The Fresh Air Interview: Robert Duvall, From 'The Godfather' to 'Get Low' The Academy Award-winning actor details some of his most memorable roles, including his portrayal of Tom Hagen in The Godfather and Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. He also describes his latest role, a hermit planning a "living funeral," in the upcoming film Get Low.
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Robert Duvall: From 'The Godfather' To 'Get Low'

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Robert Duvall: From 'The Godfather' To 'Get Low'


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Our guest today is Robert Duvall. He's known for memorable performances in "The Great Santini," "The Godfather" I and II, "Apocalypse Now," "Lonesome Dove," The Apostle," which he wrote and directed, and for his Oscar-winning role in "Tender Mercies," written by his longtime friend, playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote.

At age 79, Duvall is hardly slowing down. He recently appeared in the films "Crazy Heart" and "The Road," and he stars in the new film "Get Low," where he plays a reclusive old man with a long beard who lives outside a small Southern town in the 1930s. In this clip from the film, Duvall's character, Felix Bush, has come to town to plan his own funeral. He's meeting with the undertaker, played by Bill Murray, and his assistant, played by Lucas Black, and he has an unusual request.

(Soundbite of film, "Get Low")

Mr. ROBERT DUVALL (Actor): (as Felix Bush) And I want to be there.

Mr. BILL MURRAY (Actor): (as Frank Quinn) You will be. I guarantee it.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) I want to be there now.

Mr. LUCAS BLACK (Actor): (as Buddy) You want to be at your funeral party alive?

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

Mr. BLACK: (as Buddy) But you can't have a funeral if you're not, you know, deceased.

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank) Hold on now. It's a detail. We can look at it.

Mr. BLACK: (as Buddy) Pretty big detail.

DAVIES: I spoke to Robert Duvall earlier this week. Robert Duvall, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. DUVALL: Thank you, sir.

DAVIES: I wonder if part of the appeal of this film is that every neighborhood has some mean old man or woman that the kids were afraid of and everybody wonders what their story is.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, I think so. I mean, even where I live in Virginia, you go to each small town, you could stretch it a bit and call it the village idiot. But there always is the strange guy in the town or whatever, surrounding the town.

And this gentleman is certainly one of them, although it's by choice, and he's not illiterate. You know, he could have been many things. He could've been a doctor or lawyer, but he chose this hermetic style of life, you know, on purpose. It's a legitimate choice on his part.

DAVIES: Right, and part of the film is us learning that he, as everybody, has their own story...

Mr. DUVALL: Absolutely.

DAVIES: ...and it's gradually revealed.

Mr. DUVALL: Absolutely.

DAVIES: I thought we should listen to a bit of your character here. Here you've already decided that you're going this, your funeral party, while you're still alive - that is to say, your character, Felix Bush, is. And he's here - one of the things he's done is gone on the radio and to assure that he gets a good crowd he's selling raffle tickets, and for five dollars someone can enter the raffle, and the winner gets Mr. Bush's property - that is to say, your character's property.

So plenty of money is coming in, and in this scene you're there as Felix Bush, and you're talking to the undertaker, who is played by Bill Murray, and his assistant, who is played by Lucas Black, and you're talking about some of the financial arrangements.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

(Soundbite of film, "Get Low")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) Can I trust you?

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank) Every name and every dollar is on this table.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) That's what I asked.

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank) I've dont a hell of a job for you. I don't see why...

Mr. BLACK: (as Buddy) Mr. Bush, I didn't mean to imply...

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank) I've sold horses, cars. I mean, I've sold watches that were pinned to the inside of my coat. I'm not ashamed of it. I don't rob banks, don't cheat at cards. I sleep all right, the nights I sleep.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) Take out for the expenses you already had and give me the receipts. When the bills come in for things, you give them to me. I'll pay them. You put this money in a box, and the boy and I will take it someplace in the morning. Whatever new(ph) comes in listen to me whatever new(ph) comes in, you keep it in the bottom of one of them ugly caskets in there until I come get it. When the party is over, you name a fair price for what you've done and we'll settle up. A fair price.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Robert Duvall, with Bill Murray and Lucas Black in his new film, "Get Low." Do you want to tell a little bit about developing this character and the voice?

Mr. DUVALL: And the voice? The voice, the inner voice, the outer voice, whatever. I the script is so wonderful, and I lost interest for a while because the script was wandering, and they brought Charlie Mitchell(ph) in from Alabama to put the final touches, and then they finally raised the money.

But I just let myself follow the logic of the script in developing the character, and if there was any outside voice, I didn't want to - I didn't really go for an accent. I just went kind of flavor from my father's people, from the farming people from Virginia.

DAVIES: Right, and this is a man who presumably would probably spend days, weeks, talking to no one but his mule, who he lives with.

Mr. DUVALL: Exactly, and the United States champion mule comes from, you'd think from Tennessee, Texas, Georgia. It came 20 miles from my home in Virginia, in Front Royal. Stevie Foster's(ph) mule down there, Gracie(ph), they sent down because mules by nature don't rear.

They're very smart. They don't rear. But we needed a mule that could rear when the guy throws a stone at the mule. So this mule can pray, go to the mailbox, bring you a letter, play the piano, do many things. This mule is trained to that.

But the mule was his only companion, really, through these years, except for an occasional trip into town, and self-styled exile, you know, I guess, you know, which he really felt he had to do to become this hermit, so to speak.

DAVIES: This film was shot in a little town in Georgia.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: I'm wondering: Would it have been different if you'd been on a sound stage somewhere?

Mr. DUVALL: Perhaps. "To Kill A Mockingbird" was totally done on a sound stage because in those days they didn't really go out to location. I think being on location does add something of a dimension, definitely, that reality. I think so, yeah.

For instance, the extras we got, they would come at 4:00 in the morning and stay until 8:00 or 9:00 at night. You know, it's the first time they were in a movie. Like in Hollywood, they have their trade magazines and they come in and that's it. Being so used to that, there's a certain jaded quality that sets in.

These people were very fresh. It only lasted two to three days. So they didn't get a chance to get jaded or bored. They were wonderful, wonderful to work and added a wonderful voice collectively themselves to the movie. It was wonderful to have that.

DAVIES: You know, you mentioned "To Kill a Mockingbird." That was one of your early film roles, in 1962.

Mr. DUVALL: That was my first one. My first one, with Horton Foote that made the adaptation from the novel.

DAVIES: Horton Foote, your good friend and playwright, right?

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly, and it's interesting because when I give that final speech, the first time I did it I only did it a few times as the hearse comes on with the mule, I mean my coffin for when I really, really die in the, whatever, near future, I'm giving that speech, and my wife, Luciana, is off-camera, and she hears her phone ring and quietly answers it, and it's someone telling her that Horton Foote had just died, as I gave that speech.

She got goose pimples, and after the scene was over, I was very kind of moved. It was like full circle from "To Kill A Mockingbird" till that point, you know, like he was there almost. It really was yeah, it was something, because I had told Horton I was doing this movie and I wanted him to see it because it had reminded me a lot of his work, you know.

It's really kind of like a Horton Foote movie, but he never got to see it. But he seemed to be there at that moment when we were when I was doing that final speech.

DAVIES: You know, I read a fair amount about you, and people talk about your ability to completely disappear into a character, that - I forget which director said it's almost eerie, that Robert Duvall becomes that character.

And then I've also ready you say no, it's it's work. I mean, you prepare, and you bring some of yourself to it. You never leave yourself. You don't transform.

Mr. DUVALL: Never.

DAVIES: And at that moment...

Mr. DUVALL: If you do, you're in trouble.


Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, you do. It's like play-acting. Kids play house, right? You played a preacher, I'll play the kid, you play the kid next door, and the kids play house. And here we play house as grownups. We get paid good money to play house. So it's a game, really. It's a game of you know, it's a game.

I mean, you become the character, but it's really you turning yourself in a certain way, as if you've become the character. But you cannot lose sight of who and what you are.

You have one set of emotions, one psyche, one soul, and you can't you don't become another thing. It's all those things turned to what seems to be something different.

DAVIES: You did so many memorable supporting roles earlier in your career, in the '70s. In fact, I read in a piece in the New York Times that one problem you had was audiences didn't always recognize you from one movie to the next because you disappeared so effectively into those roles.

One of them, of course, was the consigliere Tom Hagen in "The Godfather" roles.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

DAVIES: Did you realize that these were going to be such iconic films as you were making them?

Mr. DUVALL: Absolutely. I mean, well, I mean, a third of the way through, I said "Godfather I" - I said: This is going to be pretty important.

And I can remember when the film was finished, and we had an opening night party, I think it was at the St. Regis Hotel, and there was a wonderful buzz, and a wonderful feeling about, around the whole film of "Godfather I."

