VA FILM FESTIVAL: Duvall praises work of Foote

Oct 28, 2006

WHAT: Virginia Film Festival

WHEN: Through tomorrow at various venues in Charlottesville

TICKETS: Generally $6 for daytime screenings and $8 for evening shows; discounts available

INFO: (800) 882-3378 or

Robert Duvall, one of the greatest and most distinguished actors in America, entertained a crowd of more than 1,000 movie fans last night with stories of dropping his drawers with Marlon Brando and James Caan.

"Jimmy Caan has such a narrow butt, you can hardly see it when he moons," Duvall said at the normally august 19th annual Virginia Film Festival. Moderator David Edelstein, film critic for New York magazine, tried to bring more decorum to the evening.

"I could talk about Marlon's butt," Duvall offered.

The Oscar-winning actor was at the festival to receive the Virginia Film Award and to show two of his most personal and powerful movies, "Tender Mercies" and "The Apostle." Both are stories about the redemption of sinful men, which fit them perfectly into the festival's theme of religion and the movies.

Duvall spoke after a screening of "The Apostle," which he wrote and directed as well as starred in. The movie tells of a Pentecostal preacher who, after killing a man in a drunken rage, moves to Louisiana under an assumed name and begins to build a small church. The energetic and mostly godly role earned him one of his six Academy Award nominations.

"They say it's the true American art form, the American preacher," he said.

Duvall researched the role by going to churches all around the country; in a single day, he attended five churches in Harlem. He observed the preachers and used their methods, habits and gestures for his role, including some of the dialogue.

"There is a 94-year-old preacher in Hamilton, Va. He could make Mahatma Gandhi look like Hitler, this man. Very spiritual," he said.

For other roles, Duvall performed similar research. For his favorite role, Gus in "Lonesome Dove," he went out to Texas to visit Sammy Baugh, the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Washington Redskins. Baugh had never heard of him, but they talked for a while. Duvall saw how he gestured with his hands when he talked and used that to complete the character.

Last night's conversation touched on serious matters of acting ("You try to find the moments that come from the scene or the character, and then you try to make it come from you") and the gossipy (he apparently had a fling with Ellen Barkin, who played his daughter, when they made "Tender Mercies").

He repeatedly returned to the topic of Brando, his acting hero who became lazy after his early successes and read his lines off cue cards.

Once, he said, he and Caan stole the dialogue that had been written out for him and replaced it with a wedding invitation.

"Jimmy Caan is the best ever," he said. "He would tell a joke, and 20 minutes later Brando would go 'Oh, I get it.'"

TIMES-DISPATCH, October 28, 2006