Sweet Sixteen."
"Loach listens to the actors and doesn't watch them," Duvall explains.
If the director and actor were to ever combine their talents on a project, it certainly would be seen as a lesson in how-to's of filmmaking.
The Apostle, directed by Robert Duvall
Southern preachers have been the butt of many a Hollywood joke. From Elmer Gantry to Marjoe Gortner to Steve Martin's flashy trickster in Leap of Faith, revivalistic preachers have been depicted as cynical, manipulative, and deeply corrupt: oily hucksters out to con their way into the pocketbooks of eager worshipers and into the underclothes of impassioned (and preferably buxom) sisters. Whatever good comes out of their ministries occurs either through accident or through the generosity of someone near them, usually a woman or child who somehow saves the preacher from his own hypocrisies.
Robert Duvall's Sonny shares many outward characteristics with these scuzzy preachers of deception: like them he has a weakness for pretty women, a tendency to numb his guilt with alcohol, and a violent temper that is not infrequently directed at his wife, Jessie, and their two young children. But there the similarities mostly end, as Sonny is a true believer, not a fraud publicly regaling the masses with a Christian faith that he privately scorns. Despite his repeated marital indiscretions and his murderous attack on his wife's lover, he considers himself a dutiful servant of God, still preaching the Word as he has since he was twelve and working continually to save sinners from the fires of hell. The juxtaposition between Sonny's very real iniquity and his equally genuine rectitude gives this film its extraordinary vigor and refreshing integrity. Resonant with the harsh and glorious world of Flannery O'Connor, The Apostle confronts viewers with a powerful theological vision of sin and undeserved grace.
Taken to an otherwise completely African-American church as a child, Sonny was bred in the musical cadences of Southern Pentecostalism and later adopts its rhythms in his own preaching. Speaking to congregations that seem to have triumphed over racial barriers, Sonny's sermons focus on the two personages with whom he is most relentlessly involved: the Devil and Jesus. In Texas, Sonny manages to serve both masters supremely well, destroying his family and successful ministry even as he facilitates redemption to other souls; but once over the state line into Bayou Boutt , Louisiana, and rebaptized as the Apostle "E. F.," he focuses with renewed vigor on the Lord's work, grateful that God has apparently allowed him to escape his crime. He starts a new church, the One Way Road to Heaven Holiness Temple, that revitalizes the community; he anonymously distributes boxes of food to the hungry; he brings love and joy and salvation to men and women in need, including a furious redneck bent on bulldozing the racially mixed church. Ironically, it is through a radio announcement offering to send prayer-blessed scarves to the sick and lost elsewhere that the folks back in Texas learn of his whereabouts and send the police down to capture him.
His final sermon in that church, preached as deputy officers guard the door awaiting his exit, centers on the boundless love of God, which he illustrates by means of a tiny infant whose beautiful, innocent hands are made to recall the nail-scarred hands of Christ. After leading Sam the mechanic, who knows about his murderous crime, to salvation, Sonny is led away to jail; but we see him a final time, laboring in the fields with his chain gang, preaching to his fellow prisoners and leading them in worshipful shouts of "Jesus! Jesus!" Though helplessly beset by diabolical passions, he is also a man of conviction and tenderness and will presumably continue following God in his own gritty way.
As a director, Robert Duvall has ignored or obscured certain details of Sonny's story. He explains little about the complicated relationship between Sonny and his wife, conceals the identity of the woman who took him to church as a child, and leaves to the imagination the aftermath of the film's two powerful conversions. These omissions detract from the film's coherence, but the spareness of detail allows us to concentrate on Sonny's inner life and the battle he wages between good and evil. Perhaps it is not so vigorous a battle as we expect, since Sonny shows limited outward remorse for his transgressions, but his haunted countenance and fiery exchanges with God are richly suggestive of the war raging within. Duvall's brilliant characterization of this figure resonates with the confessional message that grace is a gift for sinners, not for saints, and deftly reveals this grace in Sonny's raw intimacy with Jesus. Yet Sonny is a man also urgently in need of human attachment and hungry for illicit and the question of what drives his insatiable appetites is awkwardly left unexplored.
Duvall, who now lives in rural Virginia, has received much attention for this film, and it is well known that after trying unsuccessfully for a decade to get Hollywood producers interested in the project, he used nearly $5 million of his own savings to finance it. He has described visiting Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and, while singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," experiencing profound faith in Jesus and deep emotional connection to the other worshipers. It is the power of this experience that Duvall has set out to capture in his film, yet in his eagerness to convey Southern Pentecostalism lovingly he neglects its underside, the ugly cruelty to which rural poverty and racial inequity give rise and in which religion is inevitably entwined. Sonny is allowed to be an unpretentious sinner, as is the bulldozing redneck, but nearly all others in the film are portrayed as near saints, especially the African American characters. The latter remain more apparitional than real, shadowy figures who seem to have no lives outside the church walls or the fishing hole. While Duvall, who used more "real people" than actors in the film, surely did not intend this effect, his lack of attention to the lived experiences of the Apostle's congregants perpetuates romanticized images of Black religion in disturbing and all too familiar ways. The woman sitting behind me in the theater who snickered loudly during most of the church scenes exemplifies the scorn that this depiction risks preserving.
Though the film sometimes bypasses complex reality for simpler images, it nonetheless represents a welcome change from negative stereotypes of Southern Christians, and especially revivalistic preachers. Both humor and pathos abound, but neither overwhelms the dignity of the man whose divided inner self is glimpsed opaquely yet felt intimately. Here, at last, is a Hollywood preacher whose portrayal we can believe.
Gods and Generals: An Interview with Robert Duvall
As the United States and others converge to decide if we go to war or not, we must remind ourselves that all are in danger. This would not be a man vs. machine thing. It would be man vs. nuclear, in which we would all lose. Such wasn’t the case over 100 years ago; man fought against man, and it was brother against brother. It was the Civil War and everyone felt patriotic to one side or another. Robert Duval is one finest actors working today. He’s played legendary characters from Tom Hayden of “The Godfather” to Dwight D. Eisenhower in the miniseries “Ike”. Now he takes on the role of General Robert E. Lee in “Gods and Generals”, the prequel to “Gettysburg”. In an interview with blackfilm.com at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington, DC, he spoke about the connection to the famous leader and how Hollywood views war.
WM: Did you feel you were somehow connected to Robert E. Lee?
RD: Yeah, but I find everybody does too. My mother always said that, but the best part of it in helping me with this part is my father’s people who are from Northern, Virginia. My father went to the naval academy when he was 16 years old so when I talk about coming across the Potomac to Arlington House it was like my uncles, my father, their speech patterns and everything was the same. Lee came to Northern Virginia when he was four years old and went to West Point. Without thinking about it too much it was a lot like my father, the accent, everything. I just talked like my Dad. It’s in the blood. You’re not gonna get that out of 150 books.
WM: How doe sthe military today compare to Robert E. Lee?
RD: A lot of military are like that today. Even when Eisenhower got out of the service he wanted to down grade the military because they know what war is about. I guess people fighting, get out in the trenches and get their stripes, war becomes a romantic concept. It is terrible. The Civil War was the worse war we’ve ever faced.
WM: Do you see any parallels of the Civil War to the impending war on Iraq?
RD: Yeah because a year and a half ago we were invaded, five thousand people died the first day of the war here. The only other time we’d been invaded was when Northern troops invaded the South on Southern soil. It’s a sense of being invaded. Whether we’re at a declaration of war, now or not, it was a war here a year and a half ago. It hit New York and we lost a lot of people. When someone invades your country something’s gotta be done.
WM: How do you see movies romancing war?
RD: The opening sequence of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was at real as it got in the history of movie making. I was amazed he could be that good, Spielberg! You tend to romanticize something that’s pretty brutal. The Civil War as I understand it was the most brutal war we’ve ever fought because it was family against family at times. More people died in that war than all the other wars put together in our history. So it may appear romantic when you see battle scenes but underneath it’s pretty brutal.
