In Robert Duvall’s latest western, Wild Horses, he stars as an old rancher who once kicked his son off his property for being gay and now finds himself at the center of a missing person investigation. In addition to starring, Duvall directs a cast that includes James Franco and Josh Hartnett.
While Duvall was in Austin at SXSW to promote the film earlier this month, we had a chance to sit down with the Oscar-winner. We talked about why this project spoke to him, working on a small budget, and using actual Texas rangers in the production.
Check out the full interview below, and enjoy!
What was it about this movie that made you want to direct it?
Duvall: Well, not a lot in the beginning. The script we got was pretty unshootable. We took it though, I took the option. I wanted to do it because I wanted to have a lady ranger in it and I kept that component in. And the son who was kicked off the property because he was gay. And him eventually coming back. Those two things. We worked on the script who a guy from this area, Mike Shell, wrote, but it just didn’t work at all. So we worked on it for a year and a half.
Who knew if we were going to do it? We had not a lot of money and only 23 days. We had to shoot in Utah for Texas. Utah is wonderful, and it looks like West Texas. We went and did that and that was it. Just kind of nurtured the script along. Put this there, that there. I got Billy Bob Thorton, my friend, to read it. He said, “It’s good. Yeah, it’s shootable.” But it wasn’t completely, but at least I got his opinion and different people who I respected. And we built it up until we had a shooting script.
You don’t direct all that often, so I imagine a story has to really speak for you to make you want to commit in that way.
Duvall: Yeah, definitely. And we had a good cast. James Franco, Adriana Barraza. Remember if you saw the movie Babel, she’s just a wonderful actress. We were fortunate to get her. She played a very pivotal part in the movie, in the beginning and the end. It’s very hard to find an actress to be able to do that, but she did. Angie Cepeda. Luciana (Duvall) played the lady Texas ranger. She studied, got a blue-belt in Jiu-Jitsu. She did a lot of homework learning from the rangers. Everybody did their homework and then we all came together. We had 23 days but we finished in 22. Not much money.
Did you do much rehearsal beforehand to get ready for that schedule.
Duvall: I’m not too big on rehearsal. Let the take be the rehearsal. There was some though. But sometimes you just do it. It’s fresh. Then you do take two, take three, whatever.
How’d you decide on James and Josh Hartnett getting those roles?
Duvall: They’re talented young actors. We were fortunate to get them in the small movie. I said, “Okay James, you do five days. I’ll do two days with you then I’m going to go down and do one with him.” Because he does like four movies a year. He could look at a script like that and learn it in fifteen seconds. He’s got a photographic memory. So I think that’s why he can work so often. We got them, the money guys worked it. Just talented guys to get.
Then we used the real Texas rangers. They’re terrific natural actors. They do undercover work anyway. Hank Whitman, he’s the head of the rangers, I said he could be a professional actor. Then we had Angie Cepeda who we had a year ago in A Night In Old Mexico, she’s a wonderful actress from Columbia and Spain. Then Rooster McConaughey, Matthew’s brother. I don’t know his brother too well, but we used his son who’s eight or nine. It was like a strange, quick, compact family entity kind of experience. It was nice. We had to substitute Utah for Texas. We couldn’t do it here. Utah is beautiful. It looks just like West Texas.
Did you have any hesitations that using the real Rangers might not work out?
Duvall: Na, I always knew they would. Had other guys who wanted to play the rangers, but I knew they wouldn’t get it. I just knew these guys could do it. We had other scenes we shot that we couldn’t use since the movie couldn’t be longer than an hour and 45 minutes. Sometimes you use a first-time actor and they step across a line to do it. They have no bad habits. That’ll put a professional actor on notice sometimes. So that melding process between the professional actors and the non-actors, it’s okay. Some were so good that they were pure, so pure. Once in a while they’ll forget a line, but it’s like so what? Actors forget lines, too.
Other than the low budget, were there any specific difficulties you ran into?
Duvall: We couldn’t afford helicopters, so we used drones. Which was great. We filmed excess film because then we had to cut it down to an hour and 45 minutes. Some of the powers to be wanted an hour and 30. Had that happened I would’ve walked away. They would’ve ruined the movie. I wish we had the rangers in there more, but we couldn’t time-wise. It was interesting. I was supposed to go up to Toronto for a movie I did with Downey, The Judge, but I said, “I can’t do it. You told me one thing and now you’re changing the schedule.” So they picked up the bill for us to work on Labor Day. Warner Brothers did. That was a blessing. We actually finished two days early.
How was it for you and Luciana working together?
Duvall: She’s hard to direct (laughs). Nah, I’ve directed her before when we did Assassination Tango. She’s a great natural actress. When you know how to deal with the cops on the streets of Buenos Aires, which she does, she didn’t have to go to Lee Strasberg to train. She’s a natural. It was good.
Do you have your eye on another project to direct?
Duvall: I have the rights to The Day The Cowboys Quit. It’s a novel by Elmer Kelton. AMC said they’d do it in a two-night mini-series. Elmer Kelton was voted by some as the greatest Western writer of all time. He’s from west Texas. It’s a wonderful, wonderful novel. Hopefully get that going in the next few months.
Do you have anyone attached to be in that yet?
Duvall: James Caan will be in it. Jimmy, he can do rural and urban. Very versatile. Other people will hopefully want to be in it.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Robert very much for taking the time to talk!