SXSW 2015 Interview: WILD HORSES, Robert Duvall Talks His Hatred For BONNIE AND CLYDE And THE SEARCHERS, With Co-Star Josh Hartnett

Featured Film Critic; Dallas, Texas (@ChaseWhale)
SXSW 2015 Interview: WILD HORSES, Robert Duvall Talks His Hatred For BONNIE AND CLYDE And THE SEARCHERS, With Co-Star Josh Hartnett
Robert Duvall wants you to know that he hates Bonnie and Clyde and The Searchers. But hang tight, we'll get to that.

He was in town for the world premiere of Wild Horses, a movie he wrote, directed, and stars in. Josh Hartnett and James Franco have co-starring roles and the answer to the question you're currently thinking is, yes, Franco is just as weird in it as you would expect. But he'll always get a pass from me -- I like his style and chutzpah.

I sat down with Duvall and Hartnett to talk about the film and we eventually dove off-topic into other fun things about cinema, like our favorite films of last year. I didn't see Duvall as an indie-loving movie watcher, but he has impressively seen a lot. In the interview, we discuss one of my favorite films of last year, which also happened to be Duvall's, Wild Tales. This made me so damn happy I asked him for a fist bump and got it. Robert Duvall gave me a fist bump. Going to repeat that: Robert Duvall gave me a fist-bump. Life doesn't get much better than that. 

Anywho, this was an ace interview to do -- Duvall was very energetic and it was clear he was happy to be there and having a good time. Hartnett was swell as well. Enjoy. 

Robert Duvall: We shot Wild Horses in Utah because we couldn't afford to do it in Texas. 

But it's set in Texas.

It is called Skull Valley. It looks just like West Texas. The Rio Grande, we had a river that looked just ... so, you know, it's nice. It's nice. Good crews up there, too. Good people to work with in Utah. Josh will be here soon. He's great to work with. 

I love Josh. He's great in one of my favorite films, BUNRAKU.

RD: What was that?

BUNRAKU. It's kind of like a retro-Western with some singing, dancing, and kung fu. It was like 2011. He did it in 2011. Woody Harrelson is in it, too. 

RD: It's a Western, kind of?

I would classify it as a punk rock Western. I think the budget was low but production looks like something from a studio release. It's great. 

RD: Oh, okay.

Yeah. You should ask him about it. 

RD: There are so many great independent films. So many made these days. It's amazing.

Yeah, that's something I want to talk about.

RD: There was one about a few years ago, they made called Dynamiter. It's just a nice little movie. And I saw recently a newly restored version of Bonnie and Clyde ... it really sucked. 


RD: Sucked!

Yeah. I want you to expand on that. 

RD: I don't want to get ...

Now you have to tell. I want you to expand on why you think BONNIE AND CLYDE is so bad.

RD: The acting's horrible. It's like a Saturday Night Live sketch. And it's an insult to the Texas Rangers. You can ask any one of the Rangers in this. I mean, I don't get ... To me there's something fraudulent about it.

Did you feel that way when you saw it, when it released? 

RD: It doesn't stand up now and it didn't stand up then. But now, I think I can get away from [inaudible 00:03:39]. it's just a sketch on the people. 

Yeah. I haven't seen it ... probably ten, fifteen years. 

RD: Yeah. That was supposed to be Texas. But some kinds of little movies, like something you see like South [inaudible 00:03:57] is a pure thing. Little films can be nice, really nice, you know.

I guess the first question, this would be directed just for you.

JH: Sorry I'm late, hey Chase!

Hey, what's up, man? I actually interviewed you for BUNRAKU and was just talking to Robert about it. 

RD: I'd like to see it. 

JH: It's pretty crazy, yeah.

Yeah, it's nuts. To go ahead and get this started off, you both obviously have an affinity for independent film, supporting independent film, which is great. Indie films are what make my heart beat, I love them. What do you feel that you can accomplish with indie films that's not possible with studio? And that's for both of you guys. 

RD: That you could do in the 70s in the studio, but not now. 

JH: Yeah.

Or you can answer that, too.

RD: I don't know. That's a good question, it's hard to answer. But they are more personal. You're supposed to have more control, maybe. A film like this, we could have never done in a studio.

Which is strange because of the cast.

RD: Wonderful cast.

And that's what always ... The system is ... will never make sense to me. 

JH: Most of the drama ... I think it comes down to the way films are promoted these days. I don't think there's a lot of ... When you have this much overhead as a studio has and independent filmmaking, even if it's successful making 20 million dollars, doesn't really cover their costs for the year. They have to make those giant tent-pole films in order to cover the massive amounts of land that they have and the amount of P and A that they do for all those films.

