Talking With . . . Robert Duvall

Ever since Robert Duvall walked into a small Pentecostal church in Hughes, Ark., 35 years ago, he has been obsessed with the fervid believers he witnessed there. "I'd never seen this on film," says Duvall, 67. The Apostle is the triumph of his vision: The veteran actor wrote, directed, starred in and paid for the $5 million film about a Texas minister who sins as passionately as he preaches. After no studio wanted to make it, "my CPA greenlit the film," Duvall jokes. His performance just earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor; if he wins, his Oscar will have company on the mantel: He took home the award in 1983 for Tender Mercies.

Duvall, who lives on a 360-acre Virginia farm with girlfriend Luciana Pedraza, 26, says, "I don't go to church; I have my own thing." But he acknowledges parallels between himself and the preacher: "I have a temper like him." At first Duvall, who also directed Angelo, My Love (1983), feared acting and directing would be overload. But after Francis Ford Coppola encouraged him, he went ahead, casting Farrah Fawcett as his onscreen wife and Billy Bob Thornton in a small but key role.

Duvall says he had no trouble directing real churchgoers in the film: "I try to turn it around and let it come from the people." The seven-week shoot near Lafayette, La., and in Texas went so well that he and Pedraza even had time to go dancing at night. Duvall, who has two grown daughters, met Pedraza, an events planner, on location in Argentina in 1995--after splitting from his third wife and vowing never to marry again. The subject of his next production? Another obsession: the tango. "I've fixed up a dance floor, so we practice," he says.

People, February 23, 1998