In Get Low, Duvall plays a mysterious Tennessee hermit who emerges from his Depression-era solitude to mount his own funeral. We caught up with the 79-year-old actor, feisty and full of reflection, at the Four Seasons.
Felix is an interesting guy, a loner who basically emerges to put on a show. He's an actor, in a way.
I like that. He doesn't know if he has the nerve to pull it off. But he feels he has to, because of something he did years ago. It's a love story.
Along those lines, how important is solitude to your own process?
Somebody once said, "Play the part closer to your daydream." You have to go off somewhere and daydream. Mull it over. Ruminate.
The beard probably helps too.
Oh, man. That might be the best beard I've ever put on my face. A guy from Italy made it. With great care, he put it on each day, with special creams to give it life. He massaged it. It was amazing to watch him work! [Laughs]
Felix is making his peace before he "gets low." Do you find yourself gravitating toward parts with a larger spiritual dimension?
They come my way. I welcome them when they do.
How important is religion to you?
I'm not an atheist. I'm not an agnostic. I do believe in God. I have my own faith procedures, if you will.
Do you ever wonder what will be said at your funeral?
Ha. It probably won't be too large. They'll say pretty good things about me, mostly. And then they'll forget.
You played some lonely characters recently in Crazy Heart and The Road. Do you find greater richness in these supporting parts?
I said to a young actor once, "Don't play leads. Bust it up." If you play leads all the time, you become a target. With The Road, I was only on set for two days, but I improvised an entire monologue. I didn't ask permission.
What do you remember about playing Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962?
That was my first part, another loner. Get Low reminded me a lot of Horton Foote's writing. And the first time we shot Felix's final speech, my wife got a message that Foote had just died.
Is it hard to find good roles for older men?
The parts are there; it's just that the money isn't. I'm supposed to play Don Quixote for Terry Gilliam, if he can get it together.
Maybe don't hold your breath on that. You will always be associated with The Godfather's Tom Hayden, who insists, "It's business, not personal!" How personal is the work of acting, especially in Hollywood?
It's both. You get a big movie, a Days of Thunder, make a lot of money, but that's not the whole story. You still have to do a good job, apart from the politics of the Oscars.
Do you watch your own films?
Right. So you're the only person who's seen The Godfather once.
Oh, as soon as you turn that on, you watch the whole thing. I love Part II.
How does it feel to come back to New York these days?
I used to do theater out in Bellport, Long Island. That's where I met Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman. We did a version of A View from the Bridge Off Broadway.
Do you still feel like a New Yorker?
Not so much now. I used to really belong here. I met Giuliani. I said, "You keep New York, I'll take Buenos Aires." Love it down there. It's corrupt, but it's beautiful. Great barbecue. And three times the psychiatrists as New York City. Everybody's going to a shrink down there. It's crazy.
--- Time Out New York, Issue 774 : Jul 29-Aug 4, 2010