Robert Duvall - Interview Tango

The making of Assassination Tango

What do assassination and dancing have in common? Well, I never really thought about it until I saw Assassination Tango, Robert Duvall's film about a hit man who learns about the exotic dance while on a mission in Argentina. John J. goes to Argentina to assassinate a general who got away with crimes in the '70s. While waiting for the target to arrive, John J. becomes immersed in the world of Argentine tango, which he discovers to be more authentic than American tango. Duvall wrote, directed and starred in the film.

Duvall met in the bar of The Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills to discuss the film. The setting was intimate and Duvall spoke in a soft tone so that only I could hear him. The film opens in limited release March 28, and will expand throughout April.

Why was assassination a good vehicle for exploring tango? Somebody pointed out an assassin, hit man in a restaurant in New York and I remembered that the underworld is always pinned on the tango and social dance. Whether that's true or not, the myth is there. I just wanted to connect the two cities through social dancing, through the underworld. I wanted to get a guy, I made him an assassin because I found out that people like that have been called to Argentina to do things. I wanted to go to Argentina for a certain reasons, because then he'd be exposed to the tango. How do I get him there? I overlooked the most obvious reason, as somebody pointed out, to knock off one of those generals who got immunity during the '70s.

Does a hit man do his own dance? Figuratively? Maybe. In a way, it is, kind of, but it's a figurative dance, not a literal dance. He's always on the move.

Did you research hit man techniques and methods? Not so much. I just went on my instinct from stories from mercenary friends of mine. I had a guy on the set who was a personal trainer who had been a mercenary, so I would chat with him about certain authentic points. How would I shoot a guy? He would always use a .222 with a scope. He would never get close to a guy unless he had to. And how to do certain things, so he helped me with that.

Why does he talk with the victim? Just like a compulsive thing. Just to mess with him.

What is your process when you sit down to write? Well, I try to sit down and go for an outline of scenes and then I try to proceed as an extension of myself as an actor. Write and improvise, talk, throw down dialogue and just do it and write it out longhand, which maybe slows me down. Almost like the point of view of an actor.

As a director, have you picked up things from those you've worked with? I try to find my own way of working.

What is that style? Turn it around and let the whole thing come from itself. Free the actors as much as possible so it comes from them. I wouldn't understand their space the way they do.

What is the most difficult tango step to do? Oh, there's a lot that I can't do. If I was a younger man, I could. Some of the gancho hooks. I don't do them, it's not my style.

When did you realize American tango was not authentic? Well, it's not authentic to them. It's authentic to here, or now that it's being taken over here by the Argentine tango, then they still have the international tango which is still unto itself. But the Argentine tango is taking over a lot of places because people really respond to it and like it.

In your career, is there anything you haven't done yet? Well, there might be. I have to see what's around the corner. You never know what's around the corner. Sometimes what comes around the corner is a surprise, can be better than what you try to envision and plan. Kevin Costner called my agent and said, "There's something I've got that's great, but I can't tell you now." So, that was it. Call back, call back, so I knew it had to be a western. It's a great, great project. We did it in 13 weeks. That was a surprise, so maybe there's another surprise around the corner. Not a blockbuster film, but a pretty big film. It's not just a little independent. It could be big because Disney likes it a lot so they want to get behind it.

As two actor-directors, what did you have in common with Costner? I think the love of the genre, the western. It's out genre. The English do Shakespeare, the French do Moliere, Westerns are our thing, unique to us. I think we shared that.

Were you injured on that film? Before. A month and a half, six weeks. If it happened a month later, I couldn't have done the movie. As it was, I had to take that strict insurance test. It ended up okay.

When do a big action film like The Sixth Day or Gone in 60 Seconds, is that a different kind of acting? It should be the same. I usually get a supporting part and that's a different responsibility, but you try to go a good job. There, you're constantly handing in rewrites. Sometimes you're stuck on one word all day long. I'd rather just improvise, let's find it ourselves. Typewriter in there, pages under the door. It becomes such a process, but you try to do as good as you can. Even though it's a different kind of movie, it's still [a movie]. It's literally hours between takes sometimes. They'll go, rewrite and talk. We'd be in the trailer but it was such a great group of guys, we had a lot of laughs. Vinnie Jones and Jimmy Caan's son, Scott Caan, just a good bunch of guys. So, we really had a lot of fun to kill that time.

Are you thinking about your next directing project? Kind of. I've got no ideas. I don't know where to go next. It took me a few years to do those. I would like to do more, but it takes a while.