Let's Tango
Interview with Robert Duvall and Lucianna Pedraza of Assassination Tango

By Kit Bowen, Hollywood.com Staff

After establishing himself as one of American cinema's enduring talents, starring in classics such as The Godfather saga and Apocalypse Now and racking up six Academy Award nominations, including a win for Best Actor for the 1983 Tender Mercies, 72-year-old Robert Duvall finally decided to get behind the camera and make films that reflect his own passions. His first effort was 1997's The Apostle, which followed a troubled evangelist through the South and earned Duvall an Oscar nod.

Now, he has fallen in love with the tango. In his drama Assassination Tango, Duvall directs and stars in a film which tells the emotional story of an assassin sent to Buenos Aires on a dangerous job who becomes enamored with the art and beauty of the Argentine tango, as well as a young woman who teaches him the dance, played by Argentine beauty and Duvall's real-life love since 1996, Lucianna Pedraza, in her debut performance.

Duvall not only involves the audience in experiencing this beautiful dance form but also allows the talented actor to once again paint a subtle picture of a man on the brink of a major life change.

On my way to interview Duvall and Pedraza, I mull over how Duvall achieved his goal in making Tango--I thoroughly enjoyed being introduced to a world I didn't know very much about, and I am anxious to get an even better understanding of it.

From the moment I arrive, it's clear they are going to make my job very easy. I am immediately caught up in the energy these two vibrant people generate--about the tango, about acting and most importantly, about each other.

The Tango, defined
The first thing I want to know is what does the tango represents. Pedraza jumps in right away.

"It's a personal thing. Like anything you do in life, if you love it, you can do the tango. If you love your job, then just do the tango like you do your job."

I comment on how the dance is very dramatic. "[Tango] is dramatic but very tasteful," Pedraza replies.

"Just so long as you don't try and do it dramatically," Duvall adds.

He elaborates. "You see something that moves you, like seeing the tango for the first time for me [performed on stage], and you think, maybe I could do that. But you have to be very careful saying that because you have to go back to the beginning, to learn it from the beginning, rather than just try it. When I went back to Argentina, I realized the flashy moves on stage weren't the essence of tango. It was in the clubs. Some of the guys who come from the clubs, when they dance professionally on stage, they seem out of place. Because the two are different animals. And yet, it's all connected."

Pedraza pipes up, "Bobby never thought he'd dance tango. Thought he'd never dance tango with me."

Duvall gives her a big smile. "She told me one time I danced like a bulldozer. I was like 'Oh yeah? Watch me!' You have to practice, always."

What makes the Argentine tango different from other variations? "I have to say, Argentineans bring something different to the table when they dance the tango," Pedraza explains.

She goes on, "I admire what they come up with. The things that they do, the steps they come up with are absolutely marvelous! Even older people who can hardly walk, jump up and they do marvelous steps and combinations. I try to make up steps and they look so phony. It's a hard thing to come up with, if you really think about it. Now, there are people dancing without handsíŽ"

"Without hands?" Duvall half-jokingly quizzes.

"You know what I mean, when they do these exercises where they dance the tango without hands, to get their balance. For me, the most fascinating part of the tango is coming up with new steps. Combinations. And to lead someone. I tried to, but it's so hard."

"The woman adorns, if you give her that space," Duvall says. "Sometimes they'll make you wait. I'll start to lead and she'll say 'Wait for me. Give me my space.' And I'll say, 'Don't take all day!' In the tango, a pause is just as legitimate a step as a step.

"It's like anything--acting, whatever--making it look easy, but it's not," he adds.

So how about that acting debut?
Pedraza isn't at all fazed by the acting experience. "I like to try many different things in my life. As long as it isn't drugs and alcohol, I will try many things. Bobby gives you freedom. He is someone willing to explore new things. He's an open man."

"She's demanding, but she deserves it," Duvall says, looking at Pedraza. "And I give it to her. One time, she came in and said, 'OK, in this dance number, I want the camera to be here' and the cinematographer got a little ticked off."

"Now, Bobby, I got away with that because I'm your girlfriend," Pedraza admits.

Duvall chuckles. "Maybe, but still I told him to let her have her freedom. [Lucianna] isn't going to feel that resistance from me, if she says, I want this, this and this. She would actually walk away if she didn't get what she wanted, which takes a lot of chutzpah. And that's good! When I first started out in my career, I would have never done that. I was very timid."

"It's a big responsibility," Pedraza explains. "I've told Bobby when he's been in a bad movie that so long as you take care of your own performance, who cares what the director does? You just make sure with your part, you do what you want to do as an actor."

"I realized this was very important to me as well," Pedraza says. "I thought to myself, at the end of the day, at the end of this film, it will be my face up there. It will be my face and my responsibility, whatever I did up there. I would rather make the wrong decision for myself then have someone else make that wrong decision on my behalf, and not be even close to what I am."

It takes two to... you know
Will they both continue to tango? Pedraza exclaims, "Oh yeah! Why not?"

"The great thing is you can do the tango anywhere. We have a couple of friends who are fanatics and they came to our farm in Argentina. These people danced until 2 in the morning. Anywhere. It's great! We dance in the kitchen, pull the rug out to try something out. Such joy!"

Duvall adds, "Someone will say, 'Hey, check out this step.' Or 'Let me show you this.' We talk politics, eat food and dance the tango."

Sounds like a pretty good life.

---- www.hollywood.com, 2003-03?