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My Mentor: Robert Duvall

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The actor on the tutelage of Marlon Brando

There was one actor I always looked up to.

When we were coming up, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and I used to sit in a place called Cromwell’s Drugstore in New York City, two or three times
a week. And if we mentioned Marlon Brando’s name once, we’d mention it 25 times.

Brando was a role model to many young actors.

People have heroes and I think you always look up to somebody. Brando was unique. It was just who he was, his work. Sometimes the people round him weren’t as good, but he’d carry the movie. Young up-and-coming actors all look up to Brando and his work – he was one of the very best.

I first met him working on a movie called The Chase.

I was like, “Wow, I get to work with Brando!” He was very friendly to begin with. He called me into his dressing room and said, “What do you think of this script?” I said, “It’s pretty good.” He said, “Well, I think it’s pretty sh*tty.” So we talked, I thought it was gonna be great, we were gonna be like brothers. I used to go in his dressing room, but then for two months he wouldn’t say hello. He knows everyone’s dying for him to say good morning to them, but he wouldn’t do that. He was a strange guy that way, but that was part of the deal with him. He was a bit of a prima donna, but he could justify it because he was gifted.

He is one of the most unique actors who ever lived.

Recently I saw the first 20 minutes of A Streetcar Named Desire – it’s been 50 years since I last saw it. And I was watching it thinking, “My God, look at this guy.” He was a force of nature, a powerful presence.

My best memory of him is a slightly x-rated one…

I remember when we mooned each other on the set of The Godfather. I went for his belt, he went for mine, he said, “You can’t do that to women and children!” and we mooned. Some woman said to me, “Mr Duvall, you’re fine” but she says to her friend, “Did you catch the balls on Brando?!” We all mooned each other – Pacino too, and Jimmy Caan. We tried to have humour and mess around on set. We’d fool around and Coppola would go, “Come on, we’ve gotta be serious.” But he knew it caused relaxation, and I think Brando appreciated that. The Godfather: Part II wasn’t as fun ’cos Jimmy Caan wasn’t around. Brando loved him and his humour.

The Judge is at cinemas from 17 October

(Image: Rex)

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