'We Own the Night': An Interview with Robert Duvall

Brigid Brown
Hollywood.com Staff

Robert Duvall leads an A-list cast in the crime drama We Own the Night, also starring Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendes. We Own the Night is an emotionally driven family epic flavored by the backdrop of 1980s New York. Duvall and Wahlberg play decorated NYPD cops who turn to Phoenix's character Bobby--the notorious black sheep of the family--in a time of need. Mendes,meanwhile, plays the stalwart Amada, who finds herself torn when the love of her life soon transforms into a different person.

We Own the Night director James Gray wrote the part of Bobby's and Joseph's father, the decorated deputy chief Burt Grusinksy, specifically for Robert Duvall. The six-time Oscar nominee won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1984 for his role in Tender Mercies, and has been the recipient of four Golden Globes.

""Joaquin calls Duvall the Jedi Master,"" says director Gray. ""You can throw Duvall any curveball and he'll come right back at you--in character--and he'll do something amazing. The level of his craft is ridiculous.""

The materful Robert Duvall sat down with Hollywood.com to discuss We Own the Night.

Hollywood.com: How did you team up with James Gray on this project?

Robert Duvall: We had talked about it about a year in advance, then James called me, he put the ""Wacko"" on the phone--Wacko Phoenix. I called him back in three minutes and said, 'I'll do it."" I had read the script, and enjoyed it, but when it presented itself as an actual reality to do, then I said I felt good about it. I wanted to work with James. He's a very good director, very good with actors. So much better than most. He likes the process. My wife says it's the most fun set she's ever visited with me.

HW: Did your experience as a director shape the way you worked with James Gray on the set?

RD: I always look at myself as a director, as an extension of myself as an actor. The base is I'm an actor, and everything [surging] out is an extension of that. I think James is what you call an actors' director. He goes for the process of trying to get behavior. I always say it's from ink to behavior, that's the journey. Some people say from ink to ink--they never get to the behavior; or the behavior's distorted. He wants the real thing. What I like to do, and what he likes to do I think, is real time, or real life-like things, within movie time.

HW: Do you have memories of New York at the time this was set?

RD: Yeah. I was in New York up until the mid-'90s. It was nice to come back [here] to work. Especially for a film about New York where you didn't have to go to Toronto or someplace that's not like New York. There's only one New York really.

HW: What was it like working with Joaquin?

RD: It was nice, it was good. He's crazy to work with. He was going after something, like getting under my skin. And he kind of did. The director just has to say, ""Do something where somebody gets under your skin."" He [James] didn't have to have the guy [Joaquin] crawling all over me. That's what I'm paid to do. [Laughs] You want a little temper, you want a little something--I'll give it something.

HW: In your estimation, who was really the ""good"" son: Joaquin Phoenix or Mark Wahlberg?

RD: Supposedly Mark was, but when I came in I thought he was going to play the other part [as Bobby Green]. They switched parts actually. I said, ""Joaquin, I can take care of you. But Mark I couldn't. I don't have to."" They're good guys, talented guys, and they worked hard, they respected James.

HW: Was the cast intimidated working with someone of your caliber? Did they ask you for advice?

RD: No, it never happens. And when I was young I found the people that wanted to give you advice weren't people I wanted to hear from anyway. So the people I really respected [back then] didn't necessarily offer that. So no, I would never offer anything. I don't think these guys needed it.

---- New York Post