Robert Duvall Biography

Film Actor, Actor (1931–)
Award-winning actor Robert Duvall has been in an array of iconic films and TV projects, including 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' 'Apocalypse Now,' 'The Godfather' and 'Lonesome Dove.'


Born in 1931 in San Diego, California, Robert Duvall has become one of America's most acclaimed actors, having starred in an array of classics that include To Kill a Mockingbird, M*A*S*H and The Godfather. He has appeared in dozens of films over his decades-long career, both in lead roles and as a supporting player. For his work, he has been nominated for several Oscars, winning for the film Tender Mercies. A director and screenwriter as well, Duvall was awarded a National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush in 2005.

Background and Training

Robert Selden Duvall was born on January 5, 1931, in San Diego, California. His father, Howard, was a navy admiral, and the family eventually moved to Annapolis, Maryland. The Duvalls also had a performing and creative background, with Duvall’s mom, Mildred, having studied acting. Duvall took up drama as well at Principia College, graduating in 1953. Afterward, Duvall did a stint in the army, serving in Korea. Upon his return to the States, Duvall studied under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.

Debut: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

During the early 1960s, Duvall became roommates with another struggling actor, Dustin Hoffman, and the two also befriended Gene Hackman. Duvall made his on-screen debut in the 1962 big-screen classic To Kill a Mockingbird, playing the silent but pivotal character Boo Radley. From Mockingbird, Duvall worked consistently throughout the ensuing decades, starring in scores of projects in either lead roles or as supporting roles. He became revered for portrayals that come across as authentic and highly believable, perhaps an extension of Duvall's lack of interest in cultivating a “star” persona off-screen. 

Array of Acclaimed Roles

During the 1970s, Duvall was part of the ensemble cast of M*A*S*H (1970), directed by Robert Altman, as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974), playing opposite Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The end of the decade saw Duvall featured in Apocalypse Now (1979), another Coppola classic, and The Great Santini (1979), based on a Pat Conroy novel. 

In the 1980s, Duvall was featured in an assortment of dramas that included True Confessions (1981), The Natural (1984) and Colors (1988). The 1990s and the new millennium saw Duvall tackling many more roles in a variety of genres, ranging from the musical Newsies (1992) to the sci-fi drama