Duvall, Robert

Robert Duvall is dedicated to his craft

From the Jan. 27, 1984, Deseret News

PARK CITY – Robert Duvall has been a recognizable force in the movie industry for many years, creating a wide gallery of memorable movie roles, each one unique and real.

Duvall is a dedicated actor who literally becomes the characters he plays in films, and he has played quite a variety since his debut in "To Kill a Mockingbird," in 1962: "Captain Newman, M.D.," "MASH," "The Godfathers I & II," "Tomorrow," "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution," "Network," "Apocalypse Now," and many more. He has been so anonymous in his roles, though, that his has not exactly been a household name – until recently.

Thanks to lead performances in such films as "The Great Santini," "True Confessions" and the more recent "Tender Mercies," Duvall is finally receiving the public recognition he deserves. But it has also complicated his life to some degree.

In a way, Duvall is almost too quiet a man, too easy and sane for the insane world of show business. And in the private interview situation that is a necessary part of that world, he is still slightly uncomfortable.

Soft-spoken, self-effacing and modest, yet confident about his work and proud of his reputation, Duvall discussed a wide range of subjects in an interview in Park City, where he is participating in the United States Film and Video Festival — and was open and frank about every one.

He is also genuinely interested in people — all people. And he demonstrates that by asking almost as many questions about the interviewer as the interviewer can ask about him. He also seemed to prefer talking about the work of other people he admires, those in and out of the business.

With his wife, actress Gail Youngs, who was present for part of this session, Duvall discussed his love of acting, the movie industry and the Oscars, for which he is being touted as a sure nominee — if not the winner — in the best-actor category for "Tender Mercies."

"The more mature I get, the more relaxed I am," Duvall said of his approach to acting. "I'm a late bloomer in many areas. I always was. I guess I showed a little promise at one time, when I was 20. But I'm better now than I was, and I like doing lead parts now. I didn't want 'em then. I try to do my homework as much as I can, my research. I keep myself open to all things, as relaxed as possible."

Though he has played historical characters (Jesse James in "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid," Dwight D. Eisenhower in the TV miniseries "Ike"), Duvall prefers fiction. History isn't more difficult, he says, just not as interesting. "I don't think you can just imitate, you have to go for the essence."

There are probably no more TV shows in his future, either. "Miniseries, they're OK, some of them. But not for me. I used to do lots of television early (in his career), but it doesn't interest me now."

At present Duvall has two new movies completed and awaiting release ("The Stone Boy," in which his wife co-stars, scheduled for next month, and "The Natural," a baseball picture starring Robert Redford, coming in spring), and he is immersed in research for a film he hopes will soon be coming into fruition, a script he wrote and will star in (as yet untitled) about a Pentecostal preacher. Typical of Duvall's dedication to his work, he has been spending a lot of time in Southern churches to obtain the "feel" necessary for such a film.

He would also like to star in the film version of the nonfiction book "Schindler's List," about a Christian who helped Jews escape Nazi Germany during World War II. There is no completed script on that project, Duvall has not been approached by anyone — he'd just like to play the part, and hopes that Steven Spielberg, who will possibly produce and direct the film, is listening.

"I turned down the lead in ‘Jaws.' They wanted me to play the (Roy Scheider) part, but I wanted to play that Portuguese fisherman (Robert Shaw's part).

"But Spielberg's the guy. I met up with him recently and he said, ‘You know, I wanted to give you that part you wanted in ‘Jaws,' but I didn't have the power I have now.' And I thought, ‘Aha.' So, we'll see. Ideally, I'd love to play Schindler in ‘Schindler's List.' "

In "The Stone Boy," Duvall co-stars with his friend Wilford Brimley, the Salt Lake actor who was also in "Tender Mercies," and who joined him Thursday at the film festival's acting workshop. Brimley is also in "The Natural." Full of praise for Brimley's work, Duvall said that for "The Natural," Brimley was the "only actor in America working today who could play the part of ‘Pops.' " And Brimley's work in "The Stone Boy" is superb according to the Duvalls.

Gail Youngs also has some projects on deck, with one that came out of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute last June, and another, a docudrama, about the International Games for the Disabled. She did some second-unit directing on "Angelo, My Love," a film about New York Gypsies which Duvall scripted and directed, and she fell in love with production work.

"I'll always be an actress first," she explained, "but you want to do films that are more personal, too, to bring alive certain things inside you. I have lots of ideas for films I'd like to do." Duvall adds with a laugh, "And she's younger than me, so when I'm 80, she can work and I'll stay home and sleep."

Duvall has been nominated for an Oscar three times in the past, as best supporting actor for "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now," and as best actor for "The Great Santini." He lost the latter to Robert De Niro, who won for "Raging Bull." "I didn't mind that. But if I'd lost to one of those other guys, I'd have been ticked off."

For "Tender Mercies," Duvall has already won the New York and Los Angeles critics' awards, and is nominated for a Golden Globe. He will attend the Globe ceremonies Sunday night, though he initially didn't even plan to go. "But my agent said I should go, that it's good for my career. I don't know if I'm going to win, but I'm going to go, and I'm taking the Brimleys."

He doesn't intend to solicit the Oscar, however. He refuses to take out advertising, and has never hired a press agent, except for "Angelo, My Love," which was a little, independent film that needed the push. Of the Oscar itself, he says the best performance – the only worthy one – he saw last year was that of Richard Farnsworth in "The Grey Fox." "I always look for behavior. And I like with Farnsworth, the way he handled that pistol, the sensory work that he did — actors work all their lives, they study with Strasberg, to learn sensory like that. And he just did it so fully."

As to whether winning an Oscar would give him more power over his own projects, he again quotes his agent. "My agent thinks it means a lot of power. But I'm not so sure."

Duvall sank a lot of his own money into "Angelo, My Love," and is still working to pay off some of the loans on that. Though his role in "The Natural" didn't really appeal to him he took it anyway, for the money. But he's happy with that film, and is sure it will be successful. Another film he took — "The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper" — was strictly for the money, and strictly to finance "Angelo." He's never seen the film himself.

"I don't mind, and I hope the industry doesn't mind, my taking a leading part, then a supporting part. And I like to play off someone else, like with ‘True Confessions,' which had two leads (the other played by De Niro)."

Meanwhile, Duvall overflows with praise for actors, directors, cinematographers, writers and others he admires, and expresses hopes of working with them or being able to make his future projects come together as well as theirs have.

And those of us who review movies just look forward to a new Duvall project coming to town. And look forward to a talent such as his finally receiving its due come Oscar time.