Five questions with Robert Duvall

BY CINDY PEARLMAN August 25, 2011 6:52PM

At age 80, Robert Duvall is a man in motion. Catch up to him on his Virginia ranch house (built in 1734), and the screen legend is happy to mull over his popularity as he waits for his horse Montana to be saddled. "You know, there's a woman in Texas who told me she wouldn't allow her son-in-law to marry her daughter until he saw 'Lonesome Dove,' " he says. "Now, that's a really good review."

From "The Godfather" parts I and II to other classics including "Tender Mercies" and "Lonesome Dove," Duvall is an American classic who won't slow down. His new movie (opening Friday) is "Seven Days in Utopia," about a pro golfer meeting up with a tell-it-true rancher in Texas who teaches him about what matters.

1 Do you notice any differences after hitting 80?

I think about age some now. So that's a difference. I also have to pump twice to get up out of some chairs! I still love to work, especially on Westerns, but I have to get on a kind horse. I tell the horses, "If there are eight buttons to push on you, only show me one."

2 What was the appeal of an indie film like "Seven Days in Utopia"?

There are so many good stories below the Mason-Dixon Line. I liked that this was a golf movie but not a golf movie. Lucas Black, who plays the young golfer, is a wonderful actor and real golfer. That helped tell the story. But at the core, there is a nice message here. Someone once told me, "Don't just be a farmer. Be a man on a farm. You're a human being first." The point is what you do is your profession. It's only enhancing who you are as a human being. So, I'm a human being first. Actor, second.

3 Do you have a good story about Marlon Brando from "The Godfather"?

Brando was like our father on the set of those movies. But he also had a great sense of humor. We also had Jimmy Caan on the set, and he is a great guy and joker. Once after a day of shooting "Godfather," Jimmy and I moved Brando from one car to another on Second Avenue in New York. No one knew where the Godfather was because we kept having him get out of one car and go into another. Brando was game and loved it. íŽ [Director] Francis Ford Coppola kept saying, "Come on. We gotta be serious. This is a serious movie." But this is what breaks the tension on a set, and then when the time comes for action, you just do it.

4 When you were just starting out in New York, didn't you room with Dustin Hoffman and hang out with Gene Hackman? Those must have been great days.

Oh, yes, but Brando was the guy we all looked up to - and the one who was the topic of discussion. Me, Dustin and Gene would meet at this one drugstore in New York City. If we mentioned Brando's name once, we mentioned it 25 times a day. Dustin, my brother and I had a place uptown. Gene lived with his wife downtown. It was a great time because we had such hopes for our dreams of acting, and I still do. The only bad thing is I don't see those guys that much anymore. This country is so big. But when we do see each other it's like we saw each other five minutes ago.

5 You have a gorgeous wife who is quite a bit younger than you. Is that the secret to staying young?

My friend Wilfred Brimley, who also used to be a bodyguard for Howard Hughes, says, "Let me tell you something, my friend. The worst thing in the world for an old man is an old woman." Now, don't blame me for that one. I didn't say it! ... My wife shares my same birthday, which is Jan. 5. She is pretty unique, keeps me on my toes and looks after me. Sure, we're a few decades apart. When I met my father-in-law, he said, "I don't know if I should call you father or son!"

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-- Chicago Sun-Times, August 25, 2011