Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Robert Duvall reflects on amazing career. His faith-themed film Seven Days in Utopia  just debuted on DVD. I’ll have my review in the next blog. Till then, I had the opportunity to talk with the versatile legend about the movie itself, his remarkable career and his personal take on what makes a good film.   Here are some highlights from our conversation. You can watch the Utopia trailer, along with a trailer from another memorable Duvall work,  below.

JWK: I’m a big fan of yours, by the way.

ROBERT DUVALL: Well, thank you.

JWK: My wife and I actually recently watched an old episode of The Fugitive with you in it.

ROBERT DUVALL: That’s so long ago. I can’t even remember those.

JWK: What led you take take your role (as eccentric rancher/golf pro Johnny Crawford) in Seven Days in Utopia?

ROBERT DUVALL: Well, they offered me good money. It was a good script. I like working with (co-star) Lucas Black. I worked with him three times. He’s a scratch golfer. It was working in Texas which I love. I love that state. Just kind of the complete package made it quite attractive.

JWK: Are you a golfer yourself?

ROBERT DUVALL: No, sir, I’m not. Way back I did some but I  didn’t really have to play golf (in the movie). You obviously don’t have to be a murderer to play a murderer or you don’t have to be a dictator to play a dictator.  So, you’re an actor. You come up with whatever you come up with to play that part.

JWK: There’s a lot of philosophy in this movie (i.e. The first step in finding a good game is to find some conviction.). Does it reflect you own attitude toward life?

ROBERT DUVALL: No, not really. It’s a part. You gotta be careful with message movies.  People say “What do you want people to take away from it?”  I always say its totally individual. If people want to take away a message that’s an individual thing but you gotta be careful trying to put forth a “message movie,” quote-unquote. You know what I’m saying?

JWK: What danger to you see in putting forth a message in a movie?

ROBERT DUVALL: It’s not a danger. It just can become very presumptuous and so forth. So, I figure it’s an individual “taking away” process with the viewer. Whatever they take away, the message is a subjective thing, I think.

JWK: Do you have a favorite role of the movies you’ve done?

ROBERT DUVALL: My favorite was the miniseries Lonesome Dove where I played Augustus McCrae, the Texas Ranger. That was my favorite.

JWK: You seem to be attracted to the western genre.

ROBERT DUVALL: Yeah, I love the westerns, I really do. When I was a young actor, you had to look for hobbies between jobs and, you know, I rode a lot of horseback years ago. You know, in between, when I was living temporarily in Southern California,  I developed a good seat on the horse. So often you see people in movies riding that do not have a good basic seat on a horse.

.JWK: Where did you grow up?

ROBERT DUVALL: Well, I grew up between San Diego and Annapolis, Maryland. My father went to to the Naval Academy when he was 16 years old. He was a professional naval officer during World War II and so we went back and forth between those two cities.

JWK: How did you get into acting?

ROBERT DUVALL: My parents pushed me into it, if you can believe that.  A military family pushed me into acting because I wasn’t doing to well academically. It was an expedient thing to get me through school and I thank them for that forever.  Just regular families, they don’t want their kids to go into that and this was a military family I came from.

JWK:  There would seem to be a sort of contradiction in the outlooks of Hollywood and the military.


JWK: You’re often looked at as being something between a libertarian and a conservative. Do you find navigating your way around a liberal-leaning Hollywood to be a challenge?

ROBERT DUVALL: No, not really. There’s room for all is the way I look at it — because of the country we live in. It allows Hollywood to be liberal, whether that’s good or bad. I mean there’s plenty of mink coat liberals out there as I call them. But there’s room for all kinds of films to be made. These people have that freedom to do that. You don’t always have to agree with what they do but at least there’s room for that if you know what I’m saying.

 JWK: What kind of films do you like to see?

ROBERT DUVALL: Films that have good behavior. We saw this film this other night, Brad Pitt’s movie Moneyball.  It was terrific. I didn’t expect it to be that good. It’s a baseball film but it’s just wonderful. The execution and the performances, I’m sure Brad Pitt, being the producer, had a lot to say about that. But I like to see movies with a good, not message, but a positive humane feel about it, a humanitarian feel about it — but with good performances. Because the beginning and the end of it for me is the behavior. I call if “from ink to behavior,’ that’s the journey that I look for.

JWK: From “ink to behavior?”  Can you elaborate on that for me?

ROBERT DUVALL: Yes, I said “from ink to behavior.” You read a script and what goes on after that? How do you  take that print, that ink, and make it into a breathing human being?…There are so many people that overact and this and that but when you see a movie like Moneyball or others…then you see how actors are really in touch with themselves, as the say, and living in the moment.

JWK: You say you like movies with a “humane tone.” Do you make a distinction between putting forth a “humane tone” and putting forth a “message?”

