Robert Duvall "Open"s Up

The western Open Range

For one of the screen¡¯s tough guys, Robert Duvall is a sweetheart. When I met him for the interview for Open Range, he started by recommending a Greek restaurant in Malibu. He was taking some of his friends there later. During the interview, when he got a phone call, he simply picked up the phone and dropped it back on the receiver.

That was cool.

Duvall has two big movies coming up. First, the western Open Range cats Duvall as Boss, the older mentor to Charley (Kevin Costner). A man who understands the violent west, Boss joins Charley in a climactic gunfight to avenge their murdered friend. But then you¡¯ll see a lighter side of Duvall in Secondhand Lions, in which he plays one of two eccentric uncles who tell tall tales to their nephew (Haley Joel Osment). This is still after Assassination Tango and Gods and Generals earlier this year.

Despite his busy schedule, Duvall doesn¡¯t show a drop of fatigue. As vital as ever, he can ride horses, shoot guns, and dance. At 72, let¡¯s hope Duvall still has several more years of vital film work ahead of him.

Here¡¯s another western that talks about violence. Is this sort of self-analysis a modern trend? I wasn¡¯t aware of that. I think there¡¯s plenty of violence and excess violence in films. I think sometimes there is too much. I haven¡¯t seen this yet, so we¡¯ll see, but I think, I don't know how you feel, but violence is exploited I think in films. There is pretty much of a bloodbath in Unforgiven as I remember. More than this?

It¡¯s different, because they¡¯re criticizing violence. This portrays it as just reality. Oh, you thought Unforgiven actually made that statement being critical of violence. I don¡¯t remember that, but maybe so. That¡¯s an interesting thing. I don't know. I think you¡¯ve just got to tell it like it is. Hopefully, maybe that¡¯s what Kevin tried to do in this. Just tell it like it is, or like it was.

Was it a big deal to decide who got top billing? No, it wasn¡¯t a big thing at all. He gave me that. That billing in the poster. That¡¯s pretty nice of him. Usually, a guy like him gets the spot on the left. He gave me the thing on the left.

No agents got involved? No, he volunteered it. I¡¯m not going to argue for something like that. He¡¯s entitled, but if he wants to give me something extra like that, that¡¯s great.

Is it easier or harder to ride a horse than it used to be? Well, if I get the right horse, it will be okay. I just don¡¯t ride that much anymore. I hadn¡¯t ridden in a while up to that point. I wouldn¡¯t mind starting to ride some more if I had a really good horse to just work a little bit with every day, just to keep my seat up in case another Western or something does come along. I won¡¯t be caught short. Like this one, I hadn¡¯t ridden much when this one came upon me.

How serious was your fall? Well, I broke six ribs. It was pretty serious for me. Serious enough to go to the hospital to see what was wrong. I never go to the hospital.

Never? Hardly ever. Horse related accidents I¡¯ve been to the hospital before.

There¡¯s been more than one? I had three crack-ups in my life. First my pelvis on a horse when I was in a Broadway play. I wanted to get out of the Broadway play, but not that way. And then I had the same accident Christopher Reeve had. I jumped on a horse and flipped over to my head, but I partially broke it when my fist hit the ground. When I got up, I didn¡¯t get back on the horse. I just walked out. I was pretty sore for a while. I just took it easy. I rode two days later. Maybe I shouldn¡¯t have.

I come from Severna Park, Maryland and I have to ask you about the Seven school. I went there for a few years in high school. I took a train up everyday.

Were you a prankster? Somewhat.

There¡¯s a rumor about a cherry bomb? Could be. It¡¯s been so long. It¡¯s pretty up there. Better crab cakes than Louisiana. Over on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at St. Michaels and Oxford ? great crab cakes.

Now, in Secondhand Lions, did you work with the young actor playing you in the flashbacks? Not so much. He hung around a little bit. We met some, but he¡¯d just hang around. You saw it? I didn¡¯t see it yet. It¡¯s not too cute? It¡¯s okay?

Was it different for you to do a kids movie? No, I try to do it regular, but I hope it¡¯s not too cute.

You still have an edge, but did you have to tone it down? No, we didn¡¯t tone anything down. We tried to make it as real as possible. Michael¡¯s great to work with.

How did you like being funny? Was I funny? I didn¡¯t try to be funny. If I was funny, it just happened maybe.

Are you a smart Alec in real life? Not so much. Around my own friends, I like to mess around.

You weren¡¯t sure that would come out as a kids movie? Well, it kind of was. I haven¡¯t seen it yet, so once again I haven¡¯t seen that so I have to see. It¡¯s nice because it¡¯s not so violent and all that stuff, and it¡¯s got a sense of humor to it. It was great working with Michael [Caine] and the kid. I enjoyed it.

You still work so much. Any thoughts of slowing down? Well, slow down for a couple of months. I need a vacation. No, I¡¯m fortunate in that I keep getting some pretty nice offers. Right now I¡¯m not sure what they are, but there are some offers still coming in. It¡¯s nice.

But four movies this year? Yeah, in a year and a half, I did four. I enjoyed it but when I did Open Range, the last two to three weeks, at night I would study the lines for Secondhand Lions and in the morning wake up and study them a little bit. Because I had a lot in there and I¡¯m not really quick with lines, so I wanted to make sure that I knew them. So, I was doing one thing and studying another, which I don¡¯t mind. I don¡¯t find that it interferes. You get excited about one thing and that feeds that thing, and vice versa.

You haven¡¯t found any tricks to learn lines? I used to learn them better in Summerstock.

Why was it easier then? Younger. You¡¯re quicker. But some people are slower or quicker with lines than other people. Some people have a photographic memory. I wish I had a photographic memory. Just for curiosity I would like one.

Are there any lines from your old movies you still remember? No, I don¡¯t remember too many. I remember a few, but for The Apostle, I remembered the lines for quite a few weeks after.

Does it help when you wrote it yourself? Yeah, but then I have to really learn them. I realize I have to sit down the next week and learn them because I don¡¯t really know them. Even though I wrote them, I¡¯ve got to learn them for really down pat.

Do you still tango a lot? Yeah, pretty much. I practice the walk myself every day. It¡¯s like the scales on a piano. The beginning and the end of the tango is the walk. And I can see a lot of guys, they¡¯re tango¡¯s okay but they¡¯re walks¡¦ the walk is important. So then I practice with Luciana once a week, twice a week maybe and she dances beautifully.

Is there a club you like? Oh, there¡¯re clubs all over. All over America, in different parts of the world. Germany¡¯s big. They dance Tango in Germany. We do our own parties. We gave a party like two weeks ago for my sister-in-law in my barn in Virginia. It¡¯s a hobby. It¡¯s a nice hobby. Dancing tango¡¯s a nice hobby.

What would you like to be remembered for? Good person and a good actor, decent human being and a good actor.

Those are equal? Well, yeah, I guess. But it¡¯s good to be a good person. Whatever I did in my work and as a person benefited people.

~ Fred Topel