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Robert Duvall: From 'The Godfather' To 'Get Low'

The Academy Award-winning actor details some of his most memorable roles, including his portrayal of Tom Hagen in The Godfather and Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. He also describes his latest role, a hermit planning a "living funeral," in the upcoming film Get Low.

37:58

Other segments from the episode on July 22, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 22, 2010: Interview with Robert Duvall; Review of Tom Jones' album "Praise and Blame"; Review of the summer television season.

Transcript

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Robert Duvall: From 'The Godfather' To 'Get Low'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Our guest today is Robert Duvall. He's known for memorable performances
in "The Great Santini," "The Godfather" I and II, "Apocalypse Now,"
"Lonesome Dove," The Apostle," which he wrote and directed, and for his
Oscar-winning role in "Tender Mercies," written by his longtime friend,
playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote.

At age 79, Duvall is hardly slowing down. He recently appeared in the
films "Crazy Heart" and "The Road," and he stars in the new film "Get
Low," where he plays a reclusive old man with a long beard who lives
outside a small Southern town in the 1930s. In this clip from the film,
Duvall's character, Felix Bush, has come to town to plan his own
funeral. He's meeting with the undertaker, played by Bill Murray, and
his assistant, played by Lucas Black, and he has an unusual request.

(Soundbite of film, "Get Low")

Mr. ROBERT DUVALL (Actor): (as Felix Bush) And I want to be there.

Mr. BILL MURRAY (Actor): (as Frank Quinn) You will be. I guarantee it.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) I want to be there now.

Mr. LUCAS BLACK (Actor): (as Buddy) You want to be at your funeral party
alive?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) Yes, sir.

Mr. BLACK: (as Buddy) But you can't have a funeral if you're not, you
know, deceased.

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank) Hold on now. It's a detail. We can look at it.

Mr. BLACK: (as Buddy) Pretty big detail.

DAVIES: I spoke to Robert Duvall earlier this week. Robert Duvall,
welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. DUVALL: Thank you, sir.

DAVIES: I wonder if part of the appeal of this film is that every
neighborhood has some mean old man or woman that the kids were afraid of
and everybody wonders what their story is.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, I think so. I mean, even where I live in Virginia, you
go to each small town, you could stretch it a bit and call it the
village idiot. But there always is the strange guy in the town or
whatever, surrounding the town.

And this gentleman is certainly one of them, although it's by choice,
and he's not illiterate. You know, he could have been many things. He
could've been a doctor or lawyer, but he chose this hermetic style of
life, you know, on purpose. It's a legitimate choice on his part.

DAVIES: Right, and part of the film is us learning that he, as
everybody, has their own story...

Mr. DUVALL: Absolutely.

DAVIES: ...and it's gradually revealed.

Mr. DUVALL: Absolutely.

DAVIES: I thought we should listen to a bit of your character here. Here
you've already decided that you're going this, your funeral party, while
you're still alive - that is to say, your character, Felix Bush, is. And
he's here - one of the things he's done is gone on the radio and to
assure that he gets a good crowd he's selling raffle tickets, and for
five dollars someone can enter the raffle, and the winner gets Mr.
Bush's property - that is to say, your character's property.

So plenty of money is coming in, and in this scene you're there as Felix
Bush, and you're talking to the undertaker, who is played by Bill
Murray, and his assistant, who is played by Lucas Black, and you're
talking about some of the financial arrangements.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

(Soundbite of film, "Get Low")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) Can I trust you?

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank) Every name and every dollar is on this table.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) That's what I asked.

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank) I've don’t a hell of a job for you. I don't see
why...

Mr. BLACK: (as Buddy) Mr. Bush, I didn't mean to imply...

Mr. MURRAY: (as Frank) I've sold horses, cars. I mean, I've sold watches
that were pinned to the inside of my coat. I'm not ashamed of it. I
don't rob banks, don't cheat at cards. I sleep all right, the nights I
sleep.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Felix) Take out for the expenses you already had and
give me the receipts. When the bills come in for things, you give them
to me. I'll pay them. You put this money in a box, and the boy and I
will take it someplace in the morning. Whatever new(ph) comes in –
listen to me – whatever new(ph) comes in, you keep it in the bottom of
one of them ugly caskets in there until I come get it. When the party is
over, you name a fair price for what you've done and we'll settle up. A
fair price.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Robert Duvall, with Bill Murray and Lucas
Black in his new film, "Get Low." Do you want to tell a little bit about
developing this character and the voice?

Mr. DUVALL: And the voice? The voice, the inner voice, the outer voice,
whatever. I – the script is so wonderful, and I lost interest for a
while because the script was wandering, and they brought Charlie
Mitchell(ph) in from Alabama to put the final touches, and then they
finally raised the money.

But I just let myself follow the logic of the script in developing the
character, and if there was any outside voice, I didn't want to - I
didn't really go for an accent. I just went kind of flavor from my
father's people, from the farming people from Virginia.

DAVIES: Right, and this is a man who presumably would probably spend
days, weeks, talking to no one but his mule, who he lives with.

Mr. DUVALL: Exactly, and the United States champion mule comes from,
you'd think from Tennessee, Texas, Georgia. It came 20 miles from my
home in Virginia, in Front Royal. Stevie Foster's(ph) mule down there,
Gracie(ph), they sent down because mules by nature don't rear.

