Home > Terms > English (EN) > Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall

Veteran actor and director Robert Duvall was born on January 5, 1931, in San Diego, CA, the son of a career military officer who later became an admiral. Duvall majored in drama at Principia College (Elsah, IL), then served a two-year hitch in the army after graduating in 1953. He began attending The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre In New York City on the G.I. Bill in 1955, studying under Sanford Meisner along with Dustin Hoffman, with whom Duvall shared an apartment. Both were close to another struggling young actor named Gene Hackman. Meisner cast Duvall in the play "The Midnight Caller" by Horton Foote, a link that would prove critical to his career, as it was Foote who recommended Duvall to play the mentally disabled "Boo Radley" in Du silence et des ombres (1962). This was his first "major" role since his 1956 motion picture debut as an MP was in Marqué par la haine (1956), starring Paul Newman.

Duvall began making a name for himself as a stage actor in New York, winning an Obie Award in 1965 playing incest-minded longshoreman "Eddie Carbone" in the off-Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge", a production for which his old roommate Hoffman was assistant director. He found steady work in episodic TV and appeared as a modestly billed character actor in films, such as Arthur Penn's La poursuite impitoyable (1966) with Marlon Brando and in Robert Altman's Countdown (1967) and Francis Ford Coppola's Les gens de la pluie (1969), in both of which he co-starred with James Caan.

He was also memorable as the heavy who is shot by John Wayne at the climax of 100 dollars pour un shérif (1969) and was the first "Maj. Frank Burns", creating the character in Altman's Korean War comedy M.A.S.H. (1970). He also appeared as the eponymous lead in George Lucas' directorial debut, THX 1138 (1971). It was Francis Ford Coppola, casting Le parrain (1972), who reunited Duvall with Brando and Caan and provided him with his career breakthrough as mob lawyer "Tom Hagen". He received the first of his six Academy Award nominations for the role.

Thereafter, Duvall had steady work in featured roles in such films as Le parrain, 2ème partie (1974), Tueur d'élite (1975), Network - Main basse sur la TV (1976), Sherlock Holmes attaque l'Orient-Express (1976) and L'aigle s'est envolé (1976). Occasionally this actor's actor got the chance to assay a lead role, most notably in Tomorrow (1972), in which he was brilliant as William Faulkner's inarticulate backwoods farmer. He was less impressive as the lead in Police connection (1973), in which he played a character based on real-life NYPD detective Eddie Egan, the same man his old friend Gene Hackman had won an Oscar for playing, in fictionalized form as "Popeye Doyle" in French Connection (1971).

It was his appearance as "Lt. Col. Kilgore" in another Coppola picture, Apocalypse Now (1979), that solidified Duvall's reputation as a great actor. He got his second Academy Award nomination for the role, and was named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most versatile actor in the world. Duvall created one of the most memorable characters ever assayed on film, and gave the world the memorable phrase, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!".

Subsequently, Duvall proved one of the few established character actors to move from supporting to leading roles, with his Oscar-nominated turns in The Great Santini (1979) and Tender Mercies (1983), the latter of which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Now at the summit of his career, Duvall seemed to be afflicted with the fabled "Oscar curse" that had overwhelmed the careers of fellow Academy Award winners Luise Rainer, Rod Steiger and Cliff Robertson. He could not find work equal to his talents, either due to his post-Oscar salary demands or a lack of perception in the industry that he truly was leading man material. He did not appear in Le parrain, 3ème partie (1990), as the studio would not give in to his demands for a salary commensurate with that of Al Pacino, who was receiving $5 million to reprise Michael Corleone.

His greatest achievement in his immediate post-Oscar period was his triumphant characterization of grizzled Texas Ranger Gus McCrae in the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove (1989), for which he received an Emmy nomination. He received a second Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in Stalin (1992), and a third Emmy nomination playing Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in L'homme qui a capturé Eichmannn (1996).

The shakeout of his career doldrums was that Duvall eventually settled back into his status as one of the premier character actors in the industry, rivaled only by his old friend Gene Hackman. Duvall, unlike Hackman, also has directed pictures, including the documentary We're Not the Jet Set (1977), Angelo My Love (1983) and Assassination Tango (2002). As a writer-director, Duvall gave himself one of his most memorable roles, that of the preacher on the run from the law in Le prédicateur (1997), a brilliant performance for which he received his third Best Actor nomination and fifth Oscar nomination overall. The film brought Duvall back to the front ranks of great actors, and was followed by a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod for Préjudice (1998).

Robert Duvall will long be remembered as one of the great naturalistic American screen actors in the mode of Spencer Tracy and his frequent co-star Marlon Brando. His performances as "Boo Radley" in Du silence et des ombres (1962), "Jackson Fentry" in Tomorrow (1972), "Tom Hagen" in the first two "Godfather" movies, "Frank Hackett" in Network - Main basse sur la TV (1976), "Lt. Col. Kilgore" in Apocalypse Now (1979), "Bull Meechum" in The Great Santini (1979), "Mac Sledge" in Tender Mercies (1983), "Gus McCrae" in Lonesome Dove (1989) and "Sonny Dewey" in Le prédicateur (1997) rank as some of the finest acting ever put on film. It's a body of work that few actors can equal, let alone surpass.

0
Collect to Blossary

Member comments

You have to log in to post to discussions.

Terms in the News

Billy Morgan

Sports; Snowboarding

British snowboarder Billy Morgan has landed the sport’s first ever 1800 quadruple cork. The rider, who represented Great Britain at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, was in Livigno, Italy, when he achieved the manoeuvre. It involves flipping four times, while the body also spins five complete rotations on a sideways or downward-facing axis. The trick had ...

Marzieh Afkham

Broadcasting & receiving; News

Marzieh Afkham, who is the country’s first foreign ministry spokeswoman, will head a mission in east Asia, the state news agency reported. It is not clear to which country she will be posted as her appointment has yet to be announced officially. Afkham will only be the second female ambassador Iran has had. Under the last shah’s rule, Mehrangiz Dolatshahi, a ...

Weekly Packet

Language; Online services; Slang; Internet

Weekly Packet or "Paquete Semanal" as it is known in Cuba is a term used by Cubans to describe the information that is gathered from the internet outside of Cuba and saved onto hard drives to be transported into Cuba itself. Weekly Packets are then sold to Cuban's without internet access, allowing them to obtain information just days - and sometimes hours - after it ...

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

Banking; Investment banking

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is an international financial institution established to address the need in Asia for infrastructure development. According to the Asian Development Bank, Asia needs $800 billion each year for roads, ports, power plants or other infrastructure projects before 2020. Originally proposed by China in 2013, a signing ...

Spartan

Online services; Internet

Spartan is the codename given to the new Microsoft Windows 10 browser that will replace Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer. The new browser will be built from the ground up and disregard any code from the IE platform. It has a new rendering engine that is built to be compatible with how the web is written today. The name Spartan is named after the ...

Featured Terms

Xena
  • 45

    Terms

  • 7

    Blossaries

  • 6

    Followers

Industry/Domain: Luggage & bags Category: Handbags

Tuileries

Ultra-functional yet terribly stylish, the Tuileries is the ideal bag for the everyday challenges of your 24/7 lifestyle. Inspired by designs from the ...

Contributors in People

Featured blossaries

Superpowers

Category: Entertainment   1 20 Terms

Indian Super League (ISL)

Category: Sports   1 3 Terms