Barbequing with Legends

Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek on Cinema, Cinephilia and Good-Looking Shoes

by Matt Mazur

29 July 2010

Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek in Get Low 

PM: And criticism today gets even more complicated, I think, with the intensely competitive blogs and websites, because everybody is so desperate to be first to get the information out there that often they don’t care about getting the facts straight.

SS: Well, it’s hard to make a name for yourself. We were just talking about, as far as for actors, about all of these new cable stations, its so much better for actors with all the things you can do. I would imagine for a writer, on one hand, there are more venues, there are more things that you can write for, but it’s like this mad race, its like there are so many people writing just like there are so many people acting. It’s hard, now.

RD: Going into the 21st Century, young people don’t want to be writers or novelists, they want to be filmmakers, actors, directors. It’s like the in medium. You go to every country, like Iran is wonderful. You ever see that movie The Apple by the 17-year-old girl from Iran, Samira Makhmalbaf?

PM: Yes!

SS: Was it a feature?

RD: Yes! They mixed reality with fiction and we were supposed to meet several years ago and talk but the Iranian government said ‘No, you can’t.’ Her second film, Blackboards, was about people walking around with blackboards, roving teachers, who do their lessons walking around with these blackboards. She’s a very talented girl. When we showed Get Low at San Sebastian last year, they put me into a room and said ‘This is an Iranian director and she’s on the jury’ and she must have thought I was trying to score points (laughing). I said ‘Yeah, there’s a great film called The Apple.

SS: And it was her?!

RD: (nodding) And she said ‘That was me!’ I said ‘where’s my wife, I want you to meet her!’ She must have thought I was nuts!

SS: Well, you are.

RD: So, each country has good filmmakers. We were in Cuba recently and I said ‘Anybody who picks up a camera can make a movie’. You don’t have to be from Hollywood! A producer said ‘We have the best directors, the best actors and the best of everything.’ And I said ‘Whoa! Wait a minute!’ Name me one director in Hollywood, in the history of Hollywood, who has made a movie like My Life as a Dog! Name me one! And he couldn’t. I saw that twice in two days, that movie. I saw The Hurt Locker twice in one week. Did I love that movie. This is a lady director [Kathryn Bigelow], who went over there and used three cameras, running constantly, 16mm, filming constantly. And the young kid in it, Jeremy Renner, was terrific. What a movie. It’s easily up there with Apocalypse Now. Maybe not as grand, but it’s my favorite movie of the decade.

SS: It’s about something real.

PM: What is most intimidating about having to act opposite somebody like Marlon Brando or Anne Bancroft? How did you get over your nerves when you had to do a scene with these legendary actors?

SS: I loved working with Anne. When we met, we knew we were working together, so she was just so warm and gracious. We became very close on ‘Night Mother. I was very nervous going into it but the instant I met her, because of the great artist that she was and the great lady that she was, any fear or trepidation fell away. We were great friends and one of her dearest friends moved to Virginia, and she introduced us and now she is one of my dearest friends now, so she gave me her best friend and that was a great gift. 

RD: Well, with Brando, on The Chase, I went into his dressing room and we talked and it was nice. And then we talked on the set. But that was it, he would never say ‘Good morning’, he’d walk by, knowing you would want to meet and he was like… a bit of a prick (laughing). He knew what you wanted! It was great! Gene Hackman and Dustin [Hoffman] and I used to go to Cromwell’s Drug Store – I don’t know if it’s still here – every day, practically and if we mentioned his name once, we mentioned it twenty five times! This was years ago, because, you know, he was the godfather to the actors. Afterward, when I did The Apostle, I sent him a copy and he sent me a letter back and I have it on my wall.

PM: What did the letter say?

RD: It said a lot of nice things. I almost like it better than my Oscar.

SS: I heard a story about him once, that in his later years he wore a little earpiece and he had somebody telling him the lines over it.

RD: Absolutely!

SS: And that one day he was going over the lines with somebody, his assistant, we’ll say her name was Louise, and he said ‘Don’t act it Louise! Just say it!’ Can you imagine? Acting the lines for Marlon Brando?

RD: (laughing) Once he tried to remember a joke Jimmy Caan had told him twenty five years ago! Working with Jimmy Caan on that set was so much fun, you never knew what was going to happen. So, it was great working with Brando because we respected him. He’s gone but not forgotten. Well, almost forgotten.

SS: (emphatically) Oh no!

RD: Well, you never hear people mention him anymore. I’m telling you, once you’re gone, it’s like ‘what’s next?’ That’s what I find.

SS: Well, the movie-going audience is very young. And they’re the ones who support cinema.

RD: I thought Steven Hill was great in the studio, a terrific actor. He came out of the movie theater and he was walking down the street and he saw Brando and said ‘I just saw you in Viva Zapata and you gotta do a helluva lot better than that for me!’ That’s what he told Brandooooooo! (cracking up)

SS: (screaming with laughter) No!

RD: I’m serious! He was a terrific actor, too. He was Lee Strasberg’s favorite. He put a rope around his property so his kids wouldn’t wander off from the house and became a Hasidic Jew (laughing). He was in Horton Foote’s play, the one that’s off-Broadway now. There was a movie called On Valentine’s Day and he was terrific in it! He played a wacko. He was terrific.

SS: (to Mazur) Have you ever had an interview like this?

PM: No!

SS: (to Duvall) You should write a book.

RD: I don’t know, about the best barbeque?

SS: (cracking up) Yes! Where to get the best barbeque! You could have that as a chapter.

RD: Better steaks here [in New York City] than in Argentina! Oh yes…

SS: He’s got stories. I could listen to him forever.

RD: And I met the greatest cowboy in the world, possibly. Trevor Brazile. I said to an Argentine once, he was saying ‘we have the best everything,’ ‘do you have anyone in your country that can rope and tie a calf in seven and a half seconds?’ And the guy thought for a second and said ‘well, we don’t need a clock to measure our manhood.’

(laughter all around as I say my goodbyes and begin to exit)

RD: (As I am walking out of the hotel suite, loudly, to Spacek) I don’t know whose shoes I hate more, yours or his.

PM: Hey! I can still hear you!

RD & SS: (uproarious laughter)

SS: Well, I love your shoes. And I love mine, too!


Sony Pictures Classics’ Get Low, starring these two amazing performers, opens 30 July in limited release throughout the US.

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