WM: What still motivates you?
RD: I get up, I eat my breakfast and then I take my nap before I really get up! I just like to keep working and I seem to get offers now more than ever. As long as the parts are different and there’s a challenge I like to keep working. I keep physically fit and I like to work. I like to direct the projects that I develop from the ground up but it’s hard to find those scripts. I still want to find some interesting acting projects. The whole process is nice, the make believe and try to make something come alive out of yourself. I haven’t grown jaded or disillusioned with it so I’ll keep on for a while.
WM: There are still talks of a fourth Godfather Sequel. Would you consider being in the film?
RD: I wasn’t in the third one, I didn’t want to be but obviously they’re doing it for the money. I mean why do more, the first two were terrific.
WM: Each fil you do is a job for a few months. When it's over, do you keep in touch with the other actors?
RD: It’s funny when you’re growing up as young actors, Dustin Hoffman, me, Gene Hackman in New York City and you when you start to make it, I never see those guys. When I did ‘Geronimo’ I hadn’t seen Hackman in a while but it was like every time between action and cut we’d start talking again like where we left off twenty years ago. Once in awhile I see Al Pacino and DeNiro and it’s nice. We have different worlds and different sets but I don’t see many actors. Every once in a while I call my friend Paul Gleason who was in ‘The Breakfast Club’ and we talk about sports, the Super Bowl or the next boxing match so that’s that connection. Once in a while I talk to Wilford (Brimley) and I see Jimmy Caan now and then but he’s one of those guys who changes his number every three months but doesn’t need to! ‘Godfather II’ missed him because he was so much fun. Brando still talks about the joke he told twenty five years ago. I only talked to Brando once in like twenty years. We were talking over the phone. But Jimmy’s just a great guy to work with but I never see him. I wish we did the guys more but I live in Virginia and this one lives there, Hackman lives in New Mexico I think and Dustin Hoffman has five homes all over the world. What’s strange is the heads of the companies get together and talk about putting us together in a movie but we don’t talk about it. Why don’t the actors get together and talk; it’s a funny thing.
WM: What's the spirituality in these times?
RD: Didn’t Rick Bragg, the writer from Alabama say in his book ‘All Over the Shoutin’ that if you talk about Jesus in every day conversation in New York City or the North you’re perceived as a nut, but if you do it in the South or rural America it’s totally acceptable. My lady is doing a documentary on Billy Joe Shavers, a wonderful country singer and his wife died, his only son died, his mother died, a triple bypass all in one year. I asked him how he got through it and he said, ‘Jesus Christ.’ This is not a dumb guy. He’s a very bright poetic guy. In certain parts of the country certain things are accepted more than other parts of the country. If people want to talk about God or whatever that’s their prerogative. I believe in a higher power and that’s my own belief. I don’t necessarily agree with the character that I portrayed in ‘The Apostle’ but yet I had to portray him accurately and broadly.
WM: How does Hollywood view religious people?
RD: These people are melodramatic and have broad strokes. Hollywood tends to patronize those people. I had a driver in New York tell me that when he was in the army in the South in those little back woods, back creeks, in all the hills, all these guys constantly outscored New Yorkers on the aptitude tests. So those people out there, don’t undersell ‘em.
WM: I hear the re-enactors saluted you during the shooting of the film. Can you talk about that?
RD: You can not make these kinds of movies without the re-enactors. They are the heart and soul of these movies. They live and breathe it and it’s an intense, life time hobby. These characters of Robert E. Lee are heroes to ‘em so when they see somebody approximating that and playing the part then they come to attention and salute and call you ‘sir’ so it’s nice. It helps the work situation. It was a mix of treating me as a movie star and also as the character of Lee through their faith and belief of Civil War lore.
