The first time I saw Robert Duvall as an actor, I had no idea who he was, but since he was playing one of my favorite literary characters, Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, I expected great things. And I wasn’t disappointed. I just hadn’t fallen in love with the actor yet.
But there was more to come. In 1970, Duvall was the first Major Frank Burns in the MASH. And in 1979, he gave a memorable turn as consigliore Tom Hagen, in the Godfather (also part 2). But it was his famous uttering of the line “I love the smell of Napalm in the morning” that brought him fully to my attention in the movie Apocalypse Now. The role of Lt. Col Kilgore gave Duvall his second Academy Award nomination.
From there he went on to receive two more nominations. One for The Great Santini (Bull Meechum) and a fourth for Tender Mercies (for which he won best actor). It was Duvall’s role as Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies that first led me to fall in love with him. His ability to immerse himself into a role so deeply that I forget that there is an actor involved at all, puts him among the best of the best as far as I’m concerned. He’s gone on, it should be noted, with movies like The Apostle, to amass a total of six academy award nominations not to mention Golden Globes and SAG awards.
But for me the quintessential Duvall role was actually found on the small screen. Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is one of the best miniseries ever made as far as I’m concerned (the book was amazing as well). And part of the reason the televised version was so good, was the casting of Robert Duvall as Gus McCrae. (Of course Tommy Lee Jones as Captain Call is another reason—and another post )
Duvall, quite simply, was McCrae. With his wry sense of humor and downhome wisdom, Duvall embodied the character and made me fall in love with him all over again. Whether he was lecturing PeaEye or talking to Laurie about getting a poke. From there he went on to capture small screen audiences playing Stalin in the television movie of the same name and Adolph Eichmann in a splendid TV movie, The Man who Captured Eichmann. And most recently he returned to his western roots, playing yet another cowboy in Broken Trail on AMC.
But I find I am most delighted when he pops up as a secondary character—one we’ll most likely never forget—in movies I hadn’t expected to find him in. A cabdriver for Steve McQueen in Bullitt, a crew chief in Days of Thunder, and the bad guy in the shootout with John Wayne at the end of Rooster Cogburn.
All in all one of my favorite actors by far. And like Stanley Tucci (as usual Sherri is inspiring my posts) an actor first and a “star” after the fact. They make it look so damn easy.
What about you? Do you have favorite actors like Duvall and Tucci? Someone who makes you forget you’re watching fiction? Who reaches off the screen and pulls you deep into the character he or she is portraying?