They're very smart. They don't rear. But we needed a mule that could
rear when the guy throws a stone at the mule. So this mule can pray, go
to the mailbox, bring you a letter, play the piano, do many things. This
mule is trained to that.

But the mule was his only companion, really, through these years, except
for an occasional trip into town, and self-styled exile, you know, I
guess, you know, which he really felt he had to do to become this
hermit, so to speak.

DAVIES: This film was shot in a little town in Georgia.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: I'm wondering: Would it have been different if you'd been on a
sound stage somewhere?

Mr. DUVALL: Perhaps. "To Kill A Mockingbird" was totally done on a sound
stage because in those days they didn't really go out to location. I
think being on location does add something of a dimension, definitely,
that reality. I think so, yeah.

For instance, the extras we got, they would come at 4:00 in the morning
and stay until 8:00 or 9:00 at night. You know, it's the first time they
were in a movie. Like in Hollywood, they have their trade magazines and
they come in and that's it. Being so used to that, there's a certain
jaded quality that sets in.

These people were very fresh. It only lasted two to three days. So they
didn't get a chance to get jaded or bored. They were wonderful,
wonderful to work and added a wonderful voice collectively themselves to
the movie. It was wonderful to have that.

DAVIES: You know, you mentioned "To Kill a Mockingbird." That was one of
your early film roles, in 1962.

Mr. DUVALL: That was my first one. My first one, with Horton Foote that
made the adaptation from the novel.

DAVIES: Horton Foote, your good friend and playwright, right?

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly, and it's interesting because when
I give that final speech, the first time I did it – I only did it a few
times – as the hearse comes on with the mule, I mean my coffin for when
I really, really die in the, whatever, near future, I'm giving that
speech, and my wife, Luciana, is off-camera, and she hears her phone
ring and quietly answers it, and it's someone telling her that Horton
Foote had just died, as I gave that speech.

She got goose pimples, and after the scene was over, I was very kind of
moved. It was like full circle from "To Kill A Mockingbird" till that
point, you know, like he was there almost. It really was – yeah, it was
something, because I had told Horton I was doing this movie and I wanted
him to see it because it had reminded me a lot of his work, you know.

It's really kind of like a Horton Foote movie, but he never got to see
it. But he seemed to be there at that moment when we were – when I was
doing that final speech.

DAVIES: You know, I read a fair amount about you, and people talk about
your ability to completely disappear into a character, that - I forget
which director said it's almost eerie, that Robert Duvall becomes that
character.

And then I've also ready you say no, it's – it's work. I mean, you
prepare, and you bring some of yourself to it. You never leave yourself.
You don't transform.

Mr. DUVALL: Never.

DAVIES: And at that moment...

Mr. DUVALL: If you do, you're in trouble.

DAVIES: Okay.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, you do. It's like play-acting. Kids play house, right?
You played a preacher, I'll play the kid, you play the kid next door,
and the kids play house. And here we play house as grownups. We get paid
good money to play house. So it's a game, really. It's a game of – you
know, it's a game.

I mean, you become the character, but it's really you turning yourself
in a certain way, as if you've become the character. But you cannot lose
sight of who and what you are.

You have one set of emotions, one psyche, one soul, and you can't – you
don't become another thing. It's all those things turned to what seems
to be something different.

DAVIES: You did so many memorable supporting roles earlier in your
career, in the '70s. In fact, I read in a piece in the New York Times
that one problem you had was audiences didn't always recognize you from
one movie to the next because you disappeared so effectively into those
roles.

One of them, of course, was the consigliere Tom Hagen in "The Godfather"
roles.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

DAVIES: Did you realize that these were going to be such iconic films as
you were making them?

Mr. DUVALL: Absolutely. I mean, well, I mean, a third of the way
through, I said – "Godfather I" - I said: This is going to be pretty
important.

And I can remember when the film was finished, and we had an opening
night party, I think it was at the St. Regis Hotel, and there was a
wonderful buzz, and a wonderful feeling about, around the whole film of
"Godfather I."

And I remember – I won't mention names – a well-known film director came
up and said, You boys did a wonderful job in this movie, I want to
congratulate you. He said, I don't know about the movie, he said. But
this guy never made a movie that good ever. I won't mention names.

DAVIES: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: So - anyway, but there was always that feeling that, wow,
and then "Godfather II," it went in – well, "Godfather II," we didn't
have Jimmy Caan on the set, so it wasn't as much fun.

DAVIES: Well, then, of course there was "Apocalypse Now," and...

Mr. DUVALL: Right, with Coppola again.

DAVIES: Right, right, and your portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore
is so memorable. I thought we should play this one scene. It may be...

Mr. DUVALL: Initially, the character was called Colonel Carnage.

DAVIES: No kidding?

Mr. DUVALL: But they had to water it down a little. That was a little
bit too much.

DAVIES: A little too obvious.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah.

DAVIES: Well, let's just listen to these famous words at a battle scene.
This is you playing Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore in "Apocalypse Now."

