IN STEP WITH Robert Duvall
BY JAMES BRADY
BORN: Jan 5, 1931, in San Diego, Calif.|
PERSONAL: Married to Barbara Benjamin, 1964-75; to Gail Youngs, 1982-86.
THEATER: Includes A View From the Bridge,1965; Wait Until Dark, 1966; American Buffalo, 1977.
FILMS: Include To Kill a Mockingbird, 1963(debut); The Detective, 1968; True Grit, 1969; M*A*S*H, 1970; The Godfather, 1972; The Conversation, 1974; Godfather, Part II, 1974; Network, 1976; Apocalypse Now, 1979; The Great Santini, 1979; True Confessions, 1981; Tender Mercies, 1983 (Oscar); The Handmaid's Tale, 1990.
TV: Lonesome Dove, 1989.
YOU WANT TACT, DIPLOMACY, POLITE evasion or a brisk "no comment"?
Then don't call up Robert Duvall and start asking questions. Because what you get from Duvall -- as great and versatile an actor as we have -- is the truth, unalloyed.
For example, I wanted to know why he was down South making an auto-racing movie with Tom Cruise instead of being off in Rome once again playing the consigliere, Tom Hagen, in Godfather, Part III?
"Look," he said. "You know how cheap they are. [Director Francis Ford] Coppola came to my farms in Virginia to ask me to do the film, and I fed him on Maryland crabcakes from my mother's recipe, and he called me a couple of days later, and I got the impression he was more interested in the recipe for the crabcakes than getting me to play the role. There are two or three other actors in that film being paid more than I was offered. That just isn't right."
I also brought up the subject of age, another no-no for most actors. Was he depressed about approaching 60? "I get that next year," Duvall said, "and I'm still doing things I shouldn't do. I'm conservative in my lifestyle, but in my work I take risks. I know more now, so I can do things -- some things better than when I was young."
As for that "conservative" lifestyle, one of his passions is horses -- which includes jumping fences, riding in competition... the works. Does he ever win? "Once I beat my trainer," he said. "But another time, when I was on Broadway in a play, I broke my pelvis. Out of work 11,12 weeks." Without pay? He laughed. "That's right. You don't get paid."
Duvall has four Oscar nominations and a Best Actor award for Tender Mercies. His own favorite role was as Gus in TV's Lonesome Dove. But there are so many memorable roles, going back to the tiny but crucial part of Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird through The Great Santini and the colonel in Apocalypse Now.
Now he was in Daytona Beach, Fla., making Days of Thunder with young Cruise. "Sensational, a great guy," Duvall said. "You know, he's a race-car driver in this movie, and he said, 'Get in. I'll drive you around the track.' And I said, 'Listen, I'm driving with a pro -- not with some amateur,' so one of the drivers took me around eight laps, and I got out. Green! A couple of minutes later, they tole me Cruise had just come within a fraction of the track record."
Duvall thought a moment. "I'll tell you the kind of guy Tom Cruise is. At Christmas, I woke up to find a $25,000 jumping horse in my driveway. A present from Cruise."
I asked what kind of day Duvall was having in Daytona. "The sun's out," he said, "which is good, because it's about all this place has going for it. Sun and a track and an ocean full of frozen fish."
Thanks to Jamaica for sending this article.