Robert Duvall Profile
Born Robert Selden Duvall on January 5, 1931 in San Diego, California, where his father was serving as a career Naval officer (and would later become a Rear Admiral), Duvall is a direct descendant of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee, whom he would later portray in the 2003 film Gods and Generals. When he was ten, Duvall's family moved to Annapolis, Maryland where he would spend the majority of his childhood. He attended Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, where he majored in government and history, but later switched his major to drama. In 1953 and 1954 he served in the Army, achieving the rank of Private First Class and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal. Upon his release from the Army in 1955, Duvall went to New York, where he studied acting. "My parents kinda pushed me into it because I was...floundering...they figured maybe I could do that, because I'd do skits around the house - I sang, because my brothers all sang a lot. I was pretty petrified at first, but I got to like it. In the beginning I went to New York to be a theatre actor." Duvall's teacher was the legendary Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. His fellow students included Dustin Hoffman (who was also his roommate) and Gene Hackman.
Duvall was not an overnight success, as he later remembered one particularly harsh review of his performance in the George Bernard Shaw play Major Barbara, "Man, I just got cut to pieces by reviewers when I was young. I had to get off a bus once, I had such a bad review in the New York Times. It said `Shaw had invented some impossible young men in his plays, but never one so revolting as the romantic interest in this one. And the character is made even less palatable by Robert Duvall, whose spine tends toward a figure S, whose diction is flannel-coated and whose simpering expressions are moronic.' Years later this same woman gave me a glowing review for The Godfather."
Meisner would be influential in helping establish Duvall's career when he cast him in the play The Midnight Caller by writer Horton Foote. It was Foote who later recommended Duvall for the role of Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, which was his film debut. He had spent the previous two years as many New York actors did, working in television, beginning with an appearance on Playhouse 90. Following To Kill a Mockingbird, he returned to the stage where he won an Obie Award in 1965 for A View from the Bridge, and at the same time appeared in several television series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, Route 66, The Virginian, The Fugitive, The Wild, Wild West, Combat and The Mod Squad and films like True Grit (1969), The Chase (1966) and Countdown (1968). In 1970, he created the character of Major Frank Burns in Robert Altman's M*A*S*H.
Duvall's performance in The Godfather (1972) earned him his first Academy Award nomination and his career has continued to prosper since that time. In addition to acting, Duvall has branched out into writing, producing and directing, beginning with the 1975 rodeo documentary We're Not the Jet Set, and Angelo My Love (1983). The Apostle was a film that took him six weeks to write and fifteen years to be made. "Everything I did, write, direct, it was all an extension of myself as an actor. So what I know as an actor, it all came out of that. And I worried about it, but once we started it was much more harmonious than I thought. It went very smoothly. When you act, it's a wonderful thing, but almost it's more fulfilling overall when you direct." Duvall financed the project himself when he couldn't find a backer, and ended up nominated for a Best Actor Oscar®. His latest directorial piece was the 2002 film Assassination Tango co-starring actress Luciana Pedraza, whom he married in 2005.
He said in a recent interview, "All the time in the sixties and early seventies, I always figured that I was a sort of a 'late bloomer' - I felt my time was later than guys like Jimmy Caan, [Robert] De Niro, [Al] Pacino. It's later now... I guess I'm still around! In fact, I'm getting more offers than ever - that's fine with me. I'm gonna be around for a few years, I hope. I'm not gonna quit for a while...." As of this writing, Robert Duvall, at the age of 75, is busier than ever, with five films either announced, completed, or in post-production.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Journal of Religion and Film 1998
Characters: A Conversation with Robert Duvall by Neil Young
All Movie Guide
Robert Duvall Can Do It All by Jim Slotek, July 2, 1996
The Internet Movie Database