(Soundbite of film, "Apocalypse Now")

(Soundbite of helicopter)

Mr. DUVALL: (as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore) I love the smell of napalm
in the morning. You know, one time we had a hail bomb, for 12 hours, and
when it was all over, I walked up. We didn't find one of them, not one
stinking dink body. You know that gasoline smell? The whole hill smells
like - victory.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Robert Duvall, from "Apocalypse Now." Just
tell us a little bit about you getting into the head of somebody who
would love that gasoline smell, and bodies burned so badly you couldn't
find them.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, well, you just have to just go and do it. You know, I
was in the Army as a draftee, and I used to - I didn't know I'd ever
play a guy like that. But I mean, out of curiosity I used to just watch
some of the special service officers and the way they behaved, the way
they stood, and when I got over there, they had the character as
Carnage, and they changed it to Kilgore, and they had him in a cowboy
hat and boots.

And some of the Marines and so forth, the more hardcore military, said,
well, this didn't go on. Well, it did go on because I understood that
the head general of the air cavalry used to deer hunt on his own along
the Cambodia border on Friday nights, and his helicopter was shot down
and he was killed. These guys did crazy things.

DAVIES: He was deer hunting from the helicopter?

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, from the helicopter. And I was told that by a
gentleman who had served, you know, with the air cavalry. I mean, I
guess guys, you know, you have to have hobbies to break up the monotony.
Like, you know, people have hobbies, I suppose, even in wartime, you
know.

DAVIES: Your character's hobby here was surfing.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: Was that in the script? Did you come up with that?

Mr. DUVALL: No, that was – all those things were in the script, yeah,
very much so.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Robert Duvall. He stars in the new film "Get
Low." We'll talk some more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is actor Robert Duvall. He
is starring with Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray in the new film "Get Low."

Well, I want to talk about "Tender Mercies," the 1983 film for which you
won the Oscar for Best Actor.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: In this one you were Mac Sledge, right, a once-popular country
singer whose career had dissolved in alcoholism, finds himself in a
little Texas highway motel where the widow who runs it kind of takes
care of him, and he puts his life back together.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: And I thought we'd listen to a clip here, and this is late in
the film, where you have – as Mac Sledge, have heard that your daughter
has died in a car accident, a daughter you had just reconciled with
after many years apart.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

DAVIES: And in the scene you're hoeing in the vegetable garden, and your
wife, who's played by Tess Harper, comes up and asks if you're okay, and
here's how you respond.

(Soundbite of film, "Tender Mercies")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) I was almost killed once in a car accident.
I was drunk, and I ran off the side of the road and I turned over four
times. And they took me out of that car for dead, but I lived. And I
prayed last night to know why I lived and she died, but I got no answer
to my prayers. I still don't know why she died and I lived. I don't know
the answer to nothing, not a blessed thing.

I don't know why I wandered out to this part of Texas drunk and you took
me in and pitied me and helped me to straighten out, marry me. Why? Why
did that happen? Is there a reason that happened?

And suddenly daddy died in the war, my daughter killed in an automobile
accident. Why? You see, I don't trust happiness. I never did, I never
will.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Robert Duvall, from the 1983 film "Tender
Mercies." You know, as I hear that again, I just, it's such a powerful
moment, and this man feeling such pain, it's so intense, never raises
his voice. Do you want to talk a little bit about him and this
character?

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, well, this scene in particular, I remember that. You
know, I said, look, I would rather not loop this. Let's get the sound
right because you're outside, so they put trucks around to – and we
didn't have to loop it, but...

DAVIES: When you say loop it, do you mean, like, provide an ambient kind
of sound...

Mr. DUVALL: No, when you add your voice to your voice to make it clearer
at the end in post-production.

DAVIES: Oh, I see.

Mr. DUVALL: You dub it, so to speak. And I didn't want to do that, and
they hung back with the camera, didn't come in on close-ups because
sometimes close-ups, it spells it out too literally. And they let the
camera roll, and it kind of worked for me in a nice way, you know.

So it's just a guy, you know, down and out and - but you know, he had a
support system in this woman that he married and a step-son, plus a
baptism. And he, you know, he was able to weather his bad habits he put
behind him, and it was a wonderful part to play.

Once again, Horton Foote, you know, and Horton's so great at drawing
these specific kind of characters in a wonderful way, you know, and it
just is a guy that, you know, he found his niche with this wonderful
woman that he married. He got baptized, on the road to a better life,
really, from the kind of disdainful and broken-down life he'd led
before.

But then after he was on his way to recovery, he finds the daughter that
he reconciled with was killed, which was, you know, pretty devastating
to him.

DAVIES: This is one of several memorable characters that you created
that are Texans, and when I read your biography, I just expected you to
be a native Texan. Do you...

Mr. DUVALL: My mother's people are from New Boston, Texas, but, you
know, I like Texas a lot. My wife loves it. She's from Argentina. Maybe
it reminds her of it, although she does say Virginia is the last station
before heaven for her. We live in Virginia. She loves Virginia.

But Texas too, and I know some of those border sheriffs and some of the
Texas rangers. They're good people. And you know, it's nice working
there in Texas.

DAVIES: You know, I read that when you were shooting this, you and the
director, Bruce Beresford, had words a few times. Did you guys have
differences about how this character should be?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, you know, just different opinions. I worked twice with
some - a couple times with Australian directors. They have maybe - maybe
I do too - they have attitudes. They're so far away from us.

