Robert Duvall

On the mend after his recent horsing accident, the legendary actor catches his breath to talk about his latest venture, A Shot at Glory

by Laurel DiGangi

Falling off a horse is nothing new to Robert Duvall. ¡°I¡¯ve had crack ups before,¡± says the 71-year-old, Oscar-winning actor, who recently broke several ribs in an equestrian accident while rehearsing for upcoming western, Open Range. Duvall is currently recuperating from his injuries at his Virginia home, where he lives with his ¡°lady,¡± Luciana Pedraza, and his three dogs, Paco, Pancho and Jenky.

When asked if he¡¯d ever get back up on a horse again, he doesn¡¯t hesitate. ¡°I¡¯m gonna have to because I¡¯ll be doing a job,¡± he says. It¡¯s this kind of devotion to his craft that marks Duvall¡¯s career. A prolific actor who has never turned in a less than stellar performance, Duvall has appeared in over 80 films in his over 40-year career. He has created an amazing body of sublime, unforgettable characters for some of the most groundbreaking films in cinematic history. He was the mentally-challenged Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, the cool Mafia lawyer Tom Hagen in The Godfather, the priggish Major Frank Burns in M*A*S*H and the crazed Lt. Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, to name only a few. His 1983 performance as taciturn singing cowboy Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies garnered him an Academy Award.

In addition, Duvall has also built a solid reputation behind the camera. He produced, directed, and wrote the 1983 Angelo, My Love, a portrait of New York¡¯s hidden gypsy community. Later he received critical acclaim for his 1997 The Apostle, a film which won three Independent Spirit Awards, and for which Duvall wore many hats as actor, writer, director and executive producer. Duvall took on these same tasks for Assassination Tango, which will be released in fall of 2002. And later this year he¡¯ll also be seen playing General Robert E. Lee in Gods and Generals.

It¡¯s going to take more than falling off a horse to slow down Duvall, who is always seeking new artistic challenges. A Shot at Glory is no exception. In it Duvall plays a Scottish soccer coach, Gordon McLeod, complete with an eerily authentic Scottish brogue. Directed by Michael Corrente and written by Denis O¡¯Neill, A Shot at Glory tells the story of a small town soccer team and their passion to win the Scottish Cup. Duvall, who was also the film¡¯s producer, wanted to capture a genuine soccer experience, and to that end hired a non-actor, the Scottish soccer great Ally McCoist, to play a leading role as the team¡¯s star player and McLeod¡¯s son-in-law. Entertainment Today recently spoke to Duvall via phone about the experience of producing A Shot at Glory, working with non-professional actors, and the religion of soccer.

Entertainment Today: I really enjoyed A Shot at Glory.

Robert Duvall: It¡¯s a nice, humane film. Fresh. Not all that violence and stuff so many of these films have today.

ET: The film really captured the excitement of the game.

RD: Absolutely. We used the real people and the real fans. All 22 actors were professional players [not professional actors]. So they knew what to do at any given moment, on or off the field. That¡¯s the plus there.

ET: What inspired you to cast Ally McCoist, a non-professional actor, in such a major role?

RD: We cast McCoist just walking across the lot. He¡¯s a natural. You know over there in Scotland, soccer¡¯s like a religion. And it¡¯s much more democratic. Like if we went to the Dallas Cowboys and said, ¡°We¡¯d like to borrow Emmitt Smith to be in a football movie, it¡¯d never happen.¡±

ET: Given the fact that you knew an American audience would be fairly unfamiliar with this game, how did you approach this project as a producer?

RD: I don¡¯t know, we just hoped for the best. It didn¡¯t do that well over there [in Glasgow]. Soccer players loved it but they couldn¡¯t figure it out. So like my friend said, if you¡¯re going to do a film about the Antarctic, you don¡¯t do a world premiere in Greenland. It might do better over here, it might not. But for the fact that it doesn¡¯t have a lot of violence in it, who knows? To find a market with the soccer moms is a possibility, but the language is pretty rough for them. It¡¯s hard to predict if something will be commercial. I¡¯ve never been able to figure it out. The only time I knew I was in films that I knew were going to hit was The Godfather and when I did Lonesome Dove on television. I knew those were going to be two momentous things. Other than that I can¡¯t tell.

