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Boo Radley? Tom Hagen? Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore? In other words, Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen in "The Godfather,"
Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen in "The Godfather,"CBS via Getty Images

In 2017, the “Today” show aired a group interview with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Caan, Talia Shire, and Robert Duvall. It was in honor of the 45th anniversary of the release of “The Godfather” (1972). How did the movie’s success — for De Niro, of “The Godfather Part II” (1974) — affect their respective images? The simplest answer came from Duvall, whose performance as Tom Hagen is probably the most famous in a very lengthy career. It didn’t affect his image at all, Duvall said. “I’m just a character actor.”

Well, yes and no. Duvall, who turns 90 on Jan. 5, is a character actor who’s earned three Oscar nominations for best actor, in “The Great Santini” (1979), “Tender Mercies” (1983), for which he won, and “The Apostle” (1997), which he also wrote and directed. He’s a character actor who’s written and directed four films, the other three being “Angelo My Love” (1983), “Assassination Tango” (2002) — Duvall’s a big, big tango fan — and “Wild Horses” (2015).


Robert Duvall in "The Great Santini."
Robert Duvall in "The Great Santini."Bettmann Archive

There have also been four Oscar nominations for supporting actor — “The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now” (1979), “A Civil Action” (1998), and “The Judge” (2015) — and several landmark performances. Duvall made his big-screen debut as no less than Boo Radley, in “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) and his character’s challenge to John Wayne in “True Grit” (1969) elicits the Duke’s roaring response: “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!”

Duvall has made his share of forgettable pictures. It’d be hard not to when you have more than 140 credits on IMDb. But over the course of nearly 60 years, regardless of the quality of the movie, the quality of Duvall’s acting has never been in doubt.

Here’s an idiosyncratic look at a remarkable and, yes, idiosyncratic Hollywood career.


Classic Duvall movie lines “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!” (”True Grit”); “No Sicilian can ever refuse a request on his daughter’s wedding day,” “Mr. Corleone never asks a second favor once he’s refused the first, understood?,” and “They shot Sonny on the causeway. He’s dead” (”The Godfather”); “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like . . . victory” (“Apocalypse Now”).

Robert Duvall in "Apocalypse Now."
Robert Duvall in "Apocalypse Now."American Zoetrope/Miramax

Famous directors Duvall has worked with more than once Robert Altman, “Countdown” (1967), “M*A*S*H” (1970), “The Gingerbread Man” (1998); Francis Ford Coppola, “The Rain People” (1969), the first two “Godfather” pictures, “The Conversation” (1974), “Apocalypse Now.”

George Hamilton says thank you Unlike Pacino, Shire, and Diane Keaton, Duvall didn’t return for “The Godfather Part III” (1990). He wanted too much money. So Hamilton, as a Tom Hagen/consigliere equivalent, got the best role of his career.

Diane Keaton, George Hamilton (not Robert Duvall!), and Al Pacino in "The Godfather Part III."
Diane Keaton, George Hamilton (not Robert Duvall!), and Al Pacino in "The Godfather Part III." Paramount Pictures

Famous directors Duvall has worked with once Sidney Lumet, “John Brown’s Raid” (1960); Arthur Penn, “The Chase” (1966); George Lucas, “THX 1138” (1971); Sam Peckinpah, “The Killer Elite” (1975); Steve McQueen, “Widows” (2018)

What about the other Steve McQueen? Duvall is fifth billed in “Bullitt” (1968).

Fraternity In “True Confessions” (1981), Duvall and De Niro play brothers. In “A Family Thing” (1996), he and James Earl Jones play brothers — half-brothers, actually.

Robert Downey Jr., left, and Robert Duvall in "The Judge."
Robert Downey Jr., left, and Robert Duvall in "The Judge." Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP

Paternity In “Widows” Duvall plays Colin Farrell’s father. In “Rambling Rose” (1991) his character is named Daddy, though he’s not exactly the father of Laura Dern’s title character. In “Sling Blade” (1996) he plays Billy Bob Thornton’s father. In “We Own the Night” (2007), he plays the father of Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg. In “The Judge” he plays Robert Downey Jr.’s father. That same year, he played James Franco’s father in “Wild Horses.”