And I remember I won't mention names a well-known film director came up and said, You boys did a wonderful job in this movie, I want to congratulate you. He said, I don't know about the movie, he said. But this guy never made a movie that good ever. I won't mention names.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: So - anyway, but there was always that feeling that, wow, and then "Godfather II," it went in well, "Godfather II," we didn't have Jimmy Caan on the set, so it wasn't as much fun.

DAVIES: Well, then, of course there was "Apocalypse Now," and...

Mr. DUVALL: Right, with Coppola again.

DAVIES: Right, right, and your portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore is so memorable. I thought we should play this one scene. It may be...

Mr. DUVALL: Initially, the character was called Colonel Carnage.

DAVIES: No kidding?

Mr. DUVALL: But they had to water it down a little. That was a little bit too much.

DAVIES: A little too obvious.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah.

DAVIES: Well, let's just listen to these famous words at a battle scene. This is you playing Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore in "Apocalypse Now."

(Soundbite of film, "Apocalypse Now")

(Soundbite of helicopter)

Mr. DUVALL: (as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore) I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hail bomb, for 12 hours, and when it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of them, not one stinking dink body. You know that gasoline smell? The whole hill smells like - victory.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Robert Duvall, from "Apocalypse Now." Just tell us a little bit about you getting into the head of somebody who would love that gasoline smell, and bodies burned so badly you couldn't find them.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, well, you just have to just go and do it. You know, I was in the Army as a draftee, and I used to - I didn't know I'd ever play a guy like that. But I mean, out of curiosity I used to just watch some of the special service officers and the way they behaved, the way they stood, and when I got over there, they had the character as Carnage, and they changed it to Kilgore, and they had him in a cowboy hat and boots.

And some of the Marines and so forth, the more hardcore military, said, well, this didn't go on. Well, it did go on because I understood that the head general of the air cavalry used to deer hunt on his own along the Cambodia border on Friday nights, and his helicopter was shot down and he was killed. These guys did crazy things.

DAVIES: He was deer hunting from the helicopter?

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, from the helicopter. And I was told that by a gentleman who had served, you know, with the air cavalry. I mean, I guess guys, you know, you have to have hobbies to break up the monotony. Like, you know, people have hobbies, I suppose, even in wartime, you know.

DAVIES: Your character's hobby here was surfing.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: Was that in the script? Did you come up with that?

Mr. DUVALL: No, that was all those things were in the script, yeah, very much so.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Robert Duvall. He stars in the new film "Get Low." We'll talk some more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Robert Duvall. He is starring with Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray in the new film "Get Low."

Well, I want to talk about "Tender Mercies," the 1983 film for which you won the Oscar for Best Actor.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: In this one you were Mac Sledge, right, a once-popular country singer whose career had dissolved in alcoholism, finds himself in a little Texas highway motel where the widow who runs it kind of takes care of him, and he puts his life back together.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: And I thought we'd listen to a clip here, and this is late in the film, where you have as Mac Sledge, have heard that your daughter has died in a car accident, a daughter you had just reconciled with after many years apart.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

DAVIES: And in the scene you're hoeing in the vegetable garden, and your wife, who's played by Tess Harper, comes up and asks if you're okay, and here's how you respond.

(Soundbite of film, "Tender Mercies")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) I was almost killed once in a car accident. I was drunk, and I ran off the side of the road and I turned over four times. And they took me out of that car for dead, but I lived. And I prayed last night to know why I lived and she died, but I got no answer to my prayers. I still don't know why she died and I lived. I don't know the answer to nothing, not a blessed thing.

I don't know why I wandered out to this part of Texas drunk and you took me in and pitied me and helped me to straighten out, marry me. Why? Why did that happen? Is there a reason that happened?

And suddenly daddy died in the war, my daughter killed in an automobile accident. Why? You see, I don't trust happiness. I never did, I never will.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Robert Duvall, from the 1983 film "Tender Mercies." You know, as I hear that again, I just, it's such a powerful moment, and this man feeling such pain, it's so intense, never raises his voice. Do you want to talk a little bit about him and this character?

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, well, this scene in particular, I remember that. You know, I said, look, I would rather not loop this. Let's get the sound right because you're outside, so they put trucks around to and we didn't have to loop it, but...

DAVIES: When you say loop it, do you mean, like, provide an ambient kind of sound...

