One of Hollywood's most distinguished, popular, and versatile actors, Robert Duvall possesses a rare gift for totally immersing himself in his roles. Born January 5, 1931 and raised by an admiral, Duvall fought in Korea for two years after graduating from Principia College. Upon his Army discharge, he moved to New York to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he won much acclaim for his portrayal of a longshoreman in A View From the Bridge. He later acted in stock and off-Broadway, and had his onscreen debut as Gregory Peck's simple-minded neighbor Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).
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With his intense expressions and chiseled features, Duvall frequently played troubled, lonely characters in such films as The Chase (1966) during his early film career. Whatever the role, however, he brought to it an almost tangible intensity tempered by an ability to make his characters real (in contrast to some contemporaries who never let viewers forget that they were watching a star playing a role). Though well-respected and popular, Duvall largely eschewed the traditionally glitzy life of a Hollywood star; at the same time, he worked with some of the greatest directors over the years. This included a long association with Francis Ford Coppola, for whom he worked in two Godfather movies (in 1972 and 1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979). The actor's several Oscar nominations included one for his performance as a dyed-in-the-wool military father who victimizes his family with his disciplinarian tirades in The Great Santini (1980). For his portrayal of a has-been country singer in Tender Mercies -- a role for which he composed and performed his own songs -- Duvall earned his first Academy Award for Best Actor. He also directed and co-produced 1983's Angelo My Love and earned praise for his memorable appearance in Rambling Rose in 1991. One of Duvall's greatest personal triumphs was the production of 1997's The Apostle, the powerful tale of a fallen Southern preacher who finds redemption. He had written the script 15 years earlier, but was unable to find a backer, so, in the mid-'90s, he financed the film himself. Directing and starring in the piece, Duvall earned considerable acclaim, including another Best Actor Oscar nomination.
The 1990s were a good decade for Duvall. Though not always successful, his films brought him steady work and great variety. Not many other actors could boast of playing such a diversity of characters: from a retired Cuban barber in 1993's Wrestling Ernest Hemingway to an ailing editor in The Paper (1994) to the abusive father of a mentally impaired murderer in the harrowing Sling Blade (1996) to James Earl Jones's brother in the same year's A Family Thing (which he also produced). Duvall took on two very different father roles in 1998, first in the asteroid extravaganza Deep Impact and then in Robert Altman's The Gingerbread Man. Throughout his career, Duvall has also continued to work on the stage. In addition, he occasionally appeared in such TV miniseries as Lonesome Dove (1989) and Stalin (1992), and has even done voice-over work for Lexus commercials. In the early 2000s, he continued his balance between supporting roles in big-budget films and meatier parts in smaller efforts. He supported Nicolas Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds and Denzel Washington in John Q., but he also put out his second directorial effort, Assassination Tango (under the aegis of old friend Coppola, which allowed him to film one of his life's great passions -- the tango. In 2003, Kevin Costner gave Duvall an outstanding role in his old-fashioned Western Open Range, and Duvall responded with one of his most enjoyable performances.
Duvall subsequently worked in a number of additional films, including playing opposite Will Ferrell in the soccer comedy Kicking & Screaming, as well as adding a hilarious cameo as a tobacco king in the first-rate satire Thank You For Smoking. In 2006 he scored a hit in another western. The made for television Broken Trail, co-starring Thomas Haden Church, garnered strong ratings when it debuted on the American Movie Classics channel. That same year he appeared opposite Drew Barrymore and Eric Bana in Curtis Hanson's Lucky You.
In 2010, Duvall took on the role of recluse Felix "Bush" Breazeale for filmmaker Aaron Schneider's Get Low. The film, based on the true story of a hermit who famously planned his own funeral, would earn Duvall a nomination for Best Actor at the SAG Awards, and win Best First Feature for Schneider at the Independent Spirit awards. He picked up a Best Supporting Actor nod from the Academy for his work in 2014's The Judge, playing a beloved judge on trial for murder. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi