Robert Duvall's path leads down 'Broken Trail'

By TERRY MORROW
Scripps Howard News Service
13-JUN-06

At 75, Robert Duvall is open to new trails.

"I always try to think to myself, up to until the day I stop, that life is about being in the potential," he says in a telephone interview. "I always want to have something to give and learn."

Despite being nominated for five Academy Awards, Duvall doesn't dismiss television. He is the star and executive producer of "Broken Trail," a two-part Old West miniseries airing 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, June 25-26, on American Movie Classics (AMC).

"Trail" marks the first original miniseries for the channel, known for playing such decades-old iconic films as "The Man From Snowy River" or "The Day The Earth Stood Still."

Though championing "Trail," Duvall is even humble about whether it could be regarded as a "classic," as the channel's name suggests its programming is.

"It could become a classic," he says. "That's left up to the individuals (watching). We had some rewrites that had to be done. When the first cut came in, it didn't fly with me.

"What you see is our cut. You have three or four people always with a point of view in these kinds of things. Sometimes, you have to take a stand if you are going to stay true to the vision."

Among his opinions: full body shots of his character and tighter shots of co-star Thomas Hayden Church. "For me, from the waist up, you can see the body language and the gestures more," he says. "My character was very stoic, and I thought that needed to be seen."

Veteran film director Walter Hill ("Last Man Standing") was behind the camera of "Broken Trail," which was inspired by a true story. Production took four months and was shot mainly in Canada.

Duvall plays Print Ritter, an uncle who enlists his estranged nephew (Church) to help in a drive of horses across the Midwest near the end of the 1800s. Along the way, they help free Chinese women, who have been sold into slavery. Print and his nephew bond with the women, who cannot speak English, and face other dangers along the way.

"I think the western is ours," says Duvall who was also part of CBS's epic western miniseries "Lonesome Dove." "The English have Shakespeare. The French have Moliere. The Russians have Chekhov ... and the western is uniquely ours ... it is our genre, and it's our thing."

Duvall says he never regards of himself as a star, even though he's stopped at airports for autographs or asked for a photo to be taken with strangers over dinner.

This trait is perhaps why he's able to tap into "every man" roles so easily _ whether it's a wayward minister in "The Apostle," the larger-than-life figure as in "Stalin" or the lonely rancher wanting to connect with family in "Broken Trail."

"I always try to find the vulnerability in a guy," he says. "You always have to find that vulnerability without forcing it or being melodramatic. I also try to find that dark streak, which is off set by a certain vulnerability."

Next up for Duvall is a return to the big screen with "We Own The Night," with Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix, about a father and son facing the wrath of the Russian mob. Doing more television could come, Duvall says, but a series is unlikely.

"I always said if I ever did a series it would be at the end of my career, and I would have to play a mute gunfighter," he says. "I don't have to learn a line."

(Contact Terry Morrow of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at www.knoxnews.com.)