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Life Lessons from Robert Duvall

The respected actor shares with us a few pearls of wisdom

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Back in 1988, on the set of the miniseries Lonesome Dove, Robert Duvall stood on a cliff overlooking the Rio Grande with screenwriter Bill Whitliff. His friend leaned in and told Duvall he’d already written him another great role in a flick about a Texas rancher struggling against the inelegance of getting old. “I told him, ‘No, no, no, it’s too soon. You have to wait a while,'” says Duvall, now 83. Twenty-six years later, the Oscar winner is finally ready. In A Night in Old Mexico (now in limited release and on iTunes and VOD), the actor slides into the role of Red Bovie, a man who’s still got plenty of hell-raising in him — kind of like Duvall himself, who, over the course of his 60-year career, has done it all and then some. Here, he shares the secrets to his enduring greatness on and off the screen.

Good To Know
Always Have Heroes ”Back in the day Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and I used to gather in Cromwell’s Drugstore in New York City a couple times a week and just talk and talk and talk. If we mentioned Marlon Brando’s name once we mentioned it 25 times. He was our hero, our mentor from a distance. He was the guy.”

The Essence of Acting ”To me, it’s ‘I talk, you listen.’ Let the process take you to the result. On True Grit, the director [Henry Hathaway] said to an actor, ‘When I say ”action,” tense up, goddamn it!’ No, that’s the worst thing you could say to an actor. But he was one of the old-school directors who tried to control everything.”

Sage Advice
Do It Yourself ”I always say I do my own singing, my own horsemanship, and my own dancing in the movies. I don’t want any doubles.”

Ignore Reviews ”There’s always somebody around the corner who doesn’t like something. The opening night of The Godfather we had a wonderful party at the St. Regis hotel and a well-known director came over with his big cigar to me, Pacino, and Jimmy Caan and says, ‘You boys were wonderful in this film. I don’t know about the movie, though.’ In three lifetimes this director couldn’t direct a movie this good. It’s not like 2 + 2 = 4. It’s art; it’s subjective.”

Don’t Rush Retirement ”When I finished Lonesome Dove I said, ‘I feel like I can retire.’ That role was my Hamlet. But that was a long time ago, and retirement? I’m not ready to wipe the drool yet! Terry Gilliam came to my farm, and he wants me to play Don Quixote in a movie. Men on horses, saving women — you know, all that. Maybe that will be my swan song, my exit part.”

Be A Diva ”I’ve acted like an ass before — well, I’ve done it a number of times, ha! But it’s to protect the work. A lot of times they hire you for what you can do, and then the director starts telling you what to do. Well, hire somebody else!”

Wisdom for the Ages
The Secret to Surviving Lean Times ”Hobbies, hobbies, hobbies between jobs. They’ll keep you off of dope.”

Some Things Are Better Than An Oscar ”I received a really nice letter from Brando after I did The Apostle. It sits in the room opposite my Oscar. I almost like that letter more than I do the statue.”

Cherish What Makes You Happy ”A woman who’s an extension of yourself. A nice drive in the country. A good walk with your dog. And nothing beats a good hamburger.”