Actor Robert Duvall brought his experience, outstanding talent and forthright articulateness to the Wortham Center last night, courtesy of the Brilliant Lecture Series, and cold rain and impending sleet didn't stop a large audience from attending. Duvall has won an Oscar, two Emmys, and four Golden Globe awards, but remains unassuming, though very much a man who knows his own mind.
That characteristic is by now part of the Duvall legend, and Duval relates the story of a man about to direct him in a film, who, concerned in anticipation, asked a friend: "How does one direct Robert Duvall?" The friend replied: "That's easy - just say 'Action'. And 'Cut!"
Part of Duvall's discussion naturally dealt with the acclaimed six-hour television mini-series Lonesome Dove, based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry. Duvall portrayed Augustus "Gus" McCrae, a favorite role, and reports that he identified so much with McCrae, and the script was so beautifully written, that little improvisation was needed - though he did ride horses several hours a day to prepare for the role. Duvall felt he had captured the emotional truth in one key scene, and questioned its absence in the film - his query got the moment restored. In discussing the relationship of director and actor, Duvall commented: "It's my face up there, it's just his name."
The face has sufficient character to echo Mount Rushmore, and Duvall, born in 1931 and now in his early 80's, remains vigorous and vastly entertaining. His anecdotes are very funny, and often rich in irony, including the one about the fan who said he was his favorite actor - after mistaking him for Gene Hackman. Duvall is married to Argentina-born actor and director Luciana Pedraza, his fourth wife and 41 years his junior. He was encouraged by a friend to pursue the relationship, who advised: "The only thing worse than being an old man is having an old woman."
Duvall advised young actors, even those seeking film work, to appear on stage, in the hope of being noticed by a film director or being recommended to a film director, and to develop hobbies - emphasized strongly as "hobbies, hobbies, hobbies!" - as it may be a long time between engagements. That hasn't been a problem for Duvall for a very long time, as he has made as many as four films in one year. I especially liked his comment that inexperienced actors may still be exceptional, since they haven't had the opportunity to form bad habits.
There's a wonderful description of Pedraza and Duvall being stopped for speeding at 91 mph, with Pedraza at the wheel. As the officer came to the car window, Pedraza just said two words: "Lonesome Dove". The anecdote ends with the officer's wife saying: "If he gives you a ticket, he's not getting in my bed tonight!"
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There are a large number of charming stories, hugely appreciated by the audience, and Duvall's truth-telling honesty shines through them all, infusing the evening with the warmth of being taken behind the scenes to see a consummate actor discuss his craft. In responding to a question from the audience. Duvall commented briefly on the role he and his wife have in helping children and charities in Argentina.
While titled as a lecture, the setting is much like the set for the Ellen show. Here we have four ferns, two of them on tall pedestals, a rug, a round pedestal table to hold a floral arrangement, and two wingback rose-colored chairs, one for Duvall and one for Shelby Hodge, CultureMap editor-at large, who acted as interlocutor. Hodge was excellent, and kept the conversation going - fortunately, unlike Ellen, she didn't ask Duvall to remove his shirt.
At one point, Hodge asked Duvall what parts of his career he might like to have changed, a question festooned with land mines, with Duvall's response the deft rejoinder "That's a tough question. What would you say?"" Duval is a tennis player, and a tango aficionado, so the quick footwork comes easily to him. The entire evening was educational, erudite, entertaining, and, well, brilliant.
The next event in the series is Diane Keaton on February 6 at 7 pm. For information or ticketing, call 832-487-7041 or contact BrilliantLectures.org.