Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall

Born in San Diego, CA, Robert Selden Duvall was raised in Annapolis, MD. The son of a Navy admiral, Duvall served in the U.S. Army and later drew from this background for such performances as Kilgore in "Apocalypse Now" (1979) and career military man Bull Meecham in "The Great Santini" (1979). Duvall would also use his early experiences to inform a wide variety of Southern parts - an affinity perhaps owing to his father's Virginia roots - beginning with Boo Radley. During the mid-1950s, Duvall gravitated to New York City, where he appeared off-Broadway in Horton Foote's one-act play, "The Midnight Caller" (1958) - the first of his many associations with the playwright. Duvall also acted in an acclaimed off-Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge" (1965). Duvall began acting on television in the early 1960s, racking up guest shots on series like "The Outer Limits" (ABC, 1963-65), "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964), "Route 66" (CBS, 1960-64) and "The Defenders" (CBS, 1961-65). Having gained a solid reputation by the late 1960s, Duvall closed out the decade with two notable performances. The first was as the unpredictable Ned Pepper in "True Grit" (1969), regarded by many as the definitive John Wayne Western. That same year, Duvall earned kudos for his performance in Francis Ford Coppola's drama, "The Rain People" (1969), marking the first of five collaborations between the actor and filmmaker.Duvall continued to challenge himself with unusual roles through much of the 1970s. Having portrayed an astronaut in director Robert Altman's "Countdown" (1968), Duvall reunited with the director for "M*A*S*H" (1970), a cutting anti-war dramedy set in Korea. As super pious surgeon Major Frank Burns, Duvall showed off his formidable comedic chops, invoking flashes of brilliance not seen since his villainous turn in "True Grit." The following year, Duvall gave one of his most unusual performances as the title character in George Lucas' feature directing debut, "THX 1138" (1971). Though the Orwellian sci-fi thriller did poorly in its initial release, the film was later reevaluated in a more positive light. Duvall's next project was the Horton Foote-scripted "Tomorrow" (1972), regarded by many as the best film adaptation of a William Faulkner work. The story of a handyman who falls for an abandoned pregnant woman (Olga Bellin), "Tomorrow" garnered respectful reviews, but little business. Bigger things awaited the actor, however.In late 1971, director Francis Ford Coppola tapped Duvall for the part of Tom Hagen, the loyal Corleone family consigliere in "The Godfather" (1972). One of Duvall's best-known roles, Tom Hagen was an instrumental part of Mario Puzo's story. Masterfully underplayed, yet powerfully effective, Duvall's character would be fleshed out significantly in "The Godfather: Part II" (1974). Released just two years after, the sequel picked up where the original left off, continuing Puzo's inter-generational family saga. Interestingly, when Paramount greenlit "The Godfather: Part III" (1990) some 16 years later, Duvall was naturally expected to participate. When he and the studio were unable to come to terms over salary, however, the character of Tom Hagen was regrettably dropped from the final script. Although financial issues led Duvall to pass on appearing in the less than operatic "Part III," the actor did join former co-stars Marlon Brando and James Caan in reprising their characters vocally for the 2006 video game "The Godfather: The Game."Professionally speaking, Duvall truly came into his own as an actor towards the late 1970s and early 1980s. Already considered one of Hollywood's top supporting actors by that point, Duvall left his indelible mark on a number of superior films. In 1979, the actor gave a tour-de-force performance as the sadistic Lt. Col. Bull Meechum in the film adaptation of Pat Conroy's "The Great Santini." Nominated for two Oscars, the film successfully re-energized Duvall's career. Later that same year, Duvall appeared as the gung-ho surfing enthusiast/battlefield warrior Colonel Kilgore in Francis Ford Coppola's epic war drama, "Apocalypse Now" (1979). Though his part was relatively small, Duvall would deliver one of modern cinema's most memorable lines: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning smells like victory." However, it was not until the Oscar-winning "Tender Mercies" (1983) that the actor's talents would formally be recognized. Delivering a career performance as faded country singer Mac Sledge, Duvall perfectly captured the pain, heartache and despair of a once beloved entertainer. One of the best films of the year, "Tender Mercies" deservedly received two Oscars, including one for Duvall for Best Actor.While the Eighties boasted some of Duvall's finest work, the following decade was somewhat of a mixed bag for the actor, artistically speaking. Settling into an increasingly familiar role as the mentor-cum-wizened father figure, Duvall breezed through a series of high-budget movies playing broad variations of the same character. While none of these films - among them: "Days of Thunder" (1990), "The Paper" (1993), "Falling Down" (1994), "Phenomenon" (1995), "The Gingerbread Man" (1998) and "Deep Impact" (1998) - offered much in the way of challenge, they did, at least, insure the actor lifelong financial security. Par for the course, Duvall's presence actually elevated some of these films to undeserved heights. His performance as a slick corporate legal counsel in the merely adequate "A Civil Action" (1998), for example, earned the film its highest notices. One of the rare exceptions to this rule, though, was "The Apostle" (1997) - a pet project that Duvall had tried to get off the ground for over a decade. Written by, directed by and starring Duvall, "The Apostle" told the tale of a fallen preacher (Duvall) who, through a course of deceptive practices, ultimately finds unexpected redemption. Boasting fine supporting performances from Farrah Fawcett, Miranda Richardson and Billy Bob Thornton, "The Apostle" was a huge critical hit and earned Duvall yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination. As his film career peaked, Duvall returned to television periodically. Among his triumphs was his Emmy-nominated portrayal of retired Texas Ranger Captain Augustus 'Gus' McCrae in the TV miniseries adaptation of Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1989). Duvall's output remained prolific - if a bit uninspired - as he entered the new millennium. Following a lengthy hiatus, Duvall returned with a splash in "Gone In 60 Seconds" (2000) - a high budget, high-octane spectacle starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie. Later that year, Duvall popped up again in another lucrative, but otherwise unchallenging role as a cloning scientist in Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The 6th Day" (2000). He also added his distinctive gravitas to his role as a seasoned police negotiator in the over-earnest populist drama, "John Q" (2000), starring Denzel Washington. Duvall did, however, manage to land one of his more distinguished roles of the era as legendary Confederate general Robert E. Lee in "Gods and Generals" (2003) - the prequel to the acclaimed novel and film "Gettysburg" (1993). Continuing his efforts behind the camera, Duvall again took center stage as star, writer, producer and director of his next project, the crime drama, "Assassination Tango" (2002). Co-produced by his "Godfather" collaborator, Francis Ford Coppola, the film was notable for its clever incorporation of one of Duvall's passions - Argentinean tango dancing - into the plot. Giving another finely etched performance, Duvall played an aging, paranoid, dance-loving hit man in this offbeat film. More acting jobs followed. In 2004, Duvall teamed with Michael Caine for "Secondhand Lions," a sentimental tale of two eccentric uncles who take in their neglected young nephew (Haley Joel Osment) for a summer. Duvall subsequently called upon his estimable comedic chops to play Will Ferrell's win-at-all-costs father in "Kicking & Screaming" (2005). In "Thank You for Smoking" (2006), Jason Reitman's satirical look at the world of spin doctoring; Duvall played a millionaire owner of a tobacco company dying of lung cancer, who sends his best lobbyist (Aaron Eckhart) to convince Hollywood moguls to put more smoking back into movies.Later in 2006, Duvall found himself back in familiar territory when he starred the Western "Broken Trail" (AMC, 2005-06), a two-part miniseries about an old cowboy (Duvall) and his nephew (Thomas Haden Church) who come across five Chinese women kidnapped from their home and sold into sexual slavery seeking to find safe haven from their captors. Duvall earned yet another Golden Globe Award nomination, this time for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie. In 2007, Duvall returned before the cameras for a supporting role in director Curtis Hanson's poker-themed family drama, "Lucky You," giving a powerful performance as L.C. Cheever, the estranged father of Eric Bana's character, hotshot poker player Huck Cheever. When father and son face off against each other in the film's climax, it is as opponents at the world-famous World Series of Poker championship.Meanwhile, the accolades continued for his performance in "Broken Trail." Duvall earned an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, the first-ever win in his long, venerable career. Later in the evening, Duvall took the Emmy stage a second time to accept the award for Outstanding Miniseries on behalf of the producers.Showing no signs of slowing down - sometimes at the expense of participating in less than stellar projects - Duvall made an appearance as the emotionally distant, excessively macho dad of Vince Vaughn in the miserable holiday comedy "Four Christmases" (2008). He redeemed himself the following year with a small but devastating turn in the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's bleak post-apocalyptic journey, "The Road" (2009). In the story of a father and son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) on a desperate struggle for survival, Duvall's cameo of a 90-year-old dying man who is looking for his own son, was one of the more heart-wrenching moments of an already emotionally brutal film. That same year, Duvall delivered another quietly eloquent performance as a concerned friend trying to steer Jeff Bridges' washed-up country singer toward the path to redemption in the critically lauded "Crazy Heart" (2009). The nearly 80-year-old actor followed with a leading role in the little seen, but highly regarded independent drama, "Get Low" (2010). Alongside Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray, Duvall's portrayal of a curmudgeonly hermit in 1930s Tennessee who decides to throw himself a "funeral party" while he is still alive earned the veteran actor a Screen Actors Guild Award nod. From there, he played Russian General Petrov in "Hemingway & Gellhorn" (HBO, 2012), starring Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, and followed that with a supporting turn as a former U.S. Marine who operates a shooting range in the action thriller, "Jack Reacher" (2012), which featured Tom Cruise as the titular former military M.P.-turned-vigilante. Duvall next starred in the drama "A Night in Old Mexico" (2013), followed by a turn opposite Robert Downey Jr. in the title role of the legal drama "The Judge" (2014).