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Robert Duvall | Tango For Two
an emily blunt interview



Robert Duvall is a legendary actor- he's also one helluva regular Joe that exudes tough guy with a glance. Unlike his film personas ( that number in the hundreds) the real Robert is far from the type of guy that hides in the shadows of society; lurking, plotting, planning. Or the type that would scream from a typed list - double spaced - two inches from your face detailing your erroneous preparation of pancakes. Yeah, he has that big blue meany ''look." And why not? In real life his father was Navy and he himself is an exsoldier (who funded his dramatic studies with the G.I Bill) .

So I suppose one could get an uneasy feeling sitting down in front of him remembering all his infamous deliveries of some of the biz's sternest or attitude riddled characters hell bent on their objective being THE objective - but remember that's the movies. I find most of the greats are polar opposites from the characters we've grown to love. And it's the actors like Mr. Duvall that remind you what being a great actor is all about.

The real Bobby is a twinkle-eyed chronic smiler that is crazy about Tango and beams about his beautiful bride Luciana Pedraza, even after seven years of union, like a kid that got greenlit to the prom. He can weave among the high rollers or slink into Argentinean dives others would chill at. He lives life with gusto and passion.

One of the greatest perks of this shindig is meeting the folks I admire...Kevin Spacey, Willem DaFoe, Catherine Keener and so on...I was estatic as Mr. Duvall sat down and chatted with me about his new film Assassination Tango, well more about his love of Tango...enjoy.

Emily: Your frequent flyer miles are in the millions - thanks to your love of Argentina. What is it about Argentina in particular that has grabbed your heart?

Robert: The life on the street. The nightlife! It's 300am in the morning and there's thousands of people in the streets; in the coffee shops, in the restaurants. It's more of a late night society than the states. I like that. It has certain feeling. It's great to walk into a coffee shop any hour and sit and talk. And they have very good waiters. I mean like the best.

Emily: I would love that too. I thought NY was always a treat. So what came first the idea for Assignation Tango or Argentina?

Robert: I guess my little bit of knowledge of Argentina. I originally went to Argentina for Tango- then I started this project.

Emily: How'd you learn about the Tango?

Robert: Like a lot of people that saw "Tango Argentina" which was a commercialized extension of the dance and culture- the clubs and everything- I saw old guys thin guys young guys fat guys…I went to see that as did a lot of people that was good publicity for the hole dance form. I went to see it a number of times. I got to know the guys who did the film. I was doing Lonesome Dove the mini series and they were in town on the same San Antonio Mexican border. I bumped into them! I followed them around and they said, "Okay we'll show you a couple of steps." I'd try a little bit [laughter] they didn't think I was very good. My ex-wife was a dancer and she'd help and we eventually went to Argentina. Those "perks" of filming…that will take you on your way [laughter]. We became like locals. Go to clubs the concierge doesn't know about. There's a bowery there were the old-timers and the real Tangos are danced. You know you have to go back to the basics in these places. They would clear back the floors and the real old guys…you'd just sit and watch them walk! Now it's more choreographed. You watch that and its ethnic beauty to those people. So one thing leads to another and I went back many many times to Buenos Aires. I like to go. Even now the movies over I go and get together with the stepfather of the girl who plays in the film. And this guy may be the one of the best Tango dancers in the world. We go out. Keep it up…try stuff. Luciana [his beautiful wife and co-star] is not into practicing so much. She's doing two documentary films right now. We are cutting them at the farm in Virginia. I went to club where they gave this beautiful exhibition and met a man they called, " Fino" His people were from Spain way back, and he was bald like me but he'd wear these terrible hairpieces [laughter]. But that didn't get in the way of his dancing. When he danced it was like [kisses his fingers] …he always brought up more …adding… adding. I liked his style. I kept going to see him. I had to learn from this guy. He may have been the best ever. But he stopped dancing because of the political situation and after 26 years only danced at weddings. He tried to get in Tango Argentina, but because of the big fat guy in it there was too much animosity and warfare between them and two of them were from the same breed of Tango I guess the show wouldn't have worked…but man Fino was great! I heard he danced in front of a bunch of heart specialists and had a heart attack. He died on the way to the hospital. He wasn't that old really. He never did any of those fancy "hooks" never did those all "walks" and "heels" - but he was so sophisticated and elegant. He was an auto mechanic by trade. He called it "Tango Luce" the sweet Tango. He had a rare passion…

Emily: What makes a great Tango artist?

Robert: There's a mathematical thing to it. Maybe that's why the Germans do it so well. [laughter] They do! It's a continuing thing…an infinite thing. Tango is very soothing when you lay in bed at night. It's a nice hobby- I like it a lot.

Emily: Is it a hobby or an addiction? [She asked eyebrow raised…]

Robert: [big grin] Well, a combination.

