Acting Tips From Robert Duvall’s SXSW Panel

Robert Duvall

AUSTIN, TX: Robert Duvall, as you might expect, is a man of few words. He’s in Austin this week for the North American premiere of A Night in Old Mexico, a film that his Lonesome Dove screenwriter William D. Witliff had been trying to make for something like 35 years, so he joined film critic Leonard Maltin for an hour-long “Conversation with Robert Duvall” on Tuesday afternoon. And Duvall, while endlessly fascinating and full of kind words for his previous collaborators, wasn’t always forthcoming; most of his answers were short and simple, leaving Maltin to coax as many words of wisdom as he could from the 83-year-old actor. But he did occasionally get the legendary thespian to impart a few thoughts on his life’s work.

What’s most remarkable about the his late-period performances is how effortless they seem — when you watch him in something like Open Range or Get Low, it seems less a matter of acting than merely existing, harnessing a presence rather than just a performance. He told Maltin that this is the main thing he’s learned: “When you’re young, it’s harder to make things as offhand as you can do when you’re a little older. I think the best part of filmmaking is seeing a performance that you respect where somebody’s off-handed, even in the emotional scenes. They don’t punch it in an obvious way. So you try to learn that through the years.” It’s an ongoing process for him, since “I always wanted to think of myself in the potential of always trying to get a little better, trying to learn. Sometimes you learn, you lose some energy, so you need naps!”

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