'Get Low' With Robert Duvall

Don Gonyea talks to actor Robert Duvall about his latest movie, Get Low. It's based on the true story of a Tennessee recluse who throws himself his own funeral. It opens in theaters July 30.

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DON GONYEA, host:

See if you can guess this famous voice.

Mr. ROBERT DUVALL (Actor): I used to listen to radio a lot, going across the country. I used to listen to J. Charles Jessup. He was a great preacher that preached from Del Rio, they had to preach over the border. What a character this guy was.

GONYEA: Need a hint? How about this?

Mr. DUVALL: In the last part of the 20 century, I was in two of the great film experiences: "Godfather" I and II - and "Lonesome Dove" on television. That really was my favorite part, "Lonesome Dove."

GONYEA: That, of course, is Robert Duvall. The legendary actor now takes on a new role, a man who lives as a recluse for 40 years, in his latest film, "Get Low."

Starring alongside Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek, Duvall plays Felix Bush, an old man adamant about throwing his own funeral while he's still alive.

So the film, "Get Low"...

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

GONYEA: ...it's set in the 1930s.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes, sir.

GONYEA: Is this a story thats been passed down through the years and has grown in legend?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, yeah. Yeah, it was, but it's a fictionalized version of what really happened in the '30s.

GONYEA: Okay, so you play Felix Bush.

Mr. DUVALL: I play Felix Bush, yes.

GONYEA: Tell us about him.

Mr. DUVALL: Well, Felix Bush is a hermetic guy. He's gone to live in the woods for like 30 years on his own. He has a special mule that is his only friend. And he's done something that he feels he must reveal, but he - he gets a friend to come help him do it - the black preacher, the African-American preacher. But he sets up and goes to his own funeral so that he can tell something as to why he lived these woods for 30 years.

GONYEA: He drives, in the film, from Tennessee up to Illinois...

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

GONYEA: ...to see this preacher, whom he hasnt seen in many, many years.

Mr. DUVALL: In a long time.

GONYEA: The preacher is played by the actor Bill Cobbs.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes, he's wonderful.

GONYEA: Let's listen to that scene.

(Soundbite of movie, "Get Low")

Mr. BILL COBBS (Actor): (as Reverend Charlie Jackson) You know my hearing is not what it was. Sounded like you said you want me to preach at your funeral party with you sitting there.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix Bush) Yes, sir.

Mr. COBBS: (as Reverend Charlie Jackson) I talked to God a lot about you over the years. He said he broke the mold when he made you, said you're sure entertaining to watch - but way too much trouble.

GONYEA: Tell us about that scene.

Mr. DUVALL: I know that I have to preach at my own funeral; I want to be present there, you know, when Im still alive. But I dont know if I have the nerve to do it, so I've asked him to come. At first he refuses me, and then the character played by Bill Murray goes up and talks him into coming down.

GONYEA: And he is actually disappointed in you, that even after all these years, you have never told this story. You have never done what he says you need to do.

Mr. DUVALL: Exactly. Exactly, what I have to do. There's a block there, which I haven't been able to tell that story.

GONYEA: You mentioned Bill Murray is in this film.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes. Oh, yeah. He's very talented, wonderful to work with.

GONYEA: He plays the undertaker, Frank Quinn.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes. Yes.

GONYEA: He agrees to hold your funeral. Frankly, the funeral parlor business isnt going so well, and he's happy to...

Mr. DUVALL: Poorly. Poorly.

GONYEA: ...have the cash, basically.

Mr. DUVALL: He says: They're dying like flies up in Chicago, but not down here.

GONYEA: But before you hold this funeral, he wants to do it right, so he takes you shopping first. He says, you need a funeral suit. Let's listen.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

(Soundbite of movie, "Get Low")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix Bush) Now, where are the shoes?

Mr. BILL MURRAY (Actor): (as Frank Quinn) Normally, people dont wear shoes in a casket. What are you, about 10D?

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) Suit coat and trousers, thats going to be $13.19, and the shoes another 6.50. It'll be $19.69, tops.

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank Quinn) How are you fixed for underwear?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix Bush) I dont wear none.

GONYEA: So we've heard two clips and in each of them, we barely hear you.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

GONYEA: We were looking for clips where we would have these speeches from you.

Mr. DUVALL: You might give the movie away then, right, at the end.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: But you are on screen virtually every scene in this film.

Mr. DUVALL: Mostly, yeah.

GONYEA: And for so much of it, you are saying very, very little. As an actor, you need to then convey who this character is, what this character is, without words.

Mr. DUVALL: Right. Yeah, you develop an inner monologue, really. An interior, you know, process that helps the exterior, really. You dont necessarily work on it, it just happens, really. You know, if it's a good script, you just let it lead you. And when I worked on the part, we're spending Christmas in northern Argentina, where my wife's family is from. And especially the final speech, I just sat there at this little hotel, looking out at the Andes - the mountains -and just mulling and thinking and rehearsing and developing this part. This interior monologue, the exterior monologue, and so forth.

At that point, I really gained a sense of solitude - to gain a sense of solitude for this one.

GONYEA: The other thing the film seems to do is to demonstrate how a person's outward appearance does not begin to tell us the whole story. Certainly your character...

Mr. DUVALL: Exactly. I mean, people say this is a bit like the character in "To Kill a Mockingbird" - not really. Not really. This man could have been a lawyer, a doctor. He could have been a preacher, a world traveler. But he chose to - not because of his health or because of his mentality. He chose this role in life - to be a hermit, to go live in the woods.

GONYEA: Just in case people aren't aware or have forgotten, you talk about the character in "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

GONYEAH: 1962...

Mr. DUVALL: My first film.

GONYEA: Your very first film, you played Boo Radley.

Mr. DUVALL: Boo Radley, yup. He was the mockingbird, really, in the movie.

GONYEA: Well, here's the similarity I see. Boo Radley and Felix Bush are both these characters who kind of live outside.

Mr. DUVALL: And people build up these stories about them, these myths sometimes. Yes. And it also reminds me of the story because I told Horton Foote that I'd wanted him to see this movie cause it's a lot like his films, really. I'd worked a lot with him.

GONYEA: Horton Foote adapted Harper Lee's novel for the screen...

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

GONYEA: ...in the film version of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Mr. DUVALL: And I did "Tender Mercies" with him. I did "The Chase" with him. And when Im giving that speech at the end, the first day that I give it - as the camera's rolling, literally, and the mule brings on the coffin that I built for when I really die - my wife in life is off-camera, and she got a phone call telling her that Horton Foote had just died - during that scene. And it was so -it was spooky. It was like full circle, from "To Kill a Mockingbird" 'til that point.

GONYEA: So when people look at this film, what do you want them to take away from your performance?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, I dont know if I can say what they should take away. They have to decide that themselves. You know, I just hope that, you know, they get a certain sense of humanity, certain sense of a cultural part of our country. And thats all individual, what they take away, really.

GONYEA: Robert Duvall stars in "Get Low," released in theaters today.

Sir, thank you for joining us.

Mr. DUVALL: Well, thank you for having me.

GONYEA: Continued good health and good work.

Mr. DUVALL: Thank you, sir.

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