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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall on Coppola, Brando, golf and retirement

September 6, 2011 |  4:19 pm

Next year will mark a half-century since Robert Duvall’s first major film role; he played the kind but mentally disabled Boo Radley in 1962’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  He  won the lead actor Oscar for 1983’s “Tender Mercies” and earned nominations for such classics as 1972’s “The Godfather,” 1979’s “Apocalypse Now” and “The Great Santini,” 1997’s “The Apostle” and 1998’s “A Civil Action.”

It’s always a joy to watch Duvall on screen, even if the vehicle in which he’s appearing doesn’t win over the critics. His latest film, the faith-based golf drama “Seven Days in Utopia,” based on David Cook’s “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia,” hit a bogey with critics when it opened Friday. The negative reviews far outweighed the positive, and the four-day box office results also were sub-par with the indie film making $1.7 million on 561 screens.

In “Seven Days in Utopia” he plays Johnny Crawford, an eccentric rancher in the small town of Utopia, Texas, where he mentors a troubled young pro golfer (Lucas Black), teaching him spiritual lessons as well as life and golf lessons during a week.

Duvall was all vim and good humor on the phone Friday from New York -- he probably hadn’t read the reviews yet -- when he called to talk about “Seven Days.”

Q: You’ve worked with Lucas Black in 1996’s “Sling Blade,” last year’s “Get Low” and now “Seven Days in Utopia.” Did you both decide after “Get Low” to make another picture together?

A: No. It just happened that way. I like working with him, he’s one of the best young actors around anywhere. Besides, he’s a scratch golfer. He plays in pro-ams. This is the first golf movie ever where the lead actor can hit the ball.

Q: Are you a golfer too?

A: Way, way, way back I played a little bit, but I am definitely not a golfer. You know, it just takes too much time anyway during the course of the day.

Q: “Seven Days in Utopia” is a low-budget, faith-based drama with a first-time director. What was it about the project that connected with you?

A: It was low-budget but they paid me well! The overall package was excellent and it was working with Lucas again, which was attractive, and it was a nice story -- different. It was faith-based but I think “Get Low” was more spiritual. I hadn’t worked in a while and this sprung out of nowhere and I got to go to Texas to work. I love working in Texas anywhere.

Q: Your character in “Road to Utopia” is a mentor to Black’s character of Luke, but he’s walked on the dark side -- battling alcohol and the loss of his wife.

A: You see, when I first read the script it was too white-bread. There was none of that in there. I said, if you want me to play this part, give me some faults -- there is only one Jesus Christ. So give me some obstacles. To have real drama you have to have obstacles. Initially in the first script those things weren’t in there. So I asked that they put them in.

Q: James Caan told me earlier this year that you two are the best of friends, having worked together with Francis Ford Coppola not only on 1972’s “The Godfather” but the underrated 1969 movie “The Rain People.”

A: He and Bill Murray are the two funniest guys I’ve worked with. He is one of my few friends in show business.

Q: You don’t have a lot of friends in the biz?

A: No. I have some. It is a very fickle business anyway. You work with people for eight weeks and after the eight weeks expire you never see the people. It’s a strange thing.

Q: Did you know when you did “The Rain People” with Coppola that he would become such an acclaimed, innovative director?

A: Who knew? He never said much. When we did “Godfather,” they had a stand-by director on the set in case they had to fire Coppola during the first two weeks. I gained a lot of respect for him. The studio wasn’t doing him any favors. Eventually, it was his vision.

Q: What was it like working with Marlon Brando?

A: Well, he was really -- for young actors -- like our godfather. I remember Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman -- we used to meet at a drugstore a couple of times a week in New York years ago, and if we mentioned Brando’s name once we mentioned it 25 times, because he was like "the guy." But I think there are more good young actors now than ever. It’s a medium that everyone wants to be connected with -- it is such a hip medium going into the 21st century.

Q: When you went to New York in the 1950s you studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.

A: Yeah, I went to the Neighborhood Playhouse on the GI Bill. I had a friend who had gone there. Sanford Meisner, what he had to offer, was good for me at the time. Sydney Pollack was there as well -- he was one of the teachers there. That’s where I met Horton Foote, the great Texas playwright, who gave me the first part in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Q: Had you worked with him on stage?

A: We did a theater piece [of his] called "The Midnight Caller" and I did a part that he seemed to like. So when they went to cast a couple of years later "To Kill a Mockingbird," his wife, Lillian, said, "What about that young man we saw in your play? He  might be good for the part of Boo Radley." That is how that happened. I did four or five films with Horton and four or five films with Coppola. So those two guys… If I had a mini-career with what they offered me, that would have been wonderful too.

Q: You turned 80 this year. You don’t plan to retire, do you?

A: Not yet. I am getting some good offers still. Some nice things are coming my way just as they always have, so unless I lose my inspiration or there is too much drool to wipe, I will keep going.


Movie review: 'Seven Days in Utopia'

'Seven Days in Utopia': Did he make the putt?

-- Susan King

Photo: Lucas Black and Robert Duvall in "Seven Days in Utopia." Credit: Van Redin / Visio Entertainment

'Seven Days in Utopia': Did he make the putt?

September 4, 2011 |  8:08 am


There have been many memorable endings to films, from Scarlett O’Hara proclaiming “tomorrow is another day” in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind” or the disclosure of the identity of Rosebud in 1941’s “Citizen Kane.” But the inspirational G-rated golf drama, “Seven Days in Utopia,” which opened Friday, doesn’t have a traditional ending.

(SPOILER ALERT: Key plot points are discussed from this point on.) Based on David L. Cook’s faith-based novel, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia,” the drama stars Lucas Black as Luke Chisolm, a young pro golfer who has a disastrous round on the tour. Escaping the pressures of the tour — especially his demanding father, who is also his caddy — Luke finds himself stranded in a little town in Texas called Utopia, where he is given seven days of golf, life and spiritual lessons from an eccentric rancher named Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall).

With renewed confidence and faith in God, Luke plays another pro game in the state and finds himself a putt away from winning. But as soon as he hits the putt, the film ends and encourages everyone to continue the journey at http://www.didhemaketheputt.com.

“I can’t take any credit for it,” said the film’s director, Matthew Dean Russell, about the website. “David Cook, the author of the book and the producer on the film, orchestrated all the funding. He — along with Visio Entertainment, our distributor, and the investors — thought it was very important to create something that was more than just a film — a place of testimony and a place where God could be glorified. To those guys it was every bit as important as the 100 minutes you get when you sit in a movie theater.”

Russell added that “for everyone that was involved in the movie, from the top down, it was more important that we were doing something for God rather than making a movie designed to make a lot of money at the box office. We wanted to make the movie not preachy, but if you want to go to the website and ‘continue the journey,’ so to speak, we didn’t want to do it in a movie theater because we didn’t want to offend anybody.”

The website features Cook offering the answer to whether Chisholm holed his putt by reading from the first chapter of the sequel. The site also features "Bury Your Lies," which encourages those who want to follow the word of God to "send the lists that have established your heart even though the weight of them has been crushing your soul." There is also a prayer to read for guidance, a video tour of the golf links of Utopia, Texas, and a link to a store to buy items related to the book and movie.

As a Christian, Russell said, he feels the film’s conclusion is perfect. “You don’t need to know if he made the putt,” he said. “That is the point of the movie. It doesn’t matter. It’s the old saying: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”


The best golf movies

The Bob Hope Classic

— Susan King

Photo: Matthew Dean Russell, left, Lucas Black, center, and Robert Duvall at the Atlanta premiere of "Seven Days in Utopia." Credit: Nathan Bolster / Associated Press.


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