We got it done. We got it done. Bruce Beresford, talented guy, we got it
done and so forth. I'd rather have, you know, conflicts with people and
have the end result be worthwhile than have it totally harmonious
throughout and then the final result is not that good.

Like Beresford said one day in rehearsal, he said: Would you please pick
up the pace? And Wilford Brimley said, well, I didn't know anybody
dropped it, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: There were differences, but we got it done. We got it done.
You know, Bruce did a very good job, yeah.

DAVIES: Uh-huh. You do sing in this film.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes, sir.

DAVIES: And I've got to say, sing beautifully too. Is this a career you
might have had?

Mr. DUVALL: No. I don't know. Both my brothers were professional
singers, but they sang opera. And I sold my apartment in New York – I
shouldn't have sold it. I sold it in, like, six minutes. It used to
belong to Caruso, and I used to play Lefty Frizzell records while
everybody was - for the Metropolitan - would be warming up, and they
sent messages to me: Will you please turn off that country music?

But I've always liked country music, and, you know, I mean, you know, I
did what I had to do. I liked to do my own – I dance the two-step, and I
like to do my own dancing, my own horsemanship and my own singing in a
movie, and they tried to block that in the contract, that maybe they
could loop somebody else.

And my brother was my lawyer at the time, would have no part of it. I
was to do my own singing, and that was it. You know, that's why I took
the part, really. You know, I didn't want somebody – and they would have
had legally the right to dub somebody else's voice in if we hadn't have
blocked it contractually.

DAVIES: Were they happy with the result in the end?

Mr. DUVALL: I think so. I think they were, yeah. I think they were,
yeah. Like – but it's funny, you know. We went to publicize the movie,
and Willie Nelson liked the movie a lot, and I got to know Wayland
Jennings from that, because they liked that movie a lot. And Willie
Nelson said he would help with the publicity, and the head of publicity
in New York City of Universal Pictures said, well, we don't need Willie
Nelson. How could he help publicize a movie like this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: I mean, is that crazy? I mean, come on. And then Willie
said, well, now, did you ape Merle? I said no, I didn't ape Merle, but I
like Merle Haggard a lot, but, you know, I didn't, really. And then
George Jones thought it was his life story, and everybody thought, you
know, tried to cash in on it. But, you know, it was something I just
kind of - brought things together and made it my own.

DAVIES: It was your own creation, it was Mac Sledge.

Robert Duvall will be back in the second half of the show. Let's hear a
scene from "Tender Mercies," where Duvall's character, the former
country singer Mac Sledge, is sitting with his guitar in the kitchen,
teaching a song and talking to the son of the woman he's married. He's
played by Allan Hubbard. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of film, "Tender Mercies")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ALLAN HUBBARD (Actor): (as Sonny) What happened to your money?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Mac Sledge) I lost it.

Mr. HUBBARD: (as Sonny) How?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Mac) How? Too much applejack.

Mr. HUBBARD: (as Sonny) You think you'll ever be rich again?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Mac) Well, I'll tell you what, Sonny. I don't lay awake
nights worrying about it. Now, look, there's a D, right, D as in dog.
Now watch me. I'll call them out.

(Singing) I decided to leave – G - here forever – not really. Let me
know if you're staying behind – that's A7. Otherwise I'll be gone in the
morning – D as in dog. Let me know if you're staying behind.

Now you can play a covered chord or a rhythm chord. Let me know – that's
a G – if (unintelligible) or if you wander into another's arms...

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, back with
actor Robert Duvall. He's starring in the new film "Get Low." One of
Duvall's most memorable roles was that of Augustus McCrae in the 1989 TV
miniseries "Lonesome Dove."

At the heart of the story is his relationship with Tommy Lee Jones
character, Captain Woodrow Call. Both are former Texas Rangers. Duvall's
character loves life and talks about his feelings. Jones generally
doesn’t.

In this scene from "Lonesome Dove," Jones has come upon Duvall who's
weeping over a lost love and their conversation turns to prostitutes and
one that Captain Call has apparently fathered a son with.

(Soundbite of movie, "Lonesome Dove")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) I don't know why you so down on whores,
Woodrow. You've had yours as I recall.

Mr. TOMMY LEE JONES (Actor): (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) Yeah, and that
was the worst mistake I ever made.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) It ain't a mistake to be a human being once
in your life, Woodrow. Poor little old Maggie, left you a fine son
before she quit this world.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) And you don’t know that. That
boy could be yours or Jake's or some damned gambler.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Yeah, but he ain't. He's yours and anybody
with a good eye can see it. Besides, Maggie told me. We were good
friends.

(Soundbite of smirk)

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) I don’t know about friends. I'm
sure you was a good customer, though.

(Soundbite of horse)

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Well, the two can overlap, you know.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) You’re the one that would know
about overlapping with whores I recon.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) You know what hurt here most? You wouldn’t
call her by her name. You never would say Maggie. That what hurt her
most.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) I don’t know what it'd amounted
to if I had.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) I would have made her happy.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) What are you talking about?
She's a whore.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Well, whores got hearts, Woodrow and
Maggie's was the most tender I ever saw.

(Soundbite of birds)

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) Well, why didn’t you marry her
then?

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) She didn’t love me. She loved you. You
should've seen how she sat in that saloon every day watching the door
after you quit coming around.