Robert Duvall in "The Apostle."
Robert Duvall in "The Apostle." Getty Images

Domesticity When Duvall and Dustin Hoffman were aspiring actors in New York in the early ‘60s, they roomed together. In 1998, when Duvall was nominated for best actor for “The Apostle,” Hoffman was also nominated, for “Wag the Dog.” Jack Nicholson won, for “As Good as It Gets.”

Literary characters Beside Boo Radley, Duvall has played Doctor Watson (“The Seven-Percent Solution,” 1976), Max Mercy (“The Natural,” 1984), the Commander (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” 1990), Joseph Grand (“The Plague,” 1992), Roger Chillingworth (“The Scarlet Letter,” 1996).

Real-life characters Duvall has played Jesse James (“The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid,” 1972), Dwight Eisenhower (”Ike: The War Years,” 1979), Joseph Pulitzer (“Newsies,” 1992), Josef Stalin (“Stalin,” 1993), Adolf Eichmann (“The Man Who Captured Eichmann,” 1996); Robert E. Lee (“Gods and Generals,” 2003).

Lots (and lots) of ’60s TV A representative but incomplete sample of guest appearances might include “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Naked City,” “The Untouchables,” “Route 66,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits,” “The Fugitive,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” “The Time Tunnel,” “Combat,” “The Wild Wild West,” The Mod Squad,” “The F.B.I.”

A Red Sox fan? Not Duvall, but the white-shoe Boston lawyer he plays in “A Civil Action” is. He likes to listen to games on his transistor radio while eating a brown-bag lunch at work.


Robert Duvall and Luciana Pedraza in "Assassination Tango."
Robert Duvall and Luciana Pedraza in "Assassination Tango." Juan Angel Urruzola/United Artists

Song and dance man Playing a country singer in “Tender Mercies,” Duvall did his own singing and wrote several songs. Also, as noted, the writer-director of “Assassination Tango” is a big tango fan.

Bad character names Mac Sledge (“Tender Mercies”) — a small price to pay for that Oscar. Harry Hogge (“Days of Thunder,” 1990), though that’s not as bad as the name of Tom Cruise’s character, Cole Trickle. Spurgeon Tanner (“Deep Impact,” 1998).

(“Spurgeon”? Yes, Spurgeon.)

Three degrees of Dennis Hopper He directed Duvall in “Colors” (1988). They both appear in “True Grit” and “Apocalypse Now,” though without sharing any scenes.

“Gone in 60 Seconds” Duvall was in that 2000 Nicolas Cage feature, the title of which describes how fleetingly he’s glimpsed in “The Conversation” (Duvall’s the murder victim) and the first remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978), where he’s uncredited.

Robert Duvall, left, and Rick Schroder in "Lonesome Dove."
Robert Duvall, left, and Rick Schroder in "Lonesome Dove." CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

And we still haven’t mentioned (among many other titles) “Joe Kidd” (1972), “Network” (1976),“ Lonesome Dove” (1989), “Falling Down” (1993), “The Paper” (1994), “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), “The Road” (2009), “Jack Reacher” (2012).

OK, so here’s the thing Duvall played Boo Radley, Lucky Ned Pepper, Frank Burns (in “M*A*S*H*”), Tom Hagen (twice), and Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore. Don’t forget the Oscar for “Tender Mercies” or his six other nominations. That’s an amazing career, an enduring part of Hollywood history. According to IMDb, Duvall’s finished a new movie, “12 Mighty Orphans”; another, “Hustle,” is in production. Not only has it been an amazing career: It still is.


In 2018, Tim Tebow, left, and Tom Brady met Robert Duvall, with Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the background.
In 2018, Tim Tebow, left, and Tom Brady met Robert Duvall, with Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the background. David Silverman Photography

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.