Mr. DUVALL: No, when you add your voice to your voice to make it clearer at the end in post-production.

DAVIES: Oh, I see.

Mr. DUVALL: You dub it, so to speak. And I didn't want to do that, and they hung back with the camera, didn't come in on close-ups because sometimes close-ups, it spells it out too literally. And they let the camera roll, and it kind of worked for me in a nice way, you know.

So it's just a guy, you know, down and out and - but you know, he had a support system in this woman that he married and a step-son, plus a baptism. And he, you know, he was able to weather his bad habits he put behind him, and it was a wonderful part to play.

Once again, Horton Foote, you know, and Horton's so great at drawing these specific kind of characters in a wonderful way, you know, and it just is a guy that, you know, he found his niche with this wonderful woman that he married. He got baptized, on the road to a better life, really, from the kind of disdainful and broken-down life he'd led before.

But then after he was on his way to recovery, he finds the daughter that he reconciled with was killed, which was, you know, pretty devastating to him.

DAVIES: This is one of several memorable characters that you created that are Texans, and when I read your biography, I just expected you to be a native Texan. Do you...

Mr. DUVALL: My mother's people are from New Boston, Texas, but, you know, I like Texas a lot. My wife loves it. She's from Argentina. Maybe it reminds her of it, although she does say Virginia is the last station before heaven for her. We live in Virginia. She loves Virginia.

But Texas too, and I know some of those border sheriffs and some of the Texas rangers. They're good people. And you know, it's nice working there in Texas.

DAVIES: You know, I read that when you were shooting this, you and the director, Bruce Beresford, had words a few times. Did you guys have differences about how this character should be?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, you know, just different opinions. I worked twice with some - a couple times with Australian directors. They have maybe - maybe I do too - they have attitudes. They're so far away from us.

We got it done. We got it done. Bruce Beresford, talented guy, we got it done and so forth. I'd rather have, you know, conflicts with people and have the end result be worthwhile than have it totally harmonious throughout and then the final result is not that good.

Like Beresford said one day in rehearsal, he said: Would you please pick up the pace? And Wilford Brimley said, well, I didn't know anybody dropped it, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: There were differences, but we got it done. We got it done. You know, Bruce did a very good job, yeah.

DAVIES: Uh-huh. You do sing in this film.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes, sir.

DAVIES: And I've got to say, sing beautifully too. Is this a career you might have had?

Mr. DUVALL: No. I don't know. Both my brothers were professional singers, but they sang opera. And I sold my apartment in New York I shouldn't have sold it. I sold it in, like, six minutes. It used to belong to Caruso, and I used to play Lefty Frizzell records while everybody was - for the Metropolitan - would be warming up, and they sent messages to me: Will you please turn off that country music?

But I've always liked country music, and, you know, I mean, you know, I did what I had to do. I liked to do my own I dance the two-step, and I like to do my own dancing, my own horsemanship and my own singing in a movie, and they tried to block that in the contract, that maybe they could loop somebody else.

And my brother was my lawyer at the time, would have no part of it. I was to do my own singing, and that was it. You know, that's why I took the part, really. You know, I didn't want somebody and they would have had legally the right to dub somebody else's voice in if we hadn't have blocked it contractually.

DAVIES: Were they happy with the result in the end?

Mr. DUVALL: I think so. I think they were, yeah. I think they were, yeah. Like but it's funny, you know. We went to publicize the movie, and Willie Nelson liked the movie a lot, and I got to know Wayland Jennings from that, because they liked that movie a lot. And Willie Nelson said he would help with the publicity, and the head of publicity in New York City of Universal Pictures said, well, we don't need Willie Nelson. How could he help publicize a movie like this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: I mean, is that crazy? I mean, come on. And then Willie said, well, now, did you ape Merle? I said no, I didn't ape Merle, but I like Merle Haggard a lot, but, you know, I didn't, really. And then George Jones thought it was his life story, and everybody thought, you know, tried to cash in on it. But, you know, it was something I just kind of - brought things together and made it my own.

DAVIES: It was your own creation, it was Mac Sledge.

Robert Duvall will be back in the second half of the show. Let's hear a scene from "Tender Mercies," where Duvall's character, the former country singer Mac Sledge, is sitting with his guitar in the kitchen, teaching a song and talking to the son of the woman he's married. He's played by Allan Hubbard. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of film, "Tender Mercies")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ALLAN HUBBARD (Actor): (as Sonny) What happened to your money?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) I lost it.

