Duvall dances into best roles of his career

Sunday, March 30, 2003

— Many actors in their 70s gripe that they're lucky to land marginal roles as somebody's grandpa. Not so with Robert Duvall, who says he's getting more acting offers the older he gets.

This year alone, Duvall has been seen as Robert E. Lee in "Gods and Generals," and has plum parts as an eccentric uncle with a shady past in the upcoming "Secondhand Lions" and as a trail boss in Kevin Costner's Western "Open Range."


AP Photo

Robert Duvall (John J.) is seen dancing with Luciana Pedraza (Manuela) in the movie "Assassination Tango." Duvall, 72, also wrote and directed the movie. "Assassination Tango" was filmed mostly in Buenos Aires, Argentina, within a seven-week period in 2001.

Then there's the tango-fixated hit man he plays in "Assassination Tango," which Duvall wrote and directed.

"I tell you, I get more parts than ever now," Duvall, 72, said in an interview. "A lot of wonderful parts have come my way, and I appreciate it. Maybe they'll continue. You never know what's around the corner. ...

"Maybe there aren't many guys left for these parts. There are only two or three left," Duvall joked.

"Assassination Tango" is Duvall's writing-directing follow-up to 1997's "The Apostle," a low-budget story he financed himself about a Southern preacher who goes on the lam after an act of jealous violence. Duvall earned a best-actor Academy Award nomination for the role.

Duvall, who won the lead-actor Oscar for 1983's "Tender Mercies," drew on his own passion for tango in his latest story, the tale of a New York City hit man on assignment in Buenos Aires, where he fills some down time while waiting for his quarry by immersing himself in Argentina's dance culture.

Luciana Pedraza, Duvall's real-life girlfriend of seven years, makes her acting debut as a tango dancer with whom the hit man has a dalliance.

Duvall has divided his time the past five years between big Hollywood spectacles ("Deep Impact," "Gone in 60 Seconds," "The 6th Day") and small, intimate projects including his own stories or the Scottish soccer flick "A Shot at Glory."

He shelled out $3.5 million of his own money to shoot "The Apostle," which became the object of a bidding war at the Toronto International Film Festival. For "Assassination Tango," old friend Francis Ford Coppola, who directed Duvall in "Apocalypse Now" and the first two parts of "The Godfather," signed on as executive producer and lined up financing.

"It was like full circle, because Coppola always had said I should play a tango guy from way back," Duvall said.

Duvall's interest in the dance goes back 15 years, when he caught a performance of the show "Tango Argentino." He got to know dancers involved with the show, then visited Argentina, where he hung out at dance clubs and saw some legendary old-timers doing the tango.

"Those older guys are dying off now. I knew some of them. One guy was a beautiful dancer, very slow, very interesting. Slow and then violent. I loved his dancing. Another one died of a heart attack dancing in front of a bunch of heart specialists. So there's always a story with the tango."