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) I recon a man has got more to do
than to sat in a saloon at always.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Like what? Go down in the river every night
and clean his gun? Maggie needed you, you let her down. You know it too,
don’t you?

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) No. I don’t know anything of the
dang kind.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) And that's why you won't claim that boy as
your own because he's a reminder, see, a living reminder that you failed
somebody and you ain't never going to be up to admitting that, now are
you?

(Soundbite of galloping horses)

Mr. JONES: (as Captain Woodrow F. Call) Like I said, Maggie was just a
whore.

Mr. DUVALL: (as Gus McCrae) Well, my God, Woodrow, at least you finally
called her by name. I guess that shows some improvement now, don’t it?

DAVIES: And that's my guest, Robert Duvall with Tommy Lee Jones in the
series "Lonesome Dove."

You know, you guys are both, you mount and ride horses as you’re having
that conversation.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes, sir.

DAVIES: You were both horsemen, right?

Mr. DUVALL: Yes, sir. Back then I was really - I rode everything back
then, jumping horses, English saddle, Western saddle, yeah, especially
to get ready for the part. Yeah.

DAVIES: Did you know Tommy Lee Jones? Had you worked with him before?

Mr. DUVALL: No. I met Tommy Lee when we were going to do that. I went to
his ranch down there in San Saba. We talked. We herded cattle and
Argentine polo saddles. We went out and I got to know him. I haven't
seen him too much since because he lives way down there and it was a
good experience working him and Ricky Schroder and all the women. It was
a wonderful experience. Wonderful.

My ex-wife, who lives there in Philadelphia, Gail, she's the one that
told me to read this book. She liked it better than Dostoyevsky, a
great, great novel and that make sure that they gave me the part of
Augustus. Not the other part, which they were going to give me the other
part but we talked and arranged it so that I could play Augustus, you
know. So, if she's listening to the show, I want to thank her for that.

DAVIES: And Augustus fits you better. Why?

Mr. DUVALL: I don’t know. Just, you know, because I've played those more
covered guys before but, you know, this was more of a muted guy but was
he's a more outgoing guy, Augustus, and suited a certain side of my
personality maybe as much or more than the other part really.

James Garner was, they offered him the part. I said to my agent, he
handled us both, if you can get him to switch parts I'll be in this and
I don’t want to play the other part. So he called back a few hours later
and said, well, James Garner can't be on a horse for 16 weeks. And I
said, well, okay, now go after that part and he did, and so he got me
that part. So I really, really - I really loved it. I really did. My
favorite, probably.

DAVIES: Yeah. This is a film about a cattle drive and...

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: I don’t know if you used stuntmen at all. I mean, I guess you
and Tommy Lee did not, right?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, the only time I use a stuntman when I had to ride down
among the buffalo, which was a little hairy. But I did most all my own
riding and my horse got a little iffy, so they put me on a ranch horse,
a local ranch horse which were good and more sound, so to speak, and
well broke. But then that was working great until the pistols went off
and then this horse started bucking and I stayed on for about four or
five seconds and then I bailed or he helped me bail.

And the cowboys were laughing, oh, you’ll be a 75 on that ride. They
were all laughing. And I said to the director, you know, get a cutaway
of me on the ground, getting back on. So they were able to use it when
the horse actually bucked and I came off. So they really used it. But,
you know, I did all my own riding. I took the horse to the ground when I
used - had to slit his throat and use him as a shield and the stuntman,
Rudy Ugland showed me how to do that. So I was glad that I could do my
own riding, you know, because it was a, you know, that's because there
were only horses. There were no cars way back.

DAVIES: You know, that really was one of many moments I remember from
that series, you’re being chased by a bunch of guys.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

DAVIES: About seven or eight guys. You’re not going to outrun them and
so you quickly dismount, cut your horse's throat, drop him so that he
forms a shield.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: And you fight these guys. It's amazing.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah. And Rudy and those guys showed me how to drop him
because he was a falling horse by training.

DAVIES: And, you know, and the other great scene is the death scene
where you’ve been shot by arrow and get gangrene.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes.

DAVIES: And you and the Tommy Lee Jones character have your farewells.

Mr. DUVALL: Right.

DAVIES: I mean, it is a tremendous moment.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah.

DAVIES: What’s the legacy of that series in Texas do you think?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, it's like a Bible to them down there. I mean, these
people, they just, other parts of the country and world is too, but in
Texas, wherever you go, it's just people watch it 30, 35, once a year
they get together with their families and watch it. It's really like a,
I don’t know what the word is. It's just a special thing for the people
of Texas. It really, really is. I even understand a gaucho out in the
country of Argentina wore out a copy of "Lonesome Dove." Although, it
was looped. Got dubbed as...

(Spanish language spoken)

Mr. DUVALL: Call me Gus goose.

(Spanish language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Que pasa meaning what's going on? Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah, they dubbed it. But, you know, in Canada too, all the
way down - the American Western is ours. I say, let the English have -
they have Shakespeare; the French, Moliere; the Russians, you know,
Chekov and, you know, in South America they have Borges in Argentina.
But the Western is ours, really.

DAVIES: Robert Duvall is our guest. He stars in the new film "Get Low."
We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, our guest is actor Robert Duvall. He
stars with Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek in the new film "Get Low."

You wrote and directed the film "The Apostle" in 1997. A story...

Mr. DUVALL: Yes sir. And financed. Financed.