Robert Duvall:'The Apostle'
“TOO MUCH TALK,” WAS HOW ONE studio exec rejected the script for The Apostle. So, Robert Duvall, who wrote, directed and stars in the movie about a fallen preacher who finds redemption in the pulpit of a predominantly black church, put up the $5 million for the film himself.
Now the movie that Hollywood didn’t want to make is generating the kind of slow-burning Oscar buzz—in particular for Duvall’s performance—that another labor of love, Sling Blade, did last year. With paradoxical subtlety, Duvall plays a showy man of the cloth without ever being a showboat himself. Of course, Duvall is quite capable of a revelation or two. At 67, he remains one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors, with a gift for bringing larger-than-life characters down to earth, from his Oscar-winning turn as a has-been country singer (Tender Mercies) to Oscar-nominated roles in The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and The Great Santini.
So convincing is Duvall’s Texas Holy Roller that it may come as a surprise that the actor is not from the Deep South. Although the thrice-divorced Duvall now lives on a Virginia farm with his girlfriend, Luciana Pedraza, an equestrian from Argentina, he grew up in Annapolis, Md., where his father was an admiral in the Navy. Like the characters he portrays, Duvall is full of contradictions. He can be perfectly frank about his politics (don’t get him started on “mink-coat communists”) and the people with whom he has worked (“[True Grit director] Henry Hathaway was an a—hole,” he says), yet he is also generous: It was his open-mindedness that persuaded a family of New York Gypsies to let him tell their story in his feature-film directing debut, 1983’s Angelo, My Love, and it is what helped him crawl into the skin of The Apostle’s Bible-toting sinner.
Critics are calling ‘The Apostle’ one of the best American films about religion ever made.
I tried not to make it just that, but that’s at the core of it. Like a film about a man on a farm is about the man first and the farm second.
You were raised a Christian Scientist, right?
I don’t go to church, but that would be my belief.
Have you ever had a profound religious experience?
One guy said Duvall could do a better movie if he was born again. Who knows. I was in a church in Harlem where they sang “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and I had a very quiet emotional experience. If I was of that persuasion, that would suffice for me as a conversion.
The movie is very racially mixed.
When [Luciana] came up from Argentina, we went to a lot of churches. After a while she finally said, “Bobby, you think we’ll ever go to any white churches?” In many churches in the South, there’s an integrated thing.
What about your own upbringing?
It was more segregated. My people weren’t bad people. My parents just didn’t grow up that way: My father was a segregationist, yes, but he didn’t talk about things. He used to send a small pittance to [civil-rights activist] Julian Bond. He never even told us: So that’s a contradiction. What makes people interesting are the contradictions.
You were in ‘Sling Blade,’ and Billy Bob Thornton is very moving as a complex bigot in your movie.
I knew Billy Bob had been married to a black woman and was the only white drummer in an all-black band; and then I’d seen him around redneck guys, and he’s comfortable around them. So he runs the gamut without much judging.
You’ve made a number of movies with Francis Ford Coppola. Why didn’t you do ‘The Godfather, Part III?
Why were they doing this? They were doing it for money, because Coppola’s always looking for money. He lives high on the hog. I figured if I was going to do it, come up with some real money.
Is Brando a strange guy?
When we did The Chase, he was talking and he turned to act as an extension of what [occurred before the scene]. I think that offhandedness is pretty special. I learned that from him. I said to my [then] wife, “We’re going to be like brothers. I love this guy.” Then he wouldn’t even say good morning for eight weeks. He’d just walk past you. I wasn’t used to people like that.
Which one of your characters would you most like to be?
I don’t think I want to be a preacher, but I like this character a lot. I guess Lonesome Dove’s Texas Ranger. He liked women and tried to give them their space and respect. Maybe the older I get, I get a little more intelligent about wives, or myself.
Make up the title for a country song that would sum up your life.
“I’ve Done It My Way, and If I Have to Do It Again, I’ll Do It My Way Again.” Or if it was a gospel song, “We All Have to Do What We Have to Do Between the Cradle and the Grave.”■