ROBERT DUVALL: No. I try not to think of a message. Once again, that can become very pretentious or presumptuous if you try to make a “message movie.”

JWK: What do you look for in a role?

ROBERT DUVALL: I look for something I haven’t done before…I want to know who the director is and who’s going to be surrounding me.  I try to be as versatile as possible, letting it come out of myself,  whether I played Lonesome Dove or when I played Josef Stalin or when I played a Cuban barber in a movie with Richard Harris. So, you know, very different parts, completely different, but trying to find whatever conclusions I will come to coming out of myself. It’s gotta come from you, turned in a certain way. You don’t really become something else. It’s you turned in a certain way.

JWK: So it all comes from a part of you that’s within each character.

ROBERT DUVALL: Absolutely.

JWK: So Josef Stalin must have been a challenge because I don’t think you’re too much like Josef Stalin.

ROBERT DUVALL: The challenge of my life. We filmed that in the Kremlin in 1991 just as things were turning around over there.  It was a bit eerie, very paranoid, the whole aura of the country and yet when I saw it recently many, many, many years later, when I saw the closing scene with my daughter, I said I can’t do any better than that as an actor. I think I accomplished something. I don’t know if people in this country caught it. (Russian filmmaker) Nikita Mikhalkov’s father (who wrote the country’s national anthem)…saw the movie and said I touched the soul of Stalin. So, that’s the best review I’ve ever gotten in my life.

JWK: I think my favorite Robert Duvall movie was Tender Mercies.

ROBERT DUVALL:  Oh, yeah. That was an original script by Horton Foote, the great Texas writer, a wonderful man. I did my first film To Kill a Mockinbird with him. We were friends for 50 years. He died about three years ago. I mean, how many friends to you have for 50 years for goodness sake? He was one of our great writers. People don’t really know him a lot but, when you really see his work done, some of the best literary work in our history is by Horton Foote.

JWK: You mentioned your favorite role was in the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove. Would you ever consider doing a TV series?

ROBERT DUVALL:  If I ended my career, I wouldn’t mind doing a TV series if it was a western and I  played a mute gunfighter so I wouldn’t have to remember lines every week. So, I don’t know. Maybe but I doubt it.

I got a few things left. I just did a film with Billy Bob Thornton which is the most unique film I’ve ever been in. It’s called Jayne Mansfield’s Car. And I tell people don’t bring your preacher to this one but if you do he might like it. I mean it’s so out there but it’s so accurate. I call him (Billy Bob Thornton) the hillbilly Orson Welles. I said “Billy, you put Tennessee Williams in the backseat with this script.” It’s so unique.

JWK: What’s it about?

ROBERT DUVALL: It’s about two families…one in England, one in the South…I’ve never read anything quite like it. We’ve finished it. I guess it’s coming out next year. It’s very special.

JWK: What’s your personal life like these days? Would you consider yourself a contented man?

ROBERT DUVALL: Yeah. I feel good. My wife and I, we’re headed for Texas. We love Texas. We live in Virginia but we’re gonna spend maybe a month or so just wandering around Texas looking for ideas — maybe to write an original script, maybe not. I’m friends with those border sheriffs down on the border…A year ago they made me an honorary member of the Texas Rangers. So, we feel good down there in Texas.  It’s like a foreign country almost and when I was down there with a Texas Ranger a woman came up to me and said “You know, we loved  Lonesome Dove so much my daughter was getting  married and I wouldn’t allow this young man to marry into our family until he saw Lonesome Dove.”

Note: Special shoutout to The Catholic Channel, celebrating it’s 5th anniversary which launched on Sirius Satellite Radio (now SiriuXM) on December 4, 2006.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

More from Beliefnet and our partners
previous posts

Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: 10/22/21 Gospel-themed choir competition drops globally on Netflix on Friday, November 20. Voices of Fire follows Grammy Award-winner/executive producer Pharrell Williams’ uncle Bishop Ezekiel Williams (pastor and founder of Faith World Ministries) as he and his core team of influential gospel leaders seek out  undiscovered […]

Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: 10/21/21 What’s next? Sega Genesis? Actually, the story of David and Goliath is from the Book of Samuel but I just had to go for the joke. Also, it’s Virtuous VR Gaming (not Sega Genesis) that is releasing DvG: Conquering Giants as its debut virtual […]

Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: 10/19/21 From the Commission on Presidential Debates: Kristen Welker (of NBC News), moderator of the Oct. 22, 2020 presidential debate, has selected the topics for that debate. Subject to possible changes because of news developments, the topics are as follows, not necessarily to be brought […]

Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media: 10/16/21 Here’s something that didn’t come up in either town hall last light. The Economist just updated the human rights abuses being conducted against the Uyghurs by the Chinese government. Rules on family size are reportedly (though not by most of the globalist media) ruthlessly […]