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Who is Robert Duvall?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Robert Duvall is an actor who has received numerous accolades from critics. He has earned many nominations for his film work, winning an Oscar for his 1983 role in the film Tender Mercies, five Golden Globe Awards, and two Emmys for his film and television work. Certainly not the “handsome lead” type, Robert Duvall has nevertheless anchored or supported many films with strong and memorable performances.

Born in 1931, Duvall began his acting career in the late fifties. After graduating from college in Illinois, he served in the US Army before moving to New York to study acting, with the famous actor and acting coach, Sanford Meisner. Roles weren’t easy to come by at first, but he did make friends with two other actors, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman, and even roomed with Hoffman for a time as the two struggled to become successful. Appearing in the play production of the The Midnight Caller helped launch Duvall’s film career. The author, Horton Foote, recommended Duvall for his first major movie role in 1962, which was the role of Boo Radley in the film To Kill a Mockingbird.

Though at first, the roles Robert Duvall played were often secondary, especially in his film performances, but by the early 1970s, he had established an impressive resume. Film appearances in the 1960s and early 70s include his work in True Grit, The Rain People, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Mash, and George Lucas’ first major film, THX 1138. Work with Coppola brought Robert Duvall the plum roles of Frank Hagen in the Godfather films, and the 1979 Apocalypse Now where he delivers one of the most recognizable lines in film history: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Duvall has been called a chameleon actor by some. His ability to so immerse himself in a role so that he is entirely believable, and where in some cases the audience does not even recognize him from role to role, is particularly lauded. His most famous works include the films Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, and II, The Great Santini, and the two miniseries Lonesome Dove and Broken Trail. Recent work include the films, We Own the Night, Thank You for Smoking and Four Christmases.

In addition to still pursuing an active career, Duvall is passionate about his hobby, the tango. His film Assassination Tango in 2002, allowed him to blend his career and favorite hobby. Robert Duvall has also been a strong supporter and member of the Republican Party, attending the inauguration of George W. Bush, and throwing his support in 2007, to little avail, behind Rudy Giuliani in his bid for the Republican Presidential nomination.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By OceanSwimmer — On Mar 07, 2011

@waterhopper: Robert Selden Duvall was born on January 5, 1931 in San Diego, California. He was the son of a military officer who ended up as an admiral. Duvall majored in drama in Elsah, IL at Principia College. As the article stated, he served in the military for two years.

In 1965, he was already winning awards. He was a stage actor in New York and played “Eddie Carbone” in the off-Broadway show, “A View from the Bridge.” For that performance, he earned an Obie Award. After that, his career started booming.

By WaterHopper — On Mar 06, 2011

Has anyone ever read a Robert Duvall biography? I'm trying to find more information about his younger years or his family.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia...
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