DAVIES: Oh right.

Mr. DUVALL: Right. Yeah.

DAVIES: Right. The thing that gets forgotten, but that's so hard to pull
off.

Mr. DUVALL: Oh, boy.

DAVIES: This is the story of a Pentecostal preacher that you play. A
flawed man who faces a crisis in his life when his wife finds another
man and he is ousted from the church that he's the preacher. Let's just
get a bit of you in this film preaching.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Apostle")

Mr. DUVALL: (as Euliss 'Sonny' Dewey - The Apostle E.F.) I'm preaching
like I'm going to war this morning. I'm a genuine Holy Ghost Jesus-
filled preaching machine here this morning. I tell you, I'm a genuine
Holy Ghost Jesus-filled preaching machine here this morning. Now, if God
be for us, who can be against us? He's God here in this radio station.
He's God in Georgia. He's God in Tennessee. He's God in the pulpit. He's
God at the front door. He's God in the 7-Eleven.

And yea, though I walk - I say yea, though I walk, I say yea, though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for
thou art with me. And why, why, why do I say this? Oh why, why? Because
I got Holy Ghost power here today. We're going to have a Holy Ghost
explosion. We're going to shuck(ph), shuck at the devil here today and
the Holy Ghost is our power line to heaven.

I'm going to tell you right now in days old, Moses went up into the
mountain. When he got up in the mountain, high, high, high on the
mountain, the Lord God above gave him 10 Commandments. He didn’t give
him 11, or 12, or 13 or 14. He gave him 10 Commandments. And the 11th
Commandment: Thou shalt not shout does not exist.

DAVIES: Where do I sign up?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: That is our guest.

Mr. DUVALL: It's true. It's true. If you don’t shout you can't get to
heaven in some of those people.

DAVIES: Our guest Robert Duvall from the film he wrote, directed and
starred in "The Apostle." Tell us where this came from. What was your
experience with the Pentecostal Christians?

Mr. DUVALL: I was doing an off-Broadway play called "The Days and Nights
of Beebee Fenstermaker," a wonderful play by William Hartwell Snyder
that just was terrific. And I played a guy from Hughes, Arkansas. So I
was flying back from California to New York and I got off the plane in
Memphis. I said, let me go to Hughes, just to see what it's like. Not
that you have to do that to be an actor, but I decided.

So I went back and there was no place to stay. The highway guys building
the highway from Louisiana let me bunk in with him. I walked down the
street at night, the sheriff gave me dirty looks. It was strange. But
there was a little white clapboard church I went into and I'd never been
to something like that.

There was a woman preaching, a woman preaching, a Pentecostal preacher,
and I said I've never seen anything like this, even in my own country. I
want to put this on film some day. So it took me many, many, many years
to get it off the ground and finally I did. You know, when my wife came
up I finally got the go ahead to do it. I did resume my research that I
did all over America. And she said, hey, Bobby, you think we'll ever go
to any white churches? Because I love the black preachers. They're like
surrogate fathers for their community and it was a great, great
experience. Great.

DAVIES: Right. And, of course, this isn't just about Pentecostal
culture. It's about a truly fascinating character, I mean, your guy.

Mr. DUVALL: Yes. I pieced it together from many, many, many stories.

DAVIES: Yeah.

Mr. DUVALL: Yeah.

DAVIES: I think it’s a tribute to the thought that I watched this again
over the weekend and I still can't tell whether I like this guy or not.

Mr. DUVALL: Oh, I like him okay, because let me put it this way, what he
did by killing a guy just out of the moment is not half as bad - one
iota as bad as King David, who wrote the Psalms, who sent a man off to
die by design so he could be with that guy's wife. That's what David
did. But my guy just did it, so my guy wasn’t as bad as some people, you
know.

So anyway, you know, he is what he is really, you know. I mean, these
guys, a lot of them start out and some of them end up charlatans own TV.
But I think even if he had his moves and his whatever, at the core of
his being he really believed in what he believed in, I think. So it was
a labor of love but, you know, something, I mean, I heard Billy Graham
liked it. And I got a wonderful letter from Marlon Brando, he liked it,
respected it. So I got it from the secular and the religious - both
sides.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Yeah, I was going to ask you have evangelicals reacted to it.
Yeah. They liked it?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, some didn’t like it, I think. But, you know, I mean I
talked with Pat Robertson. Well, he just thought it was right on the
money. It just was terrific, you know, and most people, you know, I get
letters from people, my father was Pentecostal preacher or my uncle was
and you got it exactly right. So I feel, you know, right. And there's
always somebody, you know, like some people didn’t like "The Godfather."
Come on, you know, great, great movies. So...

DAVIES: I know your time is short. But you said you have some exciting
roles coming up. You want to tell us anything about what's next for you?

Mr. DUVALL: Well, I do and I don’t because these times, it’s so
difficult to raise money. I can name four projects that are as good as
any I've ever done that have come my way now. They're just absolutely
tremendous part, "The Hatfields and the McCoys" written by Eric Roth.
It's like American Shakespeare. Unbelievable. Another script, "A Night
in Old Mexico," that this young French director, one of the top, is
obsessed with doing that Bill Wittliff wrote. He wrote the adaption of,
you know, of "Lonesome Dove."

