The Enduring Robert Duvall

There are few actors in Hollywood who hold as iconic a place in film as Robert Duvall. Having acted in more than 80 films, he’s played roles as diverse as consigliere Tom Hagen in The Godfather and town bogeyman “Boo” Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird. Of course, there have been a few less-than-iconic roles along the way as well (remember Days of Thunder?)—“I had to pay the rent,” Duvall says—but his trademark grimace/squint/smile and his familiar voice have made him a lasting favorite.

His new movie, Get Low, has Duvall taking on a new American paragon: the backwoods hermit. Loosely based on a true story, Get Low is a fable, folk tale and legend. Duvall stars as a Tennessee loner who decides to stage his own funeral—while he’s still alive. Bill Murray also stars as the owner of the town’s funeral parlor and an unlikely friend for the aging hermit. Duvall spoke with RELEVANT about the film’s themes, why he’s drawn to spiritual roles and what it’s like to work with Bill Murray.

Q:

What’s your favorite role? And are there any roles you regret?

A:

I’m sure there’s some regret—I had to pay the rent. Augustus McCrae from Lonesome Dove was my favorite, but Get Low is my wife’s favorite since The Apostle almost 15 years ago.

Q:

What was it like working with Bill Murray in this movie? How did you choose the cast?

A:

Bill Murray is kind of a smart aleck, but a good smart aleck. He’s always on top of things, but always has a great respect for the project and wants it to be the best it can be. It was a wonderful cast we assembled for a very low budget film, so to speak. Such a unique, lovely script that people responded to it.

Q:

Get Low is your third big film with Christian themes, after Tender Mercies and The Apostle. What draws you to these films?

A:

Horton Foote wrote Tender Mercies with me in mind. … With The Apostle, I had attended a Pentecostal church years ago. … I don’t believe in message movies, but if there’s a message about humanity and a positive thing a man can gain from his fruits and go into his future in a positive way, that’s good.

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Q:

Does spirituality play a part in the roles you choose?

A:

Spirituality plays a role in my decision. If you’re gonna do something of faith that people might admire and cling to if they see, you have to do your homework and do it the right way. Some thought I was making fun of Pentecostal people [in The Apostle] … but both Billy Graham and Marlon Brando liked it—I won over both spiritual and secular. I had to do it right to get that.

Q:

What was the biggest challenge of Get Low?

A:

The challenge of Get Low was to do the part. … I spent Christmas in Northern Argentina to gain a sense of privacy the way [Felix Bush] has. … When we were doing the scene where the casket rolls out, Horton’s son-in-law told us Horton had just died. I learned that as the camera was rolling. … It was almost like he was there, all the way from To Kill a Mockingbird to that very moment.

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