Robert Duvall Biography
Robert Selden Duvall is an American film actor and director who has won an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards. He has appeared in films such as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now, The Natural, Network, THX 1138, MASH, The Great Santini, Tender Mercies, Lonesome Dove, Colors, and The Apostle.
Duvall was born in San Diego, California, the son of Mildred Virginia (née Hart), an amateur actress and relative of American Civil War General Robert E. Lee, and William Howard Duvall, a Virginia-born U.S. Navy admiral. Duvall's father was a Methodist and his mother was a Christian Scientist, and Duvall was reared in the Christian Science religion. Duvall grew up in a military family, living for a time in Annapolis, Maryland, near the United States Naval Academy. He attended Severn School in Severna Park, Maryland and The Principia in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated, in 1953, Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. He served in the United States Army (service number 52 346 646) from 19 August 1953 to 20 August 1954, leaving as Private First Class. While stationed at Camp Gordon (now known as Fort Gordon) in Georgia, Duvall acted in an amateur production of the comedy "Room Service" in nearby Augusta.
After leaving the Army, Duvall studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York under Sanford Meisner. While working to become an actor, he worked as a Manhattan post office clerk. Duvall is friends with actors Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman whom he knew during their years as struggling actors. At one point, Duvall roomed with Hoffman while they were looking for work.
Duvall's screen debut was as Boo Radley in the critically acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Duvall was cast in the film on the recommendation of screenwriter Horton Foote, who met Duvall at Neighborhood Playhouse during a 1957 production of Foote's play, The Midnight Caller. Foote, who would collaborate with Duvall many more times over the course of their careers, said he believed Duvall had a particular love of common people and ability to infuse fascinating revelations into his roles. Foote has described Duvall as "our number one actor."
Duvall later played the notorious malefactor Ned Pepper in True Grit (1969), but his breakout role was that of Tom Hagen in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), the former film earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He received another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in A Civil Action and for his role as Lt. Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979).
He also received a nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role in The Great Santini as Lt. Col. "Bull" Meechum who was loosely based on world famous Marine Aviator, Colonel Donald Conroy.
Duvall won an Oscar for Best Actor for his role as country western singer Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies (1983). Foote was rumored to have written the lead role for Duvall, who had always wanted to play a country singer and contributed ideas for the character. Foote denies this, claiming he finds it too constraining to write roles for specific actors, but he did hope Duvall would be cast in the role. Duvall was rumored to have written the country music for Tender Mercies himself, Duvall claims to have only written a few "background, secondary songs." Duvall did, however, do his own singing, and he insisted that it be added to his contract that he sing the songs himself; Duvall said regarding the subject, "What's the point if you're not going to do your own (singing)? They're just going to dub somebody else? I mean, there's no point to that."
Actress Tess Harper, who starred alongside Duvall in Tender Mercies, said Duvall inhabited the character so fully that she only got to know Mac Sledge and not Duvall himself; director Bruce Beresford, too, said the transformation was so believable to him that he could feel his skin crawling up the back of his neck the first day of filming with Duvall. Beresford said of the actor, "Duvall has the ability to completely inhabit the person he's acting. He totally and utterly becomes that person to a degree which is uncanny." Nevertheless, Duvall and Beresford did not get along well during the production and often clashed during filming, including one day in which Beresford walked off the set in frustration.
He directed the critically acclaimed The Apostle, about a preacher on the run from the law, and Assassination Tango (2002), a thriller about one of his favorite hobbies, tango. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on September 18, 2003.
Duvall portrayed General Robert E. Lee in Gods and Generals in 2003 and is actually a relative of the Confederate general. He has stated in several forums, including CBS Sunday Morning, that his favorite role was that of Augustus "Gus" McCrae in Lonesome Dove.
In 2005, he was awarded a National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush at the White House.
Duvall is close friends with Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman, both of whom he has known since their struggling actor days. He has been married four times, the first to Barbara Benjamin, from 1964 until 1975. He then married Gail Youngs (1982–1986) and Sharon Brophy (1991–1996).
In 2005, Duvall married Luciana Pedraza, granddaughter of famous Argentine aviator Susana Ferrari Billinghurst. He met Pedraza on a street in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were both born on January 5, but Duvall is 41 years older. They have been together since 1997. Duvall and Luciana have been active supporters of Pro Mujer, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Latin America's poorest women help themselves through micro-credit, business training and health care linkages.
Duvall speaks fluent Spanish and maintains a farm in The Plains in Fauquier County, Virginia. He has the same birthday as Godfather co-star Diane Keaton who was born in 1946 and UCSD scholar Mia Gunzenhauser, born in 1989. His favorite city is Buenos Aires. He is an avid Tango dancer and football fan. Duvall faxed a message of support to Dumfries club Queen of the South ahead of the team playing in the 2008 Scottish Cup Final. Duvall became acquainted with the club in filming scenes in 1999 for 'A Shot at Glory'.
Duvall's political views are variously described as libertarian or conservative. He was personally invited to Republican President George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001. In September 2007, he announced his support for Republican Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. Duvall worked the floor at the GOP's 2008 national convention and, according to a 29 August 2008 MSNBC article, Duvall narrated most of the videos for the convention. In September 2008, he appeared on stage at a John McCain-Sarah Palin rally in New Mexico, and he told an October 2008 GOP fundraiser that "As far as I'm concerned, we've got to keep this guy [Barack Obama] out of the White House."
Despite their political differences, Duvall is related to Barack Obama through a common ancestor, Mareen Duvall, who immigrated to what is now Maryland from France. Duvall is also related to former President Harry Truman, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, all through the same common ancestor.