Though 83 year-old acting legend Robert Duvall has no plans to ever retire, he doesn’t have as many high-profile roles as he had during his peak in the 1970s. So when Duvall stars in a studio film like The Judge alongside current star Robert Downey Jr., it is yet another big accomplishment in Duvall’s lengthy career. In the film Duvall plays an elderly judge who is accused of murdering his wife and he is defended in court by his son, played by Downey. However, he spoke to The New York Times about why he initially turned down the role, what he drew from when he later accepted it, and how he likes to work with his directors.
Duvall admits that he actually didn’t want to do the role at first because he felt he was one-dimensional. He explains, “I turned it down at first, because of the negatives. The character was kind of a common old guy. But then once my agent and I talked it over with my wife, I decided it would be good to work with Downey and I ought to jump in and just do it.”
When asked if it is humbling to play an elderly character whose physical and mental health are failing, he says, “That’s a good word, ‘humbling.’ But that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Even when I played Stalin, I tried to find a vulnerability to offset his strength — which I think everybody must have, even the bad guys.”
Since he has over sixty years of acting experience, Duvall appreciates when directors don’t micromanage their actors. He points out, “When you work with a guy like Coppola or Billy Bob Thornton or Robert Altman, they let it come from you, which I think is the way to do it. Certain directors try to mold you. I worked with one who said to another actor, “When I say, ‘Action,’ tense up, goddamn it.” You don’t do that to Joe Montana in the Super Bowl.”