Mr. HUBBARD: (as Sonny) How?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Mac) How? Too much applejack.

Mr. HUBBARD: (as Sonny) You think you'll ever be rich again?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Mac) Well, I'll tell you what, Sonny. I don't lay awake nights worrying about it. Now, look, there's a D, right, D as in dog. Now watch me. I'll call them out.

(Singing) I decided to leave G - here forever not really. Let me know if you're staying behind that's A7. Otherwise I'll be gone in the morning D as in dog. Let me know if you're staying behind.

Now you can play a covered chord or a rhythm chord. Let me know that's a G if (unintelligible) or if you wander into another's arms...

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Im Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, back with actor Robert Duvall. He's starring in the new film "Get Low." One of Duvall's most memorable roles was that of Augustus McCrae in the 1989 TV miniseries "Lonesome Dove."

At the heart of the story is his relationship with Tommy Lee Jones character, Captain Woodrow Call. Both are former Texas Rangers. Duvall's character loves life and talks about his feelings. Jones generally doesnt.

In this scene from "Lonesome Dove," Jones has come upon Duvall who's weeping over a lost love and their conversation turns to prostitutes and one that Captain Call has apparently fathered a son with.

(Soundbite of movie, "Lonesome Dove")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) I don't know why you so down on whores, Woodrow. You've had yours as I recall.

Mr. TOMMY LEE JONES (Actor): (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) Yeah, and that was the worst mistake I ever made.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) It ain't a mistake to be a human being once in your life, Woodrow. Poor little old Maggie, left you a fine son before she quit this world.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) And you dont know that. That boy could be yours or Jake's or some damned gambler.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Yeah, but he ain't. He's yours and anybody with a good eye can see it. Besides, Maggie told me. We were good friends.

(Soundbite of smirk)

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) I dont know about friends. I'm sure you was a good customer, though.

(Soundbite of horse)

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Well, the two can overlap, you know.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) Youre the one that would know about overlapping with whores I recon.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) You know what hurt here most? You wouldnt call her by her name. You never would say Maggie. That what hurt her most.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) I dont know what it'd amounted to if I had.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) I would have made her happy.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) What are you talking about? She's a whore.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Well, whores got hearts, Woodrow and Maggie's was the most tender I ever saw.

(Soundbite of birds)

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) Well, why didnt you marry her then?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) She didnt love me. She loved you. You should've seen how she sat in that saloon every day watching the door after you quit coming around.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) I recon a man has got more to do than to sat in a saloon at always.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Like what? Go down in the river every night and clean his gun? Maggie needed you, you let her down. You know it too, dont you?

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) No. I dont know anything of the dang kind.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) And that's why you won't claim that boy as your own because he's a reminder, see, a living reminder that you failed somebody and you ain't never going to be up to admitting that, now are you?

(Soundbite of galloping horses)

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) Like I said, Maggie was just a whore.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Well, my God, Woodrow, at least you finally called her by name. I guess that shows some improvement now, dont it?

DAVIES: And that's my guest, Robert Duvall with Tommy Lee Jones in the series "Lonesome Dove."

You know, you guys are both, you mount and ride horses as youre having that conversation.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes, sir.

DAVIES: You were both horsemen, right?

Mr. DUVALL: Yes, sir. Back then I was really - I rode everything back then, jumping horses, English saddle, Western saddle, yeah, especially to get ready for the part. Yeah.

DAVIES: Did you know Tommy Lee Jones? Had you worked with him before?

Mr. DUVALL: No. I met Tommy Lee when we were going to do that. I went to his ranch down there in San Saba. We talked. We herded cattle and Argentine polo saddles. We went out and I got to know him. I haven't seen him too much since because he lives way down there and it was a good experience working him and Ricky Schroder and all the women. It was a wonderful experience. Wonderful.

My ex-wife, who lives there in Philadelphia, Gail, she's the one that told me to read this book. She liked it better than Dostoyevsky, a great, great novel and that make sure that they gave me the part of Augustus. Not the other part, which they were going to give me the other part but we talked and arranged it so that I could play Augustus, you know. So, if she's listening to the show, I want to thank her for that.

DAVIES: And Augustus fits you better. Why?

Mr. DUVALL: I dont know. Just, you know, because I've played those more covered guys before but, you know, this was more of a muted guy but was he's a more outgoing guy, Augustus, and suited a certain side of my personality maybe as much or more than the other part really.