Then I'm supposed to work with Terry Gilliam, where I play Don Quixote.
And then last week I received a script from Billy Bob Thornton and his
writing partner that might put Tennessee Williams in the back seat, that
Billy will direct himself.

But those four projects are terrific, as good as anything, you know, so
before they wipe the drool, I've got so a few things I'd like to do.
But, you know, I hope at least one or two of them come to fruition.

DAVIES: You ain't retiring are you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DUVALL: Well, like Michael Caine says: You don’t retire. The
business retires you. So we'll see. I got a few years left.

DAVIES: Well, Robert Duvall, it's been fun. Thanks so much for speaking
with us.

Mr. DUVALL: Well, thank you for a wonderful interview. Wonderful job.
Thank you.

DAVIES: Robert Duvall stars in the new film "Get Low." It opens next
week in New York and Los Angeles and in the rest of the country in
August.
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Tom Jones: 'The Lady Gaga Of Elvis Impersonators'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Tom Jones has been a pop star since 1965 when his first hit "It's Not
Unusual" was released. Since that time, he's remained a star overseas
resurfacing periodically on the American pop charts.

Jones has just released a new album called "Praise and Blame," that
finds him covering gospel, blues and R&B songs.

Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(Soundbite of song, "What Good Am I?")

Mr. TOM JONES (Singer): (Singing) What good am I if I'm like all the
rest. If I just turn away when I see how you're dressed? If I shut
myself off so I can't hear you cry, what good am I?

KEN TUCKER: That's the opening song on Tom Jones' new album "Praise and
Blame," a cover of Bob Dylan's "What Good Am I?" From the spear musical
accompaniment that showcases a strong and subtle vocal instrument, it's
pretty clear that the 70-year-old Jones is good for crooning with a
pleasingly rough edge.

In this country, Jones has always been a figure of some ambivalence. He
became a star here for pop hits such as "It's Not Unusual" and "What's
New Pussycat," but when we first got a load of him on TV, he was a
Welshman's variation on Elvis Presley — all swivel hips, tight pants and
growled menace. And in America, being an Elvis variation always means
taking a sucker's bet — you can't win.

Sure enough, Jones settled into middle age as a Middle American star,
mostly on TV variety shows and in Las Vegas. He's made occasional stabs
at retro-relevance, such as his surprisingly witty cover of the Prince
song "Kiss" some years ago. "Praise and Blame" takes a familiar strategy
for aging pop stars — hook up with a hip producer, in this case Ethan
Johns, who's produced albums for everyone from Kings of Leon to Rufus Wainwright

(Soundbite of song, "Burning Hell")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) I’m going down to the church house. Get down on my
bended knee. Deacon Jones, pray for me. Deacon Jones, please, pray for
me. Maybe there ain’t no heaven. Maybe there ain’t no hell. Maybe there
ain’t no heaven. No burning hell. No.

TUCKER: That's the first single from "Praise and Blame." It's a cover of
the John Lee Hooker song "Burning Hell." Now, it's possible the idea
behind singing this song may spring from a dubious motive — roughly
stated, the authenticity of Hooker's blues gives Jones a splash of
authenticity-by-association. But that doesn’t mean it also doesn’t sound
really good. Even as a knock-off of the American performers who
originally inspired him, Jones has always had his moments.

(Soundbite of song, "Strange Things Happening Everyday")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) Oh we heard church people say they’re in the holy
way. There are strange things happening everyday. Oh, the last man
judgment day when they drive him all away. There are strange things
happening everyday. Everyday. Everyday. Everyday. There are strange
things happening everyday. Everyday. Everyday. There are strange things
happening everyday.

TUCKER: On the other side of the pond, "Praise and Blame" got a
publicity boost when an email from Jones' British record-label vice
president was leaked expressing surprise at Jones' song choices.
Actually, the quote was, "I have just listened to the album in its
entirety and want to know if this is some sick joke," followed by four
question marks.

Offended, Jones received an apology. The thing is, you know what this
guy, David Sharpe, means — his company lured Jones away from his
longtime label, expecting to get hits out of him. This is something
Jones did as recently as last year, when his version of The Bee Gees'
"Islands in the Stream" went to number one in England. But the first
record he turns in under his new contract is a bunch of blues and gospel
covers? How disoriented this man Sharpe felt. How wily Tom Jones is.

(Soundbite of song, "Didn't It Rain?")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) Well didn't it rain children, rain, oh my Lord?
Didn't it, rain? Didn't it, rain? Didn't it, oh-oh my Lord, didn't it
rain? Well, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights without stopping. Noah
came when the rain started dropping. Knock on the windows, knock on the
door, come on brother Noah, can't you take no more? Whoa my...

TUCKER: This odd, fun, faux-hipster-roots move on the part of Tom Jones
is unlikely to be a big success here. It's too far over the horizon of
the American pop landscape. But that's almost irrelevant to the musician
Tom Jones is at the moment. He's managed to make himself something
highly unusual for a man at this stage of his career: unclassifiable,
unpredictable. He's the Lady Gaga of Elvis impersonators, at once of the
moment and eternal, disposable and persistently present. And to address
that record executive's four question marks, Tom Jones is no joke.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed Tom Jones’ new album "Praise and Blame."

