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Winter-Spring 2001
Vol. 63, No. 2-3

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An Afternoon with Robert Duvall

Some 1,800 people jammed the Palestra for actor Robert Duvall's one-on-one interview with Gannett's national film critic, Jack Garner.

If you're ever hobnobbing around Hollywood-you know, Oscar parties and such-and you happen to run into Robert Duvall, a word of advice:

Don't pretend that you, too, were standing on the beach in Apocalypse Now and that you, too, "love the smell of Napalm in the morning."

The Academy Award-winning actor who made Lieutenant Kilgore's line in the 1979 movie a national catchphrase has had so many such encounters that they are a recurring skit in his life.

"People will come up and say that to me as if we're the only two people in the world who ever heard the line," a jovial Duvall told Gannett's national film critic, Jack Garner, in a one-on-one interview conducted before an audience of 1,800 of his closest Rochester friends.

Not that Duvall, who also took part in a session with Dean William Scott Green's "Theories of Religion" class (see page 18), would be found all that often in Hollywood.

When he's not working on location in places like Toronto or Scotland, he prefers to hang out on his ranch in Virginia.

These are just a few of the insights the venerable actor shared in "Up Close and Personal with Robert Duvall," an hour-long session that was punctuated with frequent laughter as Duvall mixed jokes and serious advice in conversation with Garner and with the audience.

In a nearly 40-year career, Duvall has made close to 80 films-as Garner pointed out, that's almost two a year-and has branched out beyond acting to writing, directing, and producing.

As a performer, Duvall is one of the most highly regarded actors in movies. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as the Mafia lawyer Tom Hagen in The Godfather and again for Apocalypse Now. He won the best-actor Oscar for his starring role in 1983's Tender Mercies.

Duvall in the Classroom

Meeting with undergraduates in William Scott Green's "Theories of Religion" course, actor Robert Duvall (left) talks about his film "The Apostle," which the class has been analyzing throughout the fall semester.

With the class filling the first four rows of a crowded Hubbell auditorium, Duvall fielded their questions on how religion works in people's lives-or doesn't. "Everyone in religion must find their own way to salvation," he told his audience.

He also was nominated for best actor for the subject of his discussion with Green's class-his 1997 movie, The Apostle, which he wrote, directed, and produced.

For all his current celebrity, Duvall emphasized that he chose to become an actor because he loved the work, not because he wanted to be famous.

"I look at myself as a hired hand, so to speak," Duvall said when asked about the variety of roles he's willing to play on screen. "I've always been able to cross over and do some leading parts and some supporting parts."

And, he pointed out, his willingness to play supporting roles helps provide the time and money to work on the writing and directing projects.

Often praised for the depth that he brings to his characters, Duvall said his goal has always been to avoid one- dimensional portrayals. Even for characters like Joseph Stalin or Adolf Eichmann, both of whom he has portrayed in television movies, Duvall said he tries to find a way to flesh out the character and make his portrayal "more human."

"I always try to find the contradiction in each character," he said. "It's not always one thing or the other. It's always a mix."

It's a strategy that works, he thinks, because he is comfortable in his own skin.

"People will say, 'Oh, you played that person so well; you just became that character.' Well, you do and you don't. You only have one psyche and one temperament, and you have to use that to tap into the character that you're playing.

"But you have to know yourself, and your own psyche and your own temperament," he said. "If you don't know yourself, you're lost."

 

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