James Garner was, they offered him the part. I said to my agent, he handled us both, if you can get him to switch parts I'll be in this and I dont want to play the other part. So he called back a few hours later and said, well, James Garner can't be on a horse for 16 weeks. And I said, well, okay, now go after that part and he did, and so he got me that part. So I really, really - I really loved it. I really did. My favorite, probably.

DAVIES: Yeah. This is a film about a cattle drive and...

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: I dont know if you used stuntmen at all. I mean, I guess you and Tommy Lee did not, right?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, the only time I use a stuntman when I had to ride down among the buffalo, which was a little hairy. But I did most all my own riding and my horse got a little iffy, so they put me on a ranch horse, a local ranch horse which were good and more sound, so to speak, and well broke. But then that was working great until the pistols went off and then this horse started bucking and I stayed on for about four or five seconds and then I bailed or he helped me bail.

And the cowboys were laughing, oh, youll be a 75 on that ride. They were all laughing. And I said to the director, you know, get a cutaway of me on the ground, getting back on. So they were able to use it when the horse actually bucked and I came off. So they really used it. But, you know, I did all my own riding. I took the horse to the ground when I used - had to slit his throat and use him as a shield and the stuntman, Rudy Ugland showed me how to do that. So I was glad that I could do my own riding, you know, because it was a, you know, that's because there were only horses. There were no cars way back.

DAVIES: You know, that really was one of many moments I remember from that series, youre being chased by a bunch of guys.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

DAVIES: About seven or eight guys. Youre not going to outrun them and so you quickly dismount, cut your horse's throat, drop him so that he forms a shield.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: And you fight these guys. It's amazing.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah. And Rudy and those guys showed me how to drop him because he was a falling horse by training.

DAVIES: And, you know, and the other great scene is the death scene where youve been shot by arrow and get gangrene.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: And you and the Tommy Lee Jones character have your farewells.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

DAVIES: I mean, it is a tremendous moment.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah.

DAVIES: Whats the legacy of that series in Texas do you think?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, it's like a Bible to them down there. I mean, these people, they just, other parts of the country and world is too, but in Texas, wherever you go, it's just people watch it 30, 35, once a year they get together with their families and watch it. It's really like a, I dont know what the word is. It's just a special thing for the people of Texas. It really, really is. I even understand a gaucho out in the country of Argentina wore out a copy of "Lonesome Dove." Although, it was looped. Got dubbed as...

(Spanish language spoken)

Mr. DUVALL: Call me Gus goose.

(Spanish language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Que pasa meaning what's going on? Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, they dubbed it. But, you know, in Canada too, all the way down - the American Western is ours. I say, let the English have -they have Shakespeare; the French, Moliere; the Russians, you know, Chekov and, you know, in South America they have Borges in Argentina. But the Western is ours, really.

DAVIES: Robert Duvall is our guest. He stars in the new film "Get Low." We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If youre just joining us, our guest is actor Robert Duvall. He stars with Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek in the new film "Get Low."

You wrote and directed the film "The Apostle" in 1997. A story...

Mr. DUVALL: Yes sir. And financed. Financed.

DAVIES: Oh right.

Mr. DUVALL: Right. Yeah.

DAVIES: Right. The thing that gets forgotten, but that's so hard to pull off.

Mr. DUVALL: Oh, boy.

DAVIES: This is the story of a Pentecostal preacher that you play. A flawed man who faces a crisis in his life when his wife finds another man and he is ousted from the church that he's the preacher. Let's just get a bit of you in this film preaching.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Apostle")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Euliss 'Sonny' Dewey - The Apostle E.F.) I'm preaching like I'm going to war this morning. I'm a genuine Holy Ghost Jesus-filled preaching machine here this morning. I tell you, I'm a genuine Holy Ghost Jesus-filled preaching machine here this morning. Now, if God be for us, who can be against us? He's God here in this radio station. He's God in Georgia. He's God in Tennessee. He's God in the pulpit. He's God at the front door. He's God in the 7-Eleven.

And yea, though I walk - I say yea, though I walk, I say yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me. And why, why, why do I say this? Oh why, why? Because I got Holy Ghost power here today. We're going to have a Holy Ghost explosion. We're going to shuck(ph), shuck at the devil here today and the Holy Ghost is our power line to heaven.

