Robert Duvall Press Conference
at the 2003 Taormina BNL FilmFest

by Philipp Hoschka

Robert Duvall has covered a lot of ground in his acting career, including his notorious role as Wagner-addicted, surfing warrior in "Apocalypse Now". In his latest movie, "Assassination Tango", he not only played the main role, he also wrote the script, and directed the movie. Together with his partner, Luciana Pedraza, who is also in the movie, Duvall talks about leading double lives, what tango means to him, and explains how to play in a western with six broken ribs.

In your career, you have been a chameleon - did this depend on your physical possibilities or was it a choice time by time to interpret different roles ?

Robert Duvall: I always considered myself as a character actor. I always try to be as versatile to show different sides of human experience.

What are your memories of working with Gregory Peck, who died while the Taormina Festival was ongoing ? You worked with him in "To Kill a Mockingbird".

Robert Duvall: I was very touched. "To Kill a Mockingbird" was my first film. I remember Peck was very gracious and accommodating. I remember him professionally and personally very much as a "caballero", as inclusive of all people.

The character you play in "Assassination Tango" is complex. It has two parts, which have different moral standards - there is the killer on one hand, and the family father on the other. How did you handle these two sides of the same man ?

Robert Duvall: Many killers are also family men. They separate things easily or not so easily. It's not that simplistic. A person with a dark side can have a light side. My character does covert things for a living, but he also wants to have a family. There are people like this all over the world. There are always contradictions in in people's lives that are legitimate.

There seems to be a parallel between "The Apostle" and the character you play in "Assassination Tango". They are both very physical characters. They have a dry way of talking, and they are both very bold.

Robert Duvall: I think one killed people by accident, the other by design. The character in "Assassination Tango" probably learned his craft in the Korean war.

I was struck by the very genuine attitude of this men towards the little girl. I am curious about whether the girl will find out that he's a killer.

Robert Duvall: I think the mother of the child senses that. I know people in New York that do homicides but have deep feelings for their children - a killer can separate the two perceptions.

In your film, there are elements that remind us of the 70s in the way it is put together. It is more of a tango documentary.

Robert Duvall: The 70s were a great film making time in the US. I always liked Ken Loach's work. When I first saw one of his movies, I was puzzled in a good way. I knew it wasn't a documentary, but walked a fine line, and I try to do the same.

What helped me was that there are tremendous natural actors in Argentina - I just let them go, and give them certain points to cover. In the scenes where the police interrogates, I let them act and used subtitles. Overall, the scenes in New York were more scripted, and Argentina was more improvised.

I talked to a tango dancer who said that when you start dancing it becomes a way of life - you become bewitched by tango. What is your personal relationship with tango ? Are you bewitched ?

Robert Duvall: Tango is a social dance, a beautiful dance. People in Argentina don't think of it as sexual - they say "tango is sweetness". It is a social dance that you enjoy, whether you do it at home or you go out. People attach strange adjectives to it - to me it is a personal thing, an individual thing.

Francis Copola has produced this film, and you appeared in many of the films he directed. What is the development of your personal relationship with Copola ?

Robert Duvall: When they started out, I always thought that George Lucas would be the great director and Copola would be the entrepreneur. Copola worked under great pressure when doing "The Godfather". In the end, he was the success of this film. I gained a lot of respect for him during this film.

He told me I should do something with tango years ago. He was second person I showed script to - he liked it and said his company would produce it. He did not interfere too much - at the end we did a lot of editing and he had good ideas. He was very supportive of this film. I don't see him that often, since we live in different parts of the country. To me, he is like a sleeping giant, he could wake up any day. To many other people, he is like a guru.

Does film correspond to the political situation in Argentina? Are criminals there unpunished ?

Robert Duvall: That's true in every country, people get away - but there is a lot of corruption in Argentina, and we wanted to show this.

Some of the political issues in Argentina are caused directly or indirectly by Americans - is shooting your film a redemption for that ?

Luciana Pedraza: This movie is primarily about tango - the tango you see in this film is not something you see in many movies. It is a coincidence that there is a connection with killing a general that got immunity - it is not a political statement.

Robert Duvall: On the second day of preproduction, a well-known financial couple was assassinated in the middle of a night. The killer put a sign across their bodies saying "The gringo was here". It turned out that these were our production manager's parents. We were shocked when this happened. It shows that reality serves fiction and vice versa. A man could be brought in from New York and eliminate people.

What are your future projects ? We know you have one with Kevin Costner.

Robert Duvall: Well, the English do Shakespeare, the French do Moliere, the Russians do Tchekhov , and we do westerns - that's our job. Spending long time on a ranch in Montana gave me the background for this.

Costner called and said he had this project. He was shooting this western in Canada. He offered me a great part, a trail boss. Fortunately, I could do the job, since a couple of weeks before I broken six ribs on a horse. The horse had a schizo attack, and brought me off very fast. I sat there for 20 minutes to collect myself. Then, I tried not to sneeze for six weeks, and laid on the back. We gave the horse in Canada tranquilizers so it would not go wild. Overall, this is a typical Costner project - think of "Dances with the Wolves".

I have another project with Michael Caine. But I am trying to not make more than four movies a year.

How did you arrange the style for the tango scenes ?

Luciana Pedraza: When I met Bobby seven years ago, I had never danced tango. I come from northern Argentina - I rode horses there, and went to Catholic school. Bobby took me to tango dancing - I liked it a lot. It is a very personal thing, like making music, or anything else you do from inside out. If you don't have any background in classic or jazz, it is a really nice thing to learn.

The part of Manuela in the film was really small originally, but then it grew. It took me a year to get ready for the film. I took a lot of lessons, lost ten pounds, and worked really hard.

I like Bobby as a director. I saw him directing "The Apostle", and I wanted to be in an experience like that, with Bobby as a director. He lets you improvise. We improvised and rehearsed for a year. It was really nice. Most of the tango you see in the film is improvised.

Robert Duvall: An interesting thing about Luis Bacalov, who did the music for this film: Luciana said that I have to listen to this music - we certainly go the right guy.

----- www.filmscouts.com, 2003