4:30 pm Wednesday 12th December 2007

Robert Duvall talks about We Own the Night

SCREEN legend Robert Duvall returns to the big screen in this week's release We Own The Night.

Set in the 1980s, it is the story of two brothers, Bobby (played by Joaquin Phoenix) and Joseph (Mark Wahlberg) who end up on different sides of the law. Joseph has followed in his father's footsteps and joined the New York police force and Bobby is the rebel who runs a hip nightclub awash with drugs and gangsters. Eva Mendes plays Bobby's girlfriend, Amada.

When Bobby's father (Duvall) asks him to help trap a Russian gangster who uses his club, at first he refuses but when his brother is shot, he finally has to decide which side he is on.

Robert was born in San Diego, the son of a naval officer, and first started acting in the 1950s after a two-year spell in the army. Studying under acting coach Sanford Meisner, he shared an apartment with a young, aspiring actor, Dustin Hoffman, and was close friends with another, Gene Hackman.

He kicked off his movie career in style, playing the mentally disabled Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962. During the 1960s he combined stage work with TV whilst gaining an increasing reputation as a commanding screen actor.

He starred in Coppola's The Rain People and at the beginning of the 1970s he took the leading role in George Lucas's THX 1138. In The Godfather (1972) he played Tom Hagen, the trusted adviser to the Corleone mafia family, a role he reprised in The Godfather Part II (1974).

He won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Tender Mercies in 1984 and has been nominated a further five times during his illustrious career. His remarkable film CV includes his standout role as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Sling Blade, The Apostle, The Gingerbread Man, Deep Impact, Open Range and Lucky You. He has become closely associated with the western and has starred in two of television's most celebrated treatments of the genre, Lonesome Dove and Broken Trail.

Q: What keeps you enthusiastic enough to tackle films like We Own The Night?

A: Well, my wife is younger and that helps. Hanging out with young people is good and she's got me doing yoga now and if I eat a meal and I really try to a little exercise to work it off. You know it's so easy to put it on and I love good food. If I have a plate of pasta I go home and I do 100 of these crunches and a little yoga, so I try to do a little exercise, not a lot, I don't believe in going to the gym or any of that stuff. When I met my father in law, he said "I don't know whether to call you father or son''.

The work comes but not as much as it did a few years ago. You keep going until you run out of enthusiasm or until they have to wipe the drool or whatever. There's always something out there. But they make all these remakes and yet there are so many good original stories, like this one in We Own The Night, out there.

Q: There's a lot of suppressed emotion in the film. How did you approach that?

A: I say to my wife, I cry for money. If they pay me, I'll cry (laughs). If it calls for it, you can plan it, I find and if it happens, it happens. I try to choreograph certain scenes almost in the back of my mind without even talking to the director about it, so then if it happens it happens, it's legitimate. Usually with an emotion it's almost more moving than if you let it come out. Sandy Meisner the acting coach once said, "if great acting is crying then my aunt Tilly could be another Brando"

All the women tried to cry in his class. I don't mind showing emotion at all. It's necessary to find the conflict in the character.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman?

A: No, it's a very fickle business. I haven't seen Hackman in years and yet when we did Geronimo, it was "hey, how are you doing man? Good to see you," and then it was "action". We started acting and then "cut" - and we start talking again. It was like we picked up where we left off but I haven't seen him since, 15 years ago. Dustin I see every now and then, at the Four Seasons or wherever, and it's very natural to see him. Maybe it's easier in London but we got 3,000 miles separating us, Hackman lives in New Mexico, I live in Virginia, Hoffman has five houses all over the world so we don't see each other so much.

I keep in touch with James Caan some. Paul Gleason died and he was a very good friend of mine. I bump into Jon Voight now and then. But other than that I don't have too many actor friends. It's a kind of strange business that way, kind of fickle - for eight weeks you become friends and then it goes out.

Q: You are closely associated with the western. Where does your love of the genre come from?

A: It's our deal. The English have Shakespeare, the French have Moliere and the Western is definitely ours. When I was a kid I went to my uncle's ranch in Montana for two summers - he had a big cattle and sheep place out there. And you know when I first went to Hollywood I would take out a horse every day - bare back, English saddle, western saddle - and I learned to jump a horse, so I would have a seat on a horse, because most actors can draw a pistol but they can't ride a horse. So I wanted to do westerns and it served me well. So I think westerns are our thing. People say they don't sell but they do sell and as soon as you make them they say, "when are you going to do another one?"

In England they love Westerns, wide-open spaces and all that, I just like doing them. At the end of my career I thought maybe I could do a gun fighter in a western who is mute, so I wouldn't have any lines (laughs).

Q: How do you rate Joaquin and Mark as actors?

A: Joaquin is a very talented guy. I said to him "you're a lot better than I thought you were'' because he was always fumbling around. He is very good in the movie. I never saw what he was doing. He was always moping around and grabbing at me. But I think that was some kind of design with the director to get into my space. He was very good and Mark too, they are both very talented guys. Mark Wahlberg would fight a bear, that guy. He's a tough kid - he went to jail and everything. It was interesting that Mark would play that guy. I couldn't quite believe it when I saw it. But that was the character and they both did them very well.

Q: Apocalypse Now has gone down in movie history, not simply because it's a great film, but because there were so many setbacks and traumas during the shoot. What are your memories of the film?

A: For me it was OK. I did the first six weeks and then came over to England and worked on The Eagle Has Landed and then went back and finished up Apocalypse months later - it went on and on and on over there. It was interesting to do it. They had me in a cowboy hat and boots and it didn't seem right so I did a lot of research and they actually wore cavalry hats and spurs as kind of an honour to the last century, the cavalry. And I found out in between that the head general for the Air Cavalry was crazy, he used to deer hunt twice a week along the Cambodian border and he got shot down and killed doing that. And they would go into north Vietnam and they would hook a bicycle from the helicopter and steal it, they were crazy guys.

Q: Do people quote "I love the smell of napalm in the morning.." to you a lot?

A: Yes! I run into people who quote that line it's as if it's a private pact between them and me and only they and I know it. Hey everybody does it. When I did The Apostle, one of these preachers said, "I don't go to the movies, but I hear Robert Duvall had a famous line in a movie, "I love the smell of gasoline in the morning" laughs)

---- 12th December 2007, Internet Edition Gazette