I'm going to tell you right now in days old, Moses went up into the mountain. When he got up in the mountain, high, high, high on the mountain, the Lord God above gave him 10 Commandments. He didnt give him 11, or 12, or 13 or 14. He gave him 10 Commandments. And the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not shout does not exist.

DAVIES: Where do I sign up?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: That is our guest.

Mr. DUVALL: It's true. It's true. If you dont shout you can't get to heaven in some of those people.

DAVIES: Our guest Robert Duvall from the film he wrote, directed and starred in "The Apostle." Tell us where this came from. What was your experience with the Pentecostal Christians?

Mr. DUVALL: I was doing an off-Broadway play called "The Days and Nights of Beebee Fenstermaker," a wonderful play by William Hartwell Snyder that just was terrific. And I played a guy from Hughes, Arkansas. So I was flying back from California to New York and I got off the plane in Memphis. I said, let me go to Hughes, just to see what it's like. Not that you have to do that to be an actor, but I decided.

So I went back and there was no place to stay. The highway guys building the highway from Louisiana let me bunk in with him. I walked down the street at night, the sheriff gave me dirty looks. It was strange. But there was a little white clapboard church I went into and I'd never been to something like that.

There was a woman preaching, a woman preaching, a Pentecostal preacher, and I said I've never seen anything like this, even in my own country. I want to put this on film some day. So it took me many, many, many years to get it off the ground and finally I did. You know, when my wife came up I finally got the go ahead to do it. I did resume my research that I did all over America. And she said, hey, Bobby, you think we'll ever go to any white churches? Because I love the black preachers. They're like surrogate fathers for their community and it was a great, great experience. Great.

DAVIES: Right. And, of course, this isn't just about Pentecostal culture. It's about a truly fascinating character, I mean, your guy.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes. I pieced it together from many, many, many stories.


Mr. DUVALL: Yeah.

DAVIES: I think its a tribute to the thought that I watched this again over the weekend and I still can't tell whether I like this guy or not.

Mr. DUVALL: Oh, I like him okay, because let me put it this way, what he did by killing a guy just out of the moment is not half as bad - one iota as bad as King David, who wrote the Psalms, who sent a man off to die by design so he could be with that guy's wife. That's what David did. But my guy just did it, so my guy wasnt as bad as some people, you know.

So anyway, you know, he is what he is really, you know. I mean, these guys, a lot of them start out and some of them end up charlatans own TV. But I think even if he had his moves and his whatever, at the core of his being he really believed in what he believed in, I think. So it was a labor of love but, you know, something, I mean, I heard Billy Graham liked it. And I got a wonderful letter from Marlon Brando, he liked it, respected it. So I got it from the secular and the religious - both sides.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Yeah, I was going to ask you have evangelicals reacted to it. Yeah. They liked it?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, some didnt like it, I think. But, you know, I mean I talked with Pat Robertson. Well, he just thought it was right on the money. It just was terrific, you know, and most people, you know, I get letters from people, my father was Pentecostal preacher or my uncle was and you got it exactly right. So I feel, you know, right. And there's always somebody, you know, like some people didnt like "The Godfather." Come on, you know, great, great movies. So...

DAVIES: I know your time is short. But you said you have some exciting roles coming up. You want to tell us anything about what's next for you?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, I do and I dont because these times, its so difficult to raise money. I can name four projects that are as good as any I've ever done that have come my way now. They're just absolutely tremendous part, "The Hatfields and the McCoys" written by Eric Roth. It's like American Shakespeare. Unbelievable. Another script, "A Night in Old Mexico," that this young French director, one of the top, is obsessed with doing that Bill Wittliff wrote. He wrote the adaption of, you know, of "Lonesome Dove."

Then I'm supposed to work with Terry Gilliam, where I play Don Quixote. And then last week I received a script from Billy Bob Thornton and his writing partner that might put Tennessee Williams in the back seat, that Billy will direct himself.

But those four projects are terrific, as good as anything, you know, so before they wipe the drool, I've got so a few things I'd like to do. But, you know, I hope at least one or two of them come to fruition.

DAVIES: You ain't retiring are you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: Well, like Michael Caine says: You dont retire. The business retires you. So we'll see. I got a few years left.

DAVIES: Well, Robert Duvall, it's been fun. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. DUVALL: Well, thank you for a wonderful interview. Wonderful job. Thank you.

DAVIES: Robert Duvall stars in the new film "Get Low." It opens next week in New York and Los Angeles and in the rest of the country in August.

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