Coming up, David Bianculli on the new season of "Mad Men." This is FRESH
AIR.
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The Only Summer-TV Guide You'll Ever Need

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Watching television between June and August, according to our TV critic
David Bianculli, used to be a real chore and a real bore. These days, he
says, it's anything but if you know where and when to look.

DAVID BIANCULLI: For the most part, the story of broadcast television
has gone like this: Just as bears hibernate in the winter, over-the-air
TV networks hibernate in the summer — from the end of May, when the
official TV season is over, until mid-September, when it begins again.

Oh, every 10 years or so, the broadcast networks will wake up and try
something new and interesting — "Survivor" and "Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire?" a decade ago, "Northern Exposure" a decade before that.

But most of the time, what CBS and the other broadcast networks give us
isn't much. This summer isn't any different. Oh, we have a fabulous
summer run of "Friday Night Lights" on NBC, but to those of us who saw
these episodes already when they premiered on satellite television's
DirecTV, they're just another type of summer rerun. And some broadcast
shows, like "Glee" on Fox, are worth watching more than once, so that's
something, I guess.

But where's the new stuff? Broadcast TV offers us plenty of first-run
shows this summer — more than in the past few years — but they're mostly
reality-show or competition-show junk like "Downfall" and "Big Brother"
or subpar dramas like "The Gates" and "The Bridge."

The bright spots are few if you don't have cable or satellite TV, but
they are there. Fox has given us Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks in the
enjoyable cop comedy "The Good Guys" on Mondays. ABC has given us a
thoughtful, engrossing documentary series in "Boston Med" on Thursdays.
And that's about it.

Ah, but on cable TV, summer is the season when quality TV really ripens.
I hate to toss out a long list but it's the quantity, as well as the
quality, of summertime cable shows that counts. Instead of taking the
summer off, my TiVo is working harder than ever; trying to keep up with
shows I watch and enjoy each and every week.

On HBO, just as "Treme" ended, "True Blood" came back on Sundays —
gorier, sexier and funnier than ever. Showtime ended its seasons of
"Nurse Jackie" and "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," but hasn't taken the
rest of the summer off; its talk-show featuring comedians-talking-
comedy, "The Green Room with "Paul Provenza" was a delightful surprise —
and in August, "Weeds" returns, paired with a new show starring Laura Linney,

On Tuesdays, FX followed its new cop show, "Justified," with the newest
season of "Rescue Me," which is terrific — and with an ambitious new
comedy from Louis C.K., called "Louie," which I really like.

The Syfy channel has a bunch of fun shows that either returned or
premiered this month: "Warehouse 13" on Tuesdays, "Eureka" and "Haven"
on Fridays. And BBC America has been active, too. For genre fans, it has
the newest episodes of "Doctor Who" on Saturdays, followed by a new
season of "Being Human," which is an alternately goofy and dark series
about a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost all trying to just get along.

BBC America also has what may be the sleeper hit of the summer in "The Choir,
man in England building choirs from scratch and preparing them for
international competition — and I absolutely adore it.

That's a long list, but hardly a complete one. I haven't mentioned USA
"Network's Burn Notice," which is back on Thursdays, or the same
network's new "Covert Affairs," which just started on Tuesdays. Or
TNT's "Leverage," which airs Sundays, or "Futurama," which Comedy
Central just resurrected on Thursdays.

And intentionally, I've saved the best for last, because a show is
returning that could save the summer all by itself. On Sunday, July 25,
AMC's "Mad Men" returns for its fourth season.

Last season ended with Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, quitting his job,
gathering some colleagues, and planning to start a new renegade ad
agency. That's where this new season begins — and all I'll say about
this opening hour of Matthew Weiner's fascinating drama series is that
the dominant themes — from the very first moments — are about identity
and reinvention.

In fact here are the very first moments as Don is interviewed by a
reporter from Advertising Age.

(Soundbite of AMC's "Mad Men")

Unidentified Actor: (as reporter) Who is Don Draper?

Mr. JON HAMM (Actor): (as Don Draper) Excuse me?

Unidentified Actor: (as reporter) Who is Don Draper?

Mr. HAMM: (as Don Draper) What do men say when you ask that?

Unidentified Actor: (as reporter) Well, they usually take a minute to
think about it and then they do something cute. One creative director
said he was a lion tamer.

Mr. HAMM: (as Don Draper) I don't want to do that. In the third person?

Unidentified Actor: (as reporter) I don't know. Knockout wife, two kids,
house in Westchester, take the train; maybe take your car — now that you
can afford it?

Mr. HAMM: (as Don Draper) Who told you that?

Unidentified Actor: (as reporter) Anything? I mean now's your chance.

Mr. HAMM: (as Don Draper) Well, as I said before, I'm from the Midwest.
We were taught that it's not polite to talk about yourself.

BIANCULLI: This is the Don Draper we've come to know and love —
enigmatic, soft-spoken, preferring to let his ad campaigns and their
successes speak for themselves. But in this new season, as one of the
partners in this new ad agency, that Don Draper won't do. He has to sell
himself, as well as the products of his clients, if his new agency is to
make it.

And he's not alone. Everyone around him in this period drama is
struggling to navigate, and survive, the '60s. And as they all fight to
do so, they help make it easier for us to survive the summer of 2010.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is TV critic for TVWorthWatching.com and teaches
television and film at Rowan University in New Jersey.

For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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