Robert Duvall

Gods and Generals

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

Robert Duvall has played a few military men in his time, in films such as "Apocalypse Now", "M*A*S*H", and "The Great Santini".

The all-time acting great stars as legendary Confederate scrapper Robert E Lee in "Gods and Generals" - a man, it transpires, he can relate to...

Of all the actors in "Gods and Generals", your delivery sounded the most naturalistic. Did you have a hand in writing your dialogue?

Nah, I didn't have any input. They wrote those speeches. It was like a history lesson. The thing that saved me in that film was not the fact that on my mother's side I'm related to the guy. The thing that gave me the hook to the character was that bloodline right into my father's people. Like Lee they are from Fairfax in northern Virginia, just across the Mason-Dixon line, so it's a speech pattern I know. It was an honour to play Lee, he was a great general.

Compared to you, everyone else sounded rather stilted...

Yeah, well, it was a fight for the other actors because of the syntax and so forth. They're thinking of doing a third film but they can't, they've lost too much money. That would be Lee's heyday. I don't even know if I want to do a third one. It was long hours, but I suppose it was OK. I mean I only had to roll out of bed in the morning, because where I live in Virginia is right near where they shot the film.

How did you get involved in Kevin Costner's latest directorial venture, "Open Range"?

Well, a year ago, Kevin Costner called and said, "Don't take anything because we got something. I can't tell you what it is but it's great." So I probed and probed and finally I found out it was a western. We shot it in Calgary, it's set 100 years ago, and it's a true western with a great gun battle. I play a trail boss and it's a great, great part.

Is this a genre you enjoy?

Look, the English do Shakespeare, the French do Molière, the Russians do Chekhov - we do westerns. Spending two years on my uncle's ranch in Montana as a young man gave me the wisdom and the thrust to do westerns, I feel. To this day, I still think [TV western] Lonesome Dove is my best part.

Gregory Peck died recently. What are your memories of working with him on "To Kill a Mockingbird"?

I was very touched when I heard he passed away. They told me and I went on the radio just moments after it happened. "To Kill a Mockingbird" was my first film and I came in at the end of the movie, just as my character [Boo Radley] comes in at the end of the book. It was a wonderful introduction when I came on the set. Gregory Peck was very gracious and accommodating to me and everyone else. So my memories of him, professionally and personally, are that he was very much a gracious person who seemed to be very inclusive of all peoples.