Tribute's Bonnie Laufer talks to Robert Duvall about his new labor of love, Assassination Tango.

B.L. After being in about 100 movies I have to say that you still make your roles look effortless! Do you have a secret that you want to share on how you manage to do this?
R.D. Maybe age, maybe I’m mellowing. I’m always trying to improve myself and you know when you love something so much, even though it’s hard work I find that there is a relaxing process that goes on with that too.

B.L. Assassination Tango is clearly a labor of love for you. You wrote it, directed it and star in it. How difficult was it for you to get it off the ground?
R.D. It’s hard to get things going. When I did The Apostle it took years; everybody turned it down in New York and L.A. because I think that they were looking for an angle and not representing the people the way that they should be represented. So I had to finance it myself. With Assassination Tango I didn’t initially show very many people. The second person I showed it to was Francis Ford Coppola, and he liked it so he came on board to produce it.

B.L. That’s not too shabby.
R.D. No, not at all! You have more people to answer to but that can be good too. The editing process was a little longer on this but it was okay. We had to try different things but I think it worked out for the better.

B.L. You have always had a love for the tango and Cuban music so I was wondering why it has taken you such a long time to make a movie about it?
R.D. That’s what Coppola said way back to me, after Godfather II. The first time I saw Tango Argentina it was very ironic because he was in the audience. It’s kind of full circle because he has always liked the tango and the music so it worked out.

B.L. What is it about the tango that impassions you so?
R.D. It’s such a nice hobby and so many people do it. There are people who know more about it than I do but I have my own approach that is very personal. When you go to Argentina and you just watch the old guys walk, just the beginning and the end of the tango is the walk, and you just watch that and you learn. It’s a nice hobby and good exercise, and do it with somebody that you care for and you should be able to dance with a lot of people.

B.L. But as we see in the film your dancing with Luciana is very special.
R.D.I like dancing with Luciana (Pedraza, his girlfriend and co-star in the film) we got out a lot and we have parties. We have a barn in Virginia that we fixed up with a dance floor, it’s beautiful. So we have parties there and put salsa music on. She surprised me once and flew Pablo Veron in who is a great Argentinian dancer. When she first started I helped her, but then she eclipsed me in a way. I sent her in the beginning to Pablo to help her learn and she did great.

B.L. So did you, though.
R.D. I dance, I can move on a good night! Sometimes I feel self-conscious because I am an actor, and then other nights it goes better, and then some nights I don’t go out at all. It depends; we practice at home so I just do it in my time and my space without putting too much pressure on me. It’s a very critical world, that tango world. They are just dog eat dog and criticize each other. Oh it’s amazing, they are worse than actors!

B.L. Worse than actors? I find that hard to believe!
R.D. Oh yeah, trust me they are worse than actors. This one guy down there one night took his shoe and sock off and said, "Look at my foot." It was perfectly formed, it was too wild. One woman who I met down there told me she had 28 abortions. These people are from another world.

B.L. Where did the inspiration for this film come from?
R.D. It just came out of something. I once saw a guy in a club who was pointing out to me that he was an assassin. He seemed like a hairdresser; he had energy the opposite the way you’d think they’d be. I just sat down one day, I had a lot of problems in my personal life and in a month I wrote this thing. I kept it in a drawer for a long time. I wanted to connect certain ideas to Buenos Aires and the underworld.

B.L. Here you are at a point in your career where you are starring, directing, producing and writing. How can it get any better for you?
R.D. I would like to direct more but way back when I did my first documentary, John Cassevettes liked me a lot so he sent me a script to direct. I like to do projects that I understand, if I am going to take the time to do them. So, I want to direct some more films, but I don’t know what they are because I really need to find a subject that truly interests me. I don’t want to do a big Hollywood picture; I don’t know if I could do that, answering to all those guys. I have my own projects. There are untold stories from cultures that you’ve got to go in and let it come from them. It’s their space, not mine.

B.L. You recently shot a movie in Alberta, Canada with Kevin Costner, how was that?
R.D. It was good. It’s a big Western and I like Westerns. I busted six ribs last May and had I busted them a month later I wouldn’t have been able to be in the movie. But I did heal enough to get out there and back on a horse. We were there for about 13 weeks. I loved Calgary; it was wonderful up there. It’s like Texas without the accent. We went to watch some great jumping horse riders and at night we went to the Calgary Stampede, which is the biggest rodeo in the world. I really liked it, and the mountains; I don’t think I have seen anything more beautiful. Go to Emerald Lake, just West of Lake Louise, it’s unbelievable. One day coming home from work from an Indian Reservation, a male cougar ran in front of the car; man, they are dangerous but beautiful.

---, 2003-04-04