This Tango Fan's A Triple Threat

Duvall in a scene from "Assassination Tango."
United Artists Films
In a career that has lasted over four decades, Academy Award winner Robert Duvall has done it all: act, write, direct and produce.

He told The Early Show on Friday he gets to use all of those talents for his latest film "Assassination Tango." In the film he plays a hit man who learns the pleasures of dancing the tango from his new teacher, a beautiful dancer.

"It's a very complex film because there are moments like that where there's laughter and a little bit of levity," says Duvall. "But then there are moments where it is about assassination — a hit man."

The film is a personal project to Duvall because he wrote it years ago and recently rehash it to bring it to the movies. Thanks to financing from his good friend Francis Ford Coppola (For those who don't know, Coppola directed Duvall in the film, "The Godfather), he was able to create his small film and share his vision.

Duvall's character, John J., is an assassin hired to kill an Argentine general in Buenos Aires. He doesn't think about the morals of his action. Duvall says the assassin just wants to do his job, do it well, get paid and get home. But when the General unexpectedly delays his return to Buenos Aires, John's neat plans are trashed.

John finds he has to wait for the General's return, so he explores the city and soon discovers the world of the tango. He is infatuated by the dance and learns the tango from (Luciana Pedraza), a charming, brilliant dancer who becomes his teacher and guide into the world of this new dance.

For his screenplay, Duvall pieced the tango with the political difficult times and situations of immunity by generals in Buenos Aires.

Duvall professes to be a fan of the tango.

"I saw [a] show on Broadway years ago, and I began to like it," says Duvall. "It is a social dance. The kind of thing you would do in a dance hall or a wedding … It can be slow. It can be fast. An uncle can dance with a niece. A mother with a son. So, in Argentina, which is still the Mecca, they do not talk about the tango as passionate or sexual. Maybe sensuous."

Duvall says having the right partner makes the dance nice, and for the movie, Luciana Pedraza was the perfect dance partner.

"She's a natural actress," says Duvall. "I like taking the tango dancers and making them actors and taking actors and making them tango dancers."

As a director, Duvall says he gave Pedaraza freedom to act — even letting her choose some camera angles for her character.

"Those scenes where she didn't know me, she distanced herself purposely on that given day so she didn't really know me so it was like a tentative thing," remembers Duvall. "And we had spent months and months improvising and rehearsing, and so she was ready. She was ready."

Duvall says the release of his movie at a time of war wasn't planned and may or may not hurt the film's performance. But he says, "Life goes on. You have to do your business."

Some Facts About Robert Duvall

  • Attended Principia College in Elsah, Illinois; majored in drama, history and government; earned degree in drama
  • Attended The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York
  • Attended on the G.I. Bill; studied with Sanford Meisner; fellow students included Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman.
  • In 1958, Duvall made his Off-Broadway debut, "Mrs. Warren's Profession"
  • In 1962, Duvall made his film acting debut in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
  • In 1963, Duvall began appearing on episodic TV, including "The Twilight Zone" and "The Outer Limits"
  • In 1965, the actor gained notice Off-Broadway for "A View from the Bridge"
  • Duvall shared a railroad apartment on 107th Street and Broadway with his younger brother, Hoffman and three other struggling actors

    In 1966, Duvall made his first film with Marlon Brando in "The Chase"

  • In 1970, he portrayed Major Frank Burns in Altman's "M*A*S*H"
  • In 1971, Duvall played the title role in George Lucas' feature directing debut, "THX 1138"; Coppola was executive producer
  • In 1972, Duvall supported Clint Eastwood in John Sturges' "Joe Kidd"; cast as Tom Hagen in Coppola's "The Godfather"; received first Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor; starred as a handyman who falls in love with an abandoned pregnant woman in "Tomorrow"
  • In 1980, Duvall earned first Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a hard-nosed military man in "The Great Santini"
  • In 1983, Duvall won Best Actor Academy Award for "Tender Mercies"; also produced and contributed songs; Horton Foote wrote the Oscar-winning script; he made his fiction feature directing and screenwriting debut, "Angelo, My Love"
  • In 1988. Duvall was matched with Sean Penn as Los Angeles street cops assigned to a gang detail in Dennis Hopper's "Colors"
  • In 1989, Duvall turned down $1 million to reprise Hagan for "The Godfather, Part III"; reportedly wanted a salary on par with co-stars Al Pacino and Diane Keaton who received $3 million and $1.5 million respectively; Starred as Gus McRae in CBS miniseries, "Lonesome Dove"; nominated for an Emmy Award
  • In 1992, Duvall played title role in HBO biopic "Stalin"; again nominated for an Emmy Award
  • In 1997, Duvall earned acclaim for writing, directing and starring in "The Apostle"; received Oscar nomination for Best Actor; as the film's executive producer he put up the money, earning it all back and a little "pocket change" ($ 1 million) to boot
  • In 1998, Duvall earned sixth career Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role in "A Civil Action"
  • In 2003, Duvall portrayed General Robert E. Lee in the Civil War drama "Gods and Generals"