Emily: Was/is Luciana a professional Tango dancer?

Robert: No. But she sure could be! She learned because of me…I sent her to Pablo Verone for lessons, who danced at the end of the movie. And I sent her to Orlando Pago, in Buenos Aires who is like a teacher from Second City would be to you. He's the guy with the white hair in the movie? Yeah. One of the most elegant dancers in the world though he's not known in Buenos Aires. His style is very different…he was also an auto mechanic - get this- in the San Fernando Valley! [laughter] I don't know what he was doing here…and sadly they wouldn't put him in Tango Argentina because he didn't have an Argentinean partner. I don't know…those are two of my favorites and I sent Luciana to them. She dances beautiful, especially with Pablo. If she wanted to she could become a Tango dancer. In Argentina she won the beauty contest in her region. In Buenos Aires she won the area for Miss Elegance! They have a big thing about elegance in Argentina. They wear sweaters over the shoulder [laughter] we did that what thirty years ago? I got of the plane once and her father said to her sister, "He got on the same jacket he had on a year ago!" [laughter] Everything is appearance! The only thing that is still going up in this economic crunch is cosmetics. The look. Have you been to Buenos Aires?

Emily: No Spain - Costa Del Sol

Robert: I have not been there…but Buenos Aires is beautiful filled with a very bright people. The nightlife. The people are warm and great cooks. The festivity! The foremost heart specialist was from Argentina but he shot himself because he couldn't get funded! A passionate people.

Emily: Francis Ford Coppola produced Assassination Tango. How'd that come about?

Robert: We would dance socially together - fool around ya know? He always thought I should do something to do with Tango…and the first time I saw Tango Argentina there was Francis sitting right over here [points a couple seats over]. So when I showed him my script years later it was like full circle. He liked it and had a company that could do it low budget. He always liked to put Tango in his movies- a different kind of Tango.

Emily: Were you always a dancer at heart?

Robert: No [laughter] I'm just a social dancer! [laughter] I mean…my mother had a catillion when I was kid. I drove her crazy! We had to go and bow and ask a girl to dance. I liked it enough. Always liked Mambo and Swing. And Tango especially is a social dance- other than what you see on stage. We have a ballroom at my house. We have barbeques we have country western bands or play salsa records. We love to do that.

Emily: How did Luciana end up as your costar?

Robert: We were together and. …well in Buenos Aires they have what I call a middle class street smarts. [laughter] And she told me a great story about the cops…a cop stopped her and her sister at a light. She said you always just agree with them- whatever they accuse. She knew it was a yellow light- she knew it was lie that she'd run it…but she said, "Always say yes." Better to lie. She made up a story on the spot- it's a very corrupt country- she told him she was on her way to the hospital she had cancer and was distracted etc etc. She was a natural actor! That street thing. You're probably great at it! [laughter] being a city gal. So, she conned her way out of that ticket! And we would improvise when we first met. She'd say lets practice acting before dinner. I'd say lets eat! She'd say, "Come on five minutes! Just five minutes." We'd play house, and do little parts. Kind of play the acting "game" She was so good at it. We decided instead of Maria Davis the one who plays the aunt in the movie and is a top Tango dancer; we'd cast another as my interest. All the real Tango people know to sit at a table and they are naturals. And then we called all these Tango dancers for the role and they were so rude they didn't even return the phone calls!

Emily: You're kidding

Robert: No! Rude huh? So, they couldn't speak English I didn't know which way to go…Luciana thought I was thinking of this once actress that speaks English and who actually did call…she said if you're thinking of her I'll play the part. [laughter] And it was decided She worked hard two-three hours a day! She designed her own costumes. Picked wardrobe at times. I believe in giving freedom. Since this all one of the top directors called and offered her a role- she refused she doesn't want to be an actor.

Emily: Argentina is still corrupt?

Robert: Oh yeah. It's so corrupt there. So much. So many things. The evolution one general coming in firing all and imprisoning many then the other coming in and pardoning everyone like a month later. That's where I got the idea for the general in the film. It's a tough situation down there. Economically they can only take out a few dollars a week- and during that whole period the only business that didn't suffer was cosmetics. They're very much into physical thing. It's tough down there. It's tough all over the world - lots of corruption.

Emily: Do you Tango when you're here in Los Angeles?

Robert: I use to. I use to go to Nora's in the valley. I don't know the places anymore.

Emily: Well, thank you and good luck with your film- it's obviously very personal.

Robert: Yeah Tango is almost meditative. It's sweet. The film, I hope, shares that.


We were pretty much out of time. I could have listened to him for hours. His passion for his dance and his bride is refreshing. Duvall's one helluva a guy. He wrote Assassination Tango and of course directed it and starred in it. I wasn't crazy about the ending but the film is beautiful. And Luciana sure can dance- I thought she was an old professional hoofer.


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