That Robert Duvall is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen is incontestable. His roles as Gus McCrae in “Lonesome Dove” (1989), Sonny Dewey in “The Apostle” (1997), and Mac Sledge in “Tender Mercies” (1983), are simply unforgettable. In addition to these characters, Duvall gave us famous lines that have literally worked their way into our nation’s lexicon over the years. In particular I’m thinking about his lines, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” (“Apocalypse Now,” 1976) and “It’s a pretty day for making things right” (“Open Range,” 2003).
Although Duvall has received an Academy Award, two Emmy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards, among other recognitions, I concur with film maker Lionel Chetwynd in saying that Duvall has not been “elevated to the unique place he [deserves to occupy] in American art.”
So why hasn’t Duvall been elevated to that unique position? Generally, it’s because he’s not your run of the mill Hollywood personality: he makes his home in Virginia instead of Los Angeles or New York City. And specifically, it’s because of his politics.
By his own admission, Duvall “[tends] to be conservative,” which is better that being a leper, but alienates just as many Hollywood elitists nonetheless.
And Duvall isn’t just talking when he says he tends to be conservative. For instance, not only is he open about the fact that he didn’t vote for Obama in 2008, but he laughingly told Mike Huckabee that, “if given the chance, he wouldn’t vote for him again.“ Keep in mind, Duvall not only attended a McCain/Palin rally in Albuquerque during the 2008 election cycle, but also introduced Palin to the crowd there and held a sign reading: “Drill Here! Drill Now!” (I’m sure Robert Redford is pleased as punch about this.)
How many other Hollywood personalities go against the grain to this extent?
Duvall has that which General Stonewall Jackson described as the courage of his convictions: he is true to himself, his country, and the heritage from which he sprung. No wonder Chetwynd said of Duvall, “[he] is authentic to what he thinks, [and] to his background.”
This authenticity is on display when Duvall talks about America. While many others in Hollywood harbor resentment toward our nation for its successes (and its failures), Duvall says: “America is a great country… To me, if this country went down it would be a dark world.”
Whether Hollywood will ever elevate Duvall to the unique place he deserves to hold in film history remains to be seen. Odds are, they won’t do it because of his politics and his patriotism. Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped Duvall from being Duvall.
God bless Robert Duvall.