Even when they have successful dramas, and they'll pick them up for the purpose of prestige, usually they're made independently anyway. Or with other financing. It's just the economic model of the studio system these days that doesn't allow us to make dramas or movies about families and things like that within it.

RD: I always say it's ... When you get out there in Hollywood or whatever, it's easier to raise a hundred million than three. Knowing that the hundred million might go down the drain anyway. It's strange, you know ... maybe that's changed too.

Photo by Ed Steele


I like what you were saying about the marketing and everything. So this is kind of more for the audience side. What do y'all think the press and indie movie lovers need to do a better job of to help get these films distribution or more butts in the seats whenever they release in these small art house theaters? Like, what can we do?

RD: Explain that l like three hundred a year ... They say a billion dollars is lost every year on independent movies. I mean it's just ...

JH: Don't say that. 

You're breaking my heart. 

RD: No, I mean, so many movies are made ... You try to do as good as you can to ... you try to do, whether it's a big movie or a little movie, you try to do each one just as fully as you can. As pure as you ... That world of living between "Action" and "Cut". An imaginary set of circumstances, we try to make it as lifelike and as real as possible within the structure, the structure time. 

JH: I think it's really hard to ask anything of the critics or the the press that would be fair. Because, like Bobby said, there are a lot of independent films, so what do you support?

JH: Yeah, what do you support? I guess people just have to keep doing what they do. The unfortunate thing is that the theater owners don't really want to carry independent films as much as they did back ten or fifteen years ago. 

Yeah. I worked at an art house theater in Dallas once, and it just kind of sucks, because it was a theater that their heart was into it and they would do so much. There would be a movie that we were excited about, like BLUE RUIN, that came out last year, which ...

RD: What's it called?

BLUE RUIN. It's an amazing, amazing movie. I saw it at Sundance and it floored me. That film is a crazy success story. The writer-director and the actor sacrificed a lot and made a huge leap of faith because they believed in this story. 

RD: Blue Ruin?

Yep, write that down -- BLUE RUIN. They made the film, sent it to Sundance, Sundance denied it. Then they sent it to Cannes, Cannes accepted it. The film ended up winning the FIPRESCI Prize at Directors' Fortnight

RD: Why did Sundance ... why did Sundance miss out?

I have no idea. 

RD: Well the one that got last year was my favorite American film of the year, Whiplash.

Oh, WHIPLASH is amazing.

RD: I loved it.

JH: So tight, that film ..

I was at the world premiere at Sundance, and just watching J.K. ... I just knew, I had a strong feeling he was going to win Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars.

JH: Here was the thing. How could one sustain without the other? I just thought Miles Teller, he's terrific in it. They had such ...

RD: Even the girl was good, and the director, he doesn't get much credit, he's terrific. My favorite film of the year, though ... Ida.

JH: Ida.

IDA is also great.

RD: I saw it twice.

Heartbreaking. I love the camerawork in that. 

And the second favorite movie was Wild Tales

You have some damn good taste in indie cinema, Duvall, can I get a fist-bump on that? 


RD: Have you seen it, Josh?

JH: I haven't seen it.

RD: Whacko, the most whacko film I've ever ...

The opening sequence ...

JH: Did Almodovar produce that?


RD: How about that wedding? 

Every sequence ...

JH: Don't tell me anything about it, I want to see it.

No spoilers, but the opening scene blew me away to where I was like "I've got to just go back in the theater and just watch that scene again." It was just so amazing.

RD: Yes. 

And it released in Dallas. 

RD: Four revenges or five revenges. 

It's just like stories, and they don't connect together, but it's five stories of revenge. It was the wild card for best foreign film and I was actually surprised ...

RD: It was a close second. Right up there, yeah.

Let's get back on ... you guys. That's what we're here for. I haven't see the film, as you know.

RD: Who has?

You have.

RD: It's funny. That's okay. 

I know you guys know that I haven't seen it, but it makes me feel better saying "I haven't seen the film." Tell me about it.

RD: It's an independent film, in the best sense of the word from our point of view. It's about a family and complexities of family. All families worldwide have negative things and positive things. The secret that's being held by the patriarch of the family. Of these three sons and something happened. One son has run off and there's a disappearing person and fifteen years later the Texas Rangers are called into the closed case. It never totally closed or cold, to try to reopen this case and solve it. She plays a lady Ranger, he plays one of my sons. It's a family film with a ... It's a tale. A tale that is told. That's a Biblical statement "A tale that is told." Tale being a nice fictional story that evolves.

