ROBERT DUVALL celebrates his 91st with three films currently in production. From the start, the powerful actor had a temper to match and angered John Wayne so much while they were filming of True Grit, the Western screen icon almost hit him during one of their confrontations.
True Grit, based on Charles Portis’ 1968 novel of the same name, brought Wayne a much longed-for Oscar in 1969. As soon as he had read the book, the actor actively lobbied for the lead role of grizzled, eye-patched US Marshall Rooster Cogburn. Despite his legendary status, Wayne wasn’t able to control the casting, unable to secure the role of Mattie for his daughter Aissa. However, his own preeminence had also meant that Elvis dropped out of the secondary role of La Boeuf after he was refused top billing above Wayne. Another actor would cause him the greatest grief once filming started.
Duvall was 38 at the time, already established as a strong character actor, but not yet the leading man and headliner that he would become. He was also known for having a fiery temper. In his early days in New York, he was boarding house roommates with fellow impoverished young stage actors Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman. All three were united by a love of elaborate practical jokes but Duvall and Hackman were also known for their short fuses, which led to explosive bar fights.
Hoffman has described how Duvall would use his anger to fuel his performances, picking someone in the audience he imagined hated him – and then shouting “F**k you” at them as he left the stage after the curtain call.
Duvall’s temper did not apparently mellow through the decades, with Michael Caine saying it was “quite violent” when they were filming Secondhand Lions in 2003.
Duvall was also a Method actor, and his intense approach and irritation with anything that did not match up to it caused problems with Wayne and True Grit director Henry Hathaway. This spilled over into loud and aggressive confrontations on set. Duvall recalled in 2015, “The director and I didn’t get along — I don’t get along with a lot of directors,” and another time, “Henry Hathaway… we won’t talk about him.”
Hathaway also had a very strong personality and was aggressively dictatorial on set, which Duvall did not respond well to: “He’d say, ‘When I say, ‘Action!’ tense up, Goddam you.” It’s hard to work under that as a young actor.”
Wayne’s increasing irritation with the disruptions to his cherished project led to him also fighting with Duvall and finally threatening to punch him out if the other actor didn’t stop arguing with the director.
By STEFAN KYRIAZIS
PROC. BY MOVIES