The Gospel According To Robert Duvall

By Robert Hofler

HOLLYWOOD (Reuters) - Robert Duvall gives hope to late-bloomers everywhere. At age 57, he says, "My career is better than it ever was. I have to slow down so I can do some of my own projects rather than just be a hired hand."

What makes Duvall's career better than ever is his just-released "The Apostle," which establishes him as a certified triple-threat: actor-director-writer.

It helps, too, that "The Apostle" is a critical hit and has earned Duvall a Golden Globe nomination, as well as a few nominations in various categories at the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards.

Although the Academy Award nominations won't be announced until mid-February, the actor has the inside track to winning a second Oscar for best actor. (He won back in 1983 for "Tender Mercies.")

Much has been made recently of Duvall's screen debut as Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird," especially now that the classic film is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

From there, he segued to a starring role as the psycho killer in the Broadway premiere of "Wait Until Dark" with Lee Remick (later turned into the Audrey Hepburn vehicle for the screen).

Nothing much happened for Duvall's movie career, though, until the 1970s with the first two "Godfather" films, in which he played the Corleone family's faithful consigliere. Was he simply underappreciated as an actor throughout the 1960s? Duvall says not.

"Maybe I didn't have a lot to offer back then. I hadn't lived much."

His career has been a long, slow burn ever since, but Duvall says he has no regrets about not bcoming an overnight star in his youth.

"Maybe it's better that it didn't happen to me. You do lead after lead. It's like you're doing a TV series on a motion-picture level. Then people start to say it's the same old thing."

Duvall, as he is prone to do, gives an example:

"Sandra Bullock does one lead after another. Maybe some people don't know that she can do some really good work. It's OK what she does, but she did really good work in 'Wrestling Ernest Hemingway.' But now she's doing leads, and they're just average movies. Someone may have talent, but you don't necessarily see it because they're just grinding out leads, as opposed to a nice juicy supporting part."

Duvall has this way of saying precisely what he thinks. About that Demi Moore megadud "The Scarlett Letter," in which he co-starred, he says: "It was a maligned film. I don't think it was as bad as people said it was. (Director) Roland Joffe sets himself up as an arrogant guy, so people go after him. All the critics said, 'Why ruin an American classic?' The point is, how many people have read 'The Scarlett Letter'?"

On being directed by uber-director Stanley Kubrick: "I wouldn't work with Kubrick. I really don't like the performances in his movies. I know he's supposed to be a great director. I think you're an actor's enemy when you approach it that way. Sixty takes. What is that about? It shows he doesn't know anything about directing. With a guy like Kubrick directing me, there would be a civil war."

On why he turned down "Godfather III": "They were doing it for money, so let's bring something to the table. Then my agent talks to some arrogant lawyer who represents (director Francis Ford) Coppola, some idiot who's trying to tell me how much I'm worth.

"And all I'm saying is give me half as much as you're paying Al Pacino. Don't give him three times as much as you're paying me, that is insulting. I'll live with double. They wouldn't do it. So forget about it. Everybody was doing it for money anyway. Why else wait 15 years to do a third one? You didn't need to do a third one, it was just money."

Fortunately for the movies, Duvall acts as well as he talks.

Variety, January 14, 1998