JH: And the setup is fairly tight, because it's this family on this ranch. They are pillars of the community, he's been a pillar of the community for a long time so this disappearance of this person who he may or may not have been attribut- ... He may or may not have been a suspect in the disappearance years and years ago has been just brushed under the carpet. It takes someone new coming along, Luciana's character, to say "Why didn't people really investigate this?" And she decides to take on this rather powerful man and family. I play the kind of heir apparent who wasn't necessarily that to begin with, so there's a lot of conflict within the family because, in my opinion, James Franco's character was the ... He's the youngest, but he was the favored until they have a falling out and I sort of am thrust into that position. So I've got a chip on my shoulder, I want to usurp his power, I want to ... It's dynamics that are very ...

RD: He's the one I can really depend on.

JH: He depends on me, but I wouldn't mind stabbing him in the back. But I love him. 

RD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Robert, you co-wrote, directed, and star in it.

RD: Everybody helped me. Everybody pitched in, but, yeah, I wrote it. 

Everyone pitched in. You directed and starred in it. What are some of the challenges of doing all of that? That's a lot of work. 

RD: Yeah, but it's more fun than just acting. It's not any more tir- ... It's more tiring just acting than that. And less fun. There were the other problems too. Only 23 days. When I did it before I had 35 days, here we had 22 days. But it's ... you hire actors you depend on. You don't have to tell them what to do, you just let them perform what they're going to do. These guys, Josh and James [Franco] are really talented.

JH: But to be fair, you were working harder than anybody else on that set. 

RD: Well, yeah, I had to because we had certain problems that I won't go into. You always have problems. We had technical problems.

I saw yesterday that you said the film has its own identity. Can you elaborate on that?

RD: I think so. It is what it is. It's a tale. It's a story. It's a family. I tried to make everything offhand. Not punch obvious things. Let the audience try to figure things out. My mother when she died, she knew she was going to die. She said to the people taking care of her "I won't be here tomorrow." So at the end of the movie when I give the girl my horse, and he knows maybe he might not be around much longer. He wants to unburden his story but he doesn't know who to do it with, so he goes to the lady that really advertently takes the one son that he needed to take but he shouldn't take because that's the end of that relationship. And this guy will stay with me forever, but he can't stay with me forever because I'm gone. 

I guess to go ahead and finish this off, Everyone has a favorite western. what are y'all's? 

RD: I can tell you what mine is not. 

What is not your favorite Western?

RD: The Searchers


RD: I'll argue with [Martin] Scorsese, anybody on it.

Do you want to elaborate on it?

RD: First of all, Monument Valley is not West Texas. Second of all, the young actor in that gives the worst performance in the history of performances. That story has never been done yet. You know the book "Empire of the Summer Moon"? That's the story. Warner Brothers has that and I hope they do it some day. I know he's interested in it. I guess my favorite part I've ever done is Lonesome Dove. Whether that's the best Western...


RD: It had weaknesses. It wasn't as well directed as The Godfather, but I came into the wardrobe room one morning, I said "Boys, we're making The Godfather of Westerns" That's my favorite, I don't know if it's anybody else's favorite. 

My mom loves LONESOME DOVE and she's awesome, so that counts for something. 

RD: (laughs) I also liked when we did Broken Trail with the five Chinese girls for AMC. We put them on the map with that. It was difficult to do to work with them, but it was ... I'm doing another movie with them. You know Elmer Kelton the great Texas playwright?

I don't.

RD: Voted the greatest Western writer of all time and I have the rights to "The Day the Cowboys Quit". A strike they went on against the ranchers. We're going to do a 2 night mini-series with AMC. That might be in the future my favorite Western.

Very cool.

RD: If we get it done. I don't know your favorite. That's mine. 

Mine's YOUNG GUNS II. I watched it 500 times as a kid. I think it's Emilio Estevez's demeanor that made Billy the Kid seem so cool. And that lugh. Emilio's laugh is one of a kind. What about you, Josh? What's your favorite western? 

JH: I watched Lonesome Dove a couple of times right before we started to work together because I thought "Of course, I have to," and I love that movie. I have always loved westerns. This is kind of a cop-out, but I grew up, I think I was probably about 10 years old or something like that, when Unforgiven came out and it really just blew my mind.

Definitely not a cop-out. That is a great film.

JH: Really blew my mind at the time and then when they did The Proposition a few years later, quite a few years later, I was like "This is a new style of Western. I love this."

RD: The one in Australia.

JH: Yeah. There were some moments in it that really got me. I don't know, there are just so many. For certain reasons I like some of the older Westerns, I love all the Sergio Leone Westerns, it's hard to pick just one. Really great question, Chase.

RD: Will Penny was pretty good, wasn't it? I never saw Will Penny but Kerry Gries edited this film and his father Tommy Gries directed that years ago. I never saw it but I hear it's pretty good with the actor.

JH: Star Wars. Star Wars is my favorite Western. 

Boom. That's the perfect way to end this interview. 

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James FrancoJosh HartnettRobert DuvallSXSW 2015Wild Horse

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