Robert Duvall's Triple Play

Third interview of the year

We¡¯ve seen a lot of Robert Duvall this year. I first interviewed him for Assassination Tango, then for Open Range and now he¡¯s back with Secondhand Lions. Audiences also saw him in Gods and Generals, even though I did no interview for that.

After playing hitmen, cowboys and generals, Lions is a change of pace for Duvall. This time he¡¯s just a harmless old uncle.

Well, not really harmless. He gets into his fair share of fist fights and shootouts, even though some of his targets are defenseless salesmen. It seems Duvall is as vital as ever, and now he¡¯s got a family friendly film so a new generation can appreciate him.

What does the title mean to you? I guess we¡¯re Secondhand Lions. The guys maybe. Secondhand means like second string, I think, or a little bit worn out, little bit over the hill, I think.

Still a lion, though? Yeah, and dangerous.

Are you dangerous? No.

Could you relate to this guy? Yeah, I mean, you have a little bit of feeling for everyone you play.

Did you relate to Michael Caine? Well, I think we have the same approach to acting and everything. I always call him the English Jimmy Caan. Good storytellers but fun guys to be with. That helps on the set. When they say action, you try to do it the same way.

Did it seem weird to cast you as brothers? A little bit, but it¡¯s Hollywood. You¡¯ll try anything. He¡¯s a game guy, he likes to work and he¡¯ll go anywhere to work. I always say, ¡°Who¡¯s worked more, you or Gene Hackman?¡± I think they¡¯ve all worked a little bit more than me. It is a strange combination, I guess.

What did you think of his Texas accent? I haven¡¯t seen the movie yet, so I don't know. He had a guy to help him, a dialect coach. I thought these guys had been around the world a lot so by coming back to Texas, their accent could be kind of neutral. Because they traveled so much from youth on that you didn¡¯t have to go for a specific accent. So that¡¯s why I didn¡¯t go for a specific east Texas like I did in Tender Mercies or whatever.

Do solicitors approach you in real life? I don¡¯t have many people showing up at my door. I¡¯ll tell you, one guy who did show up at my door, knocked on my door, he was from Texas. He said, ¡°I cooked you barbecue on a road in east Texas once.¡± I said, ¡°Yeah, how did you get my number?¡± He knew somebody, but very few people come out. And when they do, I get a little suspicious because they don¡¯t come. I live way up on a hill, way, way back in the country there, so no kids go on Halloween for trick or treating.

What do you see when you look at your early work? I guess I had more hair or whatever. I always thought of myself as a later bloomer, so I like some of my work more later than earlier.

What work do you like? Lonesome Dove is my favorite.

Can you see your improvement over the years? Well, I see it once. Some I haven¡¯t seen but yeah, you try to see if I missed here or there.

What did you think of Haley Joel? I only saw him on a stool once in a movie. Was it the Spielberg movie? He was very good in that, what I saw. As good in that as this, so maybe he¡¯s better now that that looked as good as this.

How did you choreograph your fight scene with the young punks? We had a guy, a stunt coordinator who coordinated and it was good, so it was fun. I wanted to do it. So we did it by the numbers, upped the tempo of it until it was right so it would be safe, nobody would get hurt, including me, especially me, and it was nice. It was a fun thing. It was towards the end of the shoot.

Do you live in LA? I live in Virginia. It¡¯s a pretty state.

When did you move? I had an apartment in New York that used to belong to Caruso with a big ceiling. Then I got another farm and I didn¡¯t want to have two places, so I sold it.

Why Virginia? Well, my dad had been from there.

Virginia¡¯s a beautiful state. My brother was living over there. And then since there, we bought a place in northern Argentina because of the Andes.

Have you been there lately? Well, Christmas, we¡¯re going to go again soon.

Do you like LA? I like LA. I like coming out here. I moved here before I moved there.

Are you following the election? It¡¯s interesting.

What do you think of Arnold? Why not? He can¡¯t be much worse than what they¡¯ve got. He¡¯s got that wife whispering in his ear telling him what to do I suppose.

What do you do during your time off? We were in Virginia in July, just hanging out. We¡¯re going to Argentina, Assassination Tango is opening there, and we¡¯ll do a little publicity and then come back. Hang out and see what¡¯s next.

Is there anything on the horizon? Not really. I met with this Brazilian director the other day. I don't know if that¡¯ll work out. Central Station. I don't know, we just talked. He¡¯s going to come to see the Western. Bright guy, very engaging.

It seems like nothing phases you. Does anything? A lot of things. She [the studio publicist] called me 15 minutes too early today. It wasn¡¯t her fault though. It¡¯s New Line¡¯s fault, not her fault. It¡¯s no big thing but you make big things out of little things sometimes.

~ Fred Topel