FEATURE-Multitalented Robert Duvall shoots for diversity
Fri May 3, 7:30 PM ET

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor, director, screenwriter, producer, singer, tango dancer, Robert Duvall has done it all. But Robert Duvall, playing a Scottish soccer manager?

It's as much an unconventional career as unconventional casting for a man whose 40 years in the movie business have seen him play everything from a Mafia lawyer and a Pentecostal evangelist to Joseph Stalin and a washed-up country singer.

Mixing up roles, alternating between leads and character parts, is the way Duvall, 72, keeps himself fresh and his passion intact for the movies he really wants to make, and write, and direct, and finance.

"Somebody once said to me, you want to play the things that are in your dreams," said Duvall, explaining how he woke up one morning about 10 years ago with the idea of playing a Scottish soccer manager.

The result -- "A Shot At Glory" -- took six years to make its way from Duvall's imagination to the screen and another three to be released in the United States, where soccer is still a Cinderella sport.

Produced by Duvall's own Butchers Run Films, the movie charts the David versus Goliath story of a lowly Scottish soccer club on an unlikely journey to the Scottish Cup final.

Duvall plays the gruff, stubborn manager Gordon McLeod, wielding an accent that he said took 10 months to master.

KEEPING IT REAL

One of Duvall's proudest achievements is using nonprofessional actors to play the soccer players, including beloved Scottish Rangers striker Ally McCoist in his film debut as a washed-up soccer star.

"Ally McCoist walked across the lobby and we said, 'We'll put him in the movie,' without a screen test. We knew that was it."

"I had talked with guys like Russell Crowe, who was busy anyway. But as good an actor as those guys might be, they can't do what these guys can do on or off the field -- that's the beauty of it," Duvall said.

The quest to make it real and keep it fresh also dominated Duvall's next personal project -- the movie "Assassination Tango," which he wrote, directed, starred in, and danced in.

Duvall found a showcase for his musical talents in "Tender Mercies," the 1983 movie in which he wrote and performed his own songs and which finally brought him a best actor Oscar after previous nominations for "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now."

Duvall dismisses his singing voice, recalling an album he made in the 1980s with the help of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, which was never released.

But the tango long has been a consuming passion, marked by a chairmanship of the U.S. Tango Academy, numerous visits to Argentina, and stunning displays at the White House during state dinners for South American visitors.

"The tango is the most misunderstood dance in the world. The extreme is the rose in the teeth, sexual and dramatic. But there are different manifestations, and it has always been caricatured and overdone for me," said Duvall.

"So I have gone to the real source and drawn my own story from that. There is enough tango to make it work, but none of that overly dramatic stuff," he said.

SEDUCED BY THE TANGO

Duvall plays a hit man who is sent to Argentina on a job but finding himself delayed there, becomes seduced by tango dancing. The movie is due out in the autumn and also features nonprofessional actors, including Duvall's Argentine girlfriend Luciana Pedraza.

"Once you get those non-actors to a certain point they can put the professional actor on notice. ... At what point do you come home and say, 'Now I am an actor' -- because you took some classes? Who's to say?"

"People get this misconception about the 'professional actor' who comes to work, punches the clock, nine to five, doesn't cause problems. And yet a lot of the times, he brings nothing to the table fresh," said Duvall.

Despite chiseled looks that biographer Leonard Maltin once said would not look out of place on Mount Rushmore, Duvall has never suffered from typecasting.

His other recent roles include a car mechanic in "Gone in Sixty Seconds" and a police negotiator in "John Q." He has just completed a role as Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee, of whom Duvall is a direct descendant.

"I like to work. I like working. I'm going off to do a Western with Kevin Costner next. Each movie is diverse from the other. You always look to find fresh things to do," he said.

Reuters/Variety