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Film News

Nearing 80, Robert Duvall hits awards-season trail

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Robert Duvall has plenty on his plate in the new year.

Actor Robert Duvall arrives to be honored at the 20th anniversary Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The actor turns 80 on January 5 as his new comedy “Get Low” vies for awards-season attention. Duvall received Critics’ Choice and Screen Actors Guild award nominations for his role as an old woodsman who wants a “living funeral.”

He recently chatted about his life and times with The Hollywood Reporter.

DO YOU REMEMBER THE SPECIFIC MOMENT WHEN YOU DECIDED TO BE AN ACTOR?

Robert Duvall: I come from a military background, and, actually, my parents kind of pushed me into acting, which is the reverse of what it’s supposed to be. I tried it on an academic level in a small college in Illinois, and it kind of worked out. Then I went in the Army anyway, and when I got out, I went to New York.

DID YOU LIKE THE ARMY?

Duvall: The only thing I liked about the Army was the marching.

DO YOU STILL LIKE ACTING?

Duvall: Yeah, I do. It’s like kids playing house. (Marlon) Brando never used to like the profession. He was a guy we all looked up to, but I think it’s a wonderful profession as long as people can benefit from what we do. “I saw you in the ‘The Great Santini.’ It helped me with my father and the relationship.” It makes you feel good.

HOW DO YOU WORK WHEN YOU DIRECT?

Duvall: I try to turn the processes around and let it come from the actors completely. Let them dictate what’s to be done ... The great Stanley Kubrick -- who was known for shooting up to 100 takes of a scene -- was an actor’s enemy. He was an actor’s enemy, and I can point to movies that he’s done with the worst performances I have ever seen in movies. “The Shining.” “A Clockwork Orange.” Terrible performances. Maybe they were great movies, but they are terrible performances.

WHAT ABOUT (FRANCIS FORD) COPPOLA? HOW MANY TAKES DID HE DO ON “THE GODFATHER”?

Duvall: He was trying to get us to be serious. Working with Jimmy Caan, there were a lot of jokes. He’s the greatest guy in the world to work with.

HAVE YOU EVER WALKED OFF A SET?

Duvall: Yeah, I was doing a series one time and played Eisenhower (1979’s “Ike: The War Years”), and I quit. Then I went back.

IS THERE ONE MOMENT YOU LOOK BACK ON AND THINK, “YOU KNOW WHAT, I’M ASTONISHINGLY PROUD OF THAT”?

Duvall: The two most successful things I did were “American Buffalo” on Broadway and then the miniseries “Lonesome Dove.” I was fortunate enough to be in the two top things in America in the last part of the 20th century: “Godfather” I and II and “Lonesome Dove.” “Godfather” was better directed. The overall arc of “Lonesome Dove” carried it because it was a great book. When we hung Jake Spoon (in “Lonesome”), I had a good moment. Actors -- when we talk about actors, we say, “He had a good moment.” When we talk about directors, it’s “Does he leave you alone?” (laughs)

I recently looked at a thing I did way back on television. I played Josef Stalin (in 1992’s “Stalin”), and I hadn’t seen it in 20 years, but the closing scene with my daughter (played by Joanna Roth) is about as good as I can do. Nikita Mikhalkov’s father, who was Stalin’s personal poet and wrote the national anthem, said we did a good job. That’s the best review I’ve ever gotten.

IS THERE ANY ONE REGRET YOU HAVE? DO YOU REGRET TURNING DOWN “THE GODFATHER: PART III”?

Duvall: No, because it wasn’t as good as the other two. (Coppola) came to my house in Virginia. He always wanted my mother’s Maryland crab cake recipe. So I wrote it down for him and we talked about “Godfather III.” Then he left and forgot the recipe. He called me more concerned about the recipe than whether I would do “Godfather III!”

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