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Journalism of Courage

At 80,Robert Duvall still isn’t ready to quit

Legendary actor Robert Duvall talks about his career highlights and his latest film,Seven Days in Utopia.


For decades Robert Duvall hasn’t wanted to talk about the past. Ask him about the classic films he’s starred in,ranging from To Kill a Mockingbird (1962),True Grit (1969),M.A.S.H. (1970) and Apocalypse Now (1979) to Tender Mercies (1983),The Natural (1984) and he’s turned the conversation to his current film or upcoming projects.

Duvall turned 80 in January,and perhaps that’s why he’s more nostalgic. He’s willing to talk about those old films,even the most memorable of them all: The Godfather and its sequel,in which he played Corleone family consigliere Tom Hagen. “The first thing that pops into my head when you even say the words The Godfather is Jimmy Caan’s face,” Duvall says. “He’s one of the few friends I’ve kept in touch with since the film. But I can’t tell any stories.” How about Marlon Brando,who won an Oscar playing Don Vito Corleone? Duvall laughs. “Wherever Brando is these days,” he says,“he’s probably still trying to remember a joke Jimmy told him 30 years ago on the Godfather set. “I know people who say,“Bobby,I’ve seen Godfather about 900 times,’’’ the actor says. “My answer is,‘Even I watch it late at night.’’’

He hopes the same fate lies ahead for his latest film,Seven Days in Utopia. It’s about a young pro golfer (Lucas Black) who finds himself stranded in the tiny town of Texas,where he’s welcomed by an eccentric old rancher (Duvall). “It’s about a young man who needs a few life lessons,” Duvall says. “I have the age and the wisdom to teach him that you must centre yourself and find out what’s really important in life in order to succeed.”

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Duvall has spent much of his career making movies about the South,especially ones set in Texas. “That’s no accident. My father’s people are from Virginia and they were pro-Union in the Civil War,” he says. “I consider Texas as Southern mixed with Western,which takes me back to one of my favorite projects the TV series,Lonesome Dove. “Of course my wife,who is from Argentina,has never seen Lonesome Dove”. That would be his fourth wife,Luciana Pedraza,the 39-year-old actress who co-starred with Duvall in Assassination Tango (2002). The son of am admiral,Duvall majored in drama at Principia College in Illinois. He moved to New York,where he studied with prestigious acting teacher Sanford Meisner and roomed with a classmate,another aspiring actor named Dustin Hoffman. A close friend was Gene Hackman. “Those were amazing days,” Duvall says. “We had it all out in front of us,and each of us had a real love of this work.”

Some actors prefer not to identify favourite films,but Duvall doesn’t make any bones about it. “I guess,in the last part of the 20th century,I was in the two biggest films ever,” he says. “The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. They are two of the best-directed films and the greatest movies of all time.’’ He won an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance as a down-on-his-luck country singer in Tender Mercies and has been nominated five other times. “Oscar is a phenomenon it’s hard to put your finger on,I just think,Whatever happens,happens.” he says.

His filmography isn’t over. He’ll play a Russian general in the upcoming Hemingway & Gellhorn,about the romance between Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman),which inspired Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. He’ll also be seen in Billy Bob Thornton’s Jayne Mansfield’s Car. One film he isn’t likely to make is the long-rumoured The Godfather: Part IV. Duvall sat out The Godfather: Part III (1990),reportedly due to a fight over money,and doesn’t see the point to a fourth entry in the series. “Frankly,I don’t know why they would do another one.’’ As for retirement,he says he isn’t thinking about it. “I don’t want to retire yet,he says.”

First published on: 28-08-2011 at 00:56 IST
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