From The Sunday Times
December 9, 2007

On the Move: Robert Duvall


Robert Duvall was born in 1931 in San Diego, California. He made his movie debut in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962 and went on to star in films including The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and Tender Mercies, for which he won an Oscar. He married for the fourth time in 2004. He has no children.

Gill Pringle

Robert Duvall owes his big break to Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy. But it is not Tom Hagen, the quiet consigliere to the mob, who has dogged him all these years, but Lieutenant-Colonel Bill Kilgore, the crazed surfer in that other Coppola classic, Apocalypse Now.

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning" has been voted one of the most memorable film lines and Duvall -- despite his measured real-life persona -- will forever be associated with the screaming, Wagner-loving officer who sends in the choppers to raze a Vietcong village -- just so he can catch some waves.

"It was crazy," he recalls. "People think I was trying to be over the top. But I just had to shout over all those damn helicopters."

For the record, Duvall is not prone to acts of wanton violence, but he's no pussycat. Now 76, the actor shows no sign of taking it easy. He recently bought a hulking Jeep Commander Overland 4x4, which he uses to blat across his 362-acre farm in Virginia, with Luciana Pedraza, his 35-year-old former beauty queen wife, by his side.

He is notoriously unflappable. So much so, that when Joaquin Phoenix, his co-star in We Own the Night, his latest film, tried to rattle him on set and make him fluff his lines, he soon gave up, concluding that Duvall must be "some kind of Jedi knight".

Certainly, the actor commands respect from his peers. Over the years he has appeared alongside Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen and John Wayne, but who is the only co-star who has dared tell him how to do his job? Step forward, football hardman turned Hollywood wannabe Vinnie Jones.

"Now Vinnie's a good natural actor," Duvall concedes. "I was in his second movie, Gone in Sixty Seconds, when halfway through he started directing everybody, including me. He was taking over, like he thought he was back on the soccer field. I told him, 'Hey, Vinnie -- I know what I'm doing!'"

Fortunately for Jones, Duvall is among those Americans who admire our national sport. He's excited about David Beckham's arrival at the LA Galaxy club and he's a big fan of Michael Owen. "Owen is tremendous. I saw him when he was still a teen, just dazzling people in the [1998] World Cup against Argentina. At the time I called up an actor friend, 3,000 miles away, and said, 'You should see this kid Michael Owen. He's kind of like a wide receiver in American football. This kid is brilliant.'

"What mystifies me is how your British league can be so good and yet you guys can't seem to win the World Cup more than once." Duvall is not one to pull his punches. It may have something to do with his military background. His father William Howard Duvall became an admiral in the US navy, and he is a direct descendant of the Confederate general Robert E Lee. He is also distantly related to President Harry Truman, Wallis Simpson (Duchess of Windsor), Vice-President Dick Cheney and Senator Barack Obama, one of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"I never wanted to follow in my father's footsteps," says Duvall. "But when I was drafted into the army, I went along. And when they asked if I wanted to do officers' training, I said, 'No way.' Initially it was my parents that pushed me into acting because I was floundering around. I was a little sceptical but they nudged me into it."

Since then he has won an Oscar for his role as Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies, and a Golden Globe for the TV mini series Lonesome Dove, as well as five Academy Award nominations, including one for The Godfather and another for Apocalypse Now.

Yet despite his Hollywood veteran status, he's not too proud to be second choice for a role, as was the case with We Own the Night, which is released on Friday, and stars Duvall as a police chief investigating a nightclub run by his son (played by Phoenix).

"I was driving south with my wife in Virginia. And Jimmy Gray, the director, called me with an SOS, and he put Joaquin Phoenix on to beg me to come up, because I had to replace somebody that wasn't working out, so I had to come in very quickly.

"So I had to break off our road trip immediately to get to the set. I love driving in Texas and the northwest. When I did Lonesome Dove, I drove all over Texas, and when I did Tender Mercies I was driving in east Texas and someone asked, 'What are you looking for?' And I said, 'I'm looking for action'!"

Duvall appears to have met his match in Pedraza, his fourth wife, whom he married in 2004 after a seven-year courtship. Asked if he wishes he'd met his bride earlier in life, he unleashes a hearty laugh: "No, because if I'd met her earlier on, she wouldn't have been born! And when I first met her father he said, 'I don't know whether to call you father or son'."

The pair starred in Assassination Tango, his 2002 self-penned drama, and dancing remains a passion: he has a barn converted into a dance hall at his home in Virginia.

"Ironically, despite the fact my wife is from Argentina, I introduced her to the tango," he says.

"Today she goes everywhere with me -- probably to keep an eye on me. She's a very bright and shrewd woman. I've worked with many directors, but my wife directs me in life some.

"Her grandmother was the first licensed lady pilot in Argentina and her grandfather flew the president. I call her 'the General'."

My stuff...

On my CD player Cuban, country and western, swing, tango and I was recently listening to Elvis Presley

In my parking space A Jeep Commander Overland 4x4, right. It's the best car I've had

On my DVD player The three best films I've seen lately are directed by actors -- Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima and Sean Penn's Into the Wild, which was brilliant

I will never throw away At my age I don't think too much about what's valuable

---- Times Online, December 9, 2007