ET: What¡¯s the genesis of this film? The press kit says you woke up one morning with the idea of playing a Scottish football manager.

RD: It wasn¡¯t like that. It was more like a daydream. Sitting around and talking about what parts I could play. I always thought I could play this guy. Then Denis O¡¯Neill came along and he took the bait and ran with it.

ET: How did the film eventually make it to the screen?

RD: October Films gave up some money for the script, but then they didn¡¯t want to go in on it. Corrente, who did that wonderful movie Federal Hill, wanted it right away. And in three or four months [Corrente] raised 9 million bucks, which is unheard of.

ET: Your character of Gordon is loyal to his community and team, but he can¡¯t find it in his heart to forgive his daughter. What¡¯s your take on this character?

RD: The more I see families from different countries¡¦ it¡¯s an important institution, but it can be so complex and neurotic. Any given family in any country and any city. Here¡¯s a guy who¡¯s good with people but his own narrowness won¡¯t allow him to accept his daughter other than supposedly on his terms. I guess there are a lot of people like that.

ET: Had you ever in the initial stages of this project considered writing or directing it yourself?

RD: No. People had asked me to direct it but I said, no I couldn¡¯t go over there and act and do that too. To direct it, I wouldn¡¯t know how.

ET: Was there any collaboration between you and O¡¯Neill?

RD: Not so much. Just a thread of an idea that was mine initially. And he just took it and made it his.

ET: Films like The Apostle and Angelo, My Love seem to be cultural portraits¡¦

RD: I like to do that. To fictionalize, to make it entertainment, to make real time movie time, but to show the real people.

ET: Did Michael Corrente share your vision?

RD: He did. Plus Corrente had the great idea of bringing the guy who filmed the World Cup in France four years ago [to film the games]. It¡¯s like getting the top NFL guy to do that. You don¡¯t see that often in athletic films. [The teams] would play 10 minutes each side and get random footage, then they¡¯d stop, and then the director would choreograph the necessary points of the film last. It worked out great.

ET: Is there anything you wanted the audience to take home with them regarding the culture of Scotland or the culture of soccer?

RD: Whatever they want to take home. I wouldn¡¯t know what to tell them to take home. Just to try to get the authentic strain of what this culture is, and these people who have soccer as one of their great outlets.

ET: In The Apostle and Angelo, My Love you used a lot of non-professional actors? Why does this hold such a fascination for you?

RD: When do you say, ¡°Now I¡¯m an actor?¡± You come home one day and say ¡°I¡¯m an actor¡± after studying for five years? I don¡¯t know what that means. I use my lady [Luciana Pedraza] in my tango movie and she¡¯s terrific. I had to find somebody who could speak English, could dance tango and act. So somebody says, ¡°Yeah but there¡¯s improvisation.¡± I said, ¡°Look, as soon as you utter the words, take two, it¡¯s no longer improvisation. You¡¯re repeating. But if you use two cameras and try to get fresh behavior and know what you¡¯re doing without indulging, then why not work that way? ¡¦I go back to the theory that Olivier couldn¡¯t kick a football, so why not get the real people to play football? Why not get the real preachers to play preachers? And the real dancers to tango? ¡¦In my tango movie, I used real people off the streets. Real tango people. You get a non-actor to a certain level, they put the professional actor on notice. They don¡¯t have bad habits. They¡¯re fresh. And I like to do that. To go into a world and show it in a fictional way. I remember when I saw Kes years ago—that film by Kenneth Loach—I was confused. I knew it wasn¡¯t a documentary, but I knew it was fiction. I¡¯d think, wow, how did he get this behavior? That was something I¡¯d always try to think about when directing. And then, your own work as an actor you try to make it as truthful as possible.

ET: Speaking of that, your Scottish accent was phenomenal.

RD: I thought it was OK, some people didn¡¯t. But the point is, I know an Irish actor who got a bad review once. They didn¡¯t like his Irish accent. [And] he was from Ireland! So there¡¯s always somebody out there.

Entertainment Today, May 3, 2002