PASADENA, Calif. -- "Alberta is okay." That's Robert Duvall's take on Canada, never his favourite place to work.
The Academy Award-winning actor was at the TV press tour Wednesday to promote the U.S. cable feature Broken Trail, a four-hour, two-night western directed by Walter Hill and co-starring Thomas Haden Church. It's coming to one of the Corus-owned stations in Canada, probably in June.
A native Californian, Duvall has been blunt in the past about runaway film and TV production. Shooting this movie seems to have softened his stand somewhat. "I like Alberta more than the rest of Canada," he told a conference room full of mostly U.S. critics. "They're more like us. Calgary, Alberta, is more like Texas without the accent, really."
Duvall, who just turned 75, comes by his tough talk naturally -- he's a direct descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In the past, he's dismissed Canadian actors as short on talent. "I eat my words when I said there weren't good actors there," he declared Wednesday. "But you have to look for them, because the system keeps showing you the same ones over and over again."
He's impressed with the ones he met this time, including Olivia Cheng, a Chinese Canadian from Edmonton better known as a Global news reporter as well as a Western-based print journalist than as an actress. ET Canada has just tapped her to string for them as well.
"I guess a lot of people didn't recognize that I was an actress as well," she said after the session. "I've sort of been forced out of the closet with this high profile project."
She's one of four Chinese Canadian actresses who co-star in the film as young women who have been sold into prostitution. Hardened cowboys Print Ritter (Duvall) and his nephew Tom Harte (Church) come upon them in the middle of a 1,000-mile horse drive and attempt to set them free.
"It was so good to be around such energy," Duvall said of Cheng and his young Canadian co-stars.
Known for her hip-hop and culture reports, Cheng said she offered to teach Duvall some hip-hop moves if he'd teach her to tango. (she was a fan of his 2001 film Assassination Tango). "And he goes, 'What the hell's a hip- hop?'" says Cheng, who managed to show him a few arm roll moves. Duvall says he never really got it, but joked that "she wasn't very good at the tango, either."
Cheng said working with Duvall was intimidating at first, but not for long. "In the movie, he's a surrogate father to us and in real life he made a real effort to get to know us. He was so kind and generous and immediately put us at ease."
Duvall praised the Bews family of Alberta, the seasoned ranch hands who wrangled horses on the shoot. He'd worked with them before and requested them for Broken Trail. "They are top-notch cowboys, they have wonderful horses and I just like them," says Duvall, who was tempted to take one of their dogs plus the horse he rode in the movie back to his Virginia ranch.
As for the Alberta scenery, Duvall had one word for it: "Phenomenal." He was blown away by a summer snow shower that left the mountains west of Calgary "looking like Tibet.
"I was once was on a boat with an old guy who had traveled all over the world," he told the Sun after the press conference. "I said, 'Where's the most beautiful place in the world?' He said, 'The Canadian Rockies followed by the fjords of Norway.' "
---- jam.canoe.ca, 2006-01-13