Robert Duvall, Scott Cooper Interview, Crazy Heart

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

Like a sly and tender country song, laced with equal parts passion, humor and trouble, Crazy Heart is the portrait of a man (Jeff Bridges) who has lived hard, fast and recklessly, but still goes after the salvation of love when his heart gets what appears to be one last chance to redeem itself.

Writer, producer and director Scott Cooper - himself a Southerner steeped in the rollicking legends and bittersweet themes of country music - always saw Crazy Heart's outsized lead character of Bad Blake as a mirror of the country heroes he grew up idolizing, in spite of their wildly unpredictable love lives and battles with their darker impulses.

Cooper was best known as an actor - he appears in 2010's Get Low with Robert Duvall - when he first ran into Bad Blake in Thomas Cobb's novel Crazy Heart. He had been on the hunt for a raw and realistic country music-themed project to write and direct for some time.

The character certainly carried a kick and abounded with potential, but as he sat down to write, Cooper faced the task of translating Bad Blake's mix of humor and sorrow into something that would feel resonant and exhilarating on screen, that would come across as funny and honest and that might illuminate in equal parts the sheet exuberance of his musical talent and the tough-to-escape lure of his demons.

In many ways, it came naturally to Cooper. "I grew up with this type of music, living in the same type of world that Bad Blake lives in. And being an actor, I understood the nature of a performance-driven story. I felt like if I couldn't do this, having grown up in the South, steeped in country rock, working as an actor, I was in trouble," he laughs.

When the script was finished, Cooper turned to another Southern actor and filmmaker who has long been a mentor to him: Robert Duvall, who himself won an Oscar playing a down-and-out country singer in Horton Foote's beloved classic, Tender Mercies. Duvall's response changed everything. "When you send a script toRobert Duvall and he says 'Yes,' that's pretty much all that you could ever dream about," muses Cooper.

It was far more than just a relationship that sealed the deal, however. The script's unerring vision of man trying to follow his untamed, hungry heart and its distinctly Southwestern flavor was right up the alley of Duvall's production company, Butcher's Run.

MoviesOnline caught up recently with Robert Duvall and Scott Cooper to talk to them about their new film. Here's what they had to tell us:

Q: T Bone Burnett just got done calling you the patron saint of this movie. Will you elaborate on how you got involved in this movie, and Scott would you agree with that comment?

Duvall: Well, I don't know about that.

Cooper: I would say he's the godfather of this film.

Duvall: No, no, no, he's just saying that. He's a good politician. Let me say it again, it's my company - Butcher's Run Films is Robbie Carliner, Judy Cairo andScott Cooper together as a unit, with ICM and Jeff Berg going after this, going after the money. They were like the driving force. I was kind of behind it, okay that's fine, this and that, this and that. I reached out to Jeff. I knew Jeff, sent him a letter, 'Would you look at this?' They contacted T Bone. It took a year to get him. So it took awhile to get all this together. Getting the money is very difficult, but then I got the money and then I helped wherever I could and played a part in it, and also helped a lot with the casting.

Q: Did you feel like it going down memory lane with Tender Mercies doing this film?

Duvall: Much more pleasant. This is much more pleasant to do. I won't go into the difficulties in that. It was not that easy. Certainly people at the top and everything. This was much more harmonious and much more fun to do. But the part, the genre, Horton Foote, great writer, original script, this is from a book that he made a very good adaptation of, two different guys, two different perceptions, but similar demons. But, like I said before, my character in that had a support group in my wife, my son and a baptism.

Here, Jeff's character has nothing. He blows everything because of the son. He risks the kid's life, and the woman dumps him which she should. A lot of women would not do that. They'd continue in that self-destructive (mode) by staying with a guy like this. There's another scene that was cut out of the movie that he has with his son. His son, instead of making amends, throws him out, so his only friend is my character in the movie. He didn't have a support group under him like I had in Tender Mercies, but similar demons. That was more like regularcountry music. This is more of a compilation of Kristofferson and this one and that one, more - I don't know whether you call it country rock -

Cooper: Country blues.

Duvall: Country blues, yeah.

Q: It makes it a more unique movie too because we're so used to saying, 'Oh, I'll take you back, it's going to be okay.' And it's much more realistic and it's more effective because it's like you said, yeah, you shouldn't take him back.

Duvall: But a lot of women would take him back. And I admire this woman for not taking him back, because she put her son first. A lot of women wouldn't.

Q: Did you have a debate about that?

Duvall: No. I don't know, no.

Q: Scott, I liked that way that you have the Tommy Sweet character never forgets where he came from - the mentoring aspect of that. Could you tell me how that developed? Was that the keystone to it, then the student becomes the teacher or ?

Cooper: Well, one of them. What I wanted to do in the structure of the piece was for the audience to think, 'Well this guy Tommy Sweet is gonna be really arrogant. He's gonna be a guy who, when we finally meet him, we aren't going to like him, when in fact it's just the opposite. And really it's through Bad Blake's perception that this is happening. And Colin is such a wonderful actor that he was able to play that type of gratitude without pushing it, in the scenes between him and with Jeff. And it really is about mentoring and I looked to Mr. Duvall as a complete filmmaker and someone that I also want to [emulate].

Q: I'm sure you had a long list of people who you've mentored as a performer, who mentored you as a producer?

Duvall: As a producer? I don't know. I don't know. You just kind of find your own way really. You kind of find your own way. And going back to Colin, that was the one part that was the most difficult to cast, remember?

Cooper: Yeah,

Duvall: You couldn't find anybody and you couldn't start until you found someone.

Cooper: Yeah, because what you don't want to do is - not a lot of actors can sing. Some can very well. Jeff obviously can. Bobby sings beautifully and Colin sings wonderfully. But sometimes you don't want too big of a star. Maybe you don't want someone who's going to throw off the balance and not be believable in that role, but becausecountry music comes from a Scots-Irish heritage, and one of our biggest contemporary country stars in the world today is Keith Urban, who's Australian.

Duvall: Who?

Cooper: Who's Keith Urban? He's a huge country star, one of the biggest.

Duvall: Does he talk with a hard R

Cooper: He sure does.

Duvall: Wow, is he American?

Cooper: Australian. So it seemed a natural progression to have someone like Colin, and Colin is - he looks like a movie star but he's really a character actor which is always the best combination.

"Crazy Heart" opens in theaters on December 16th.

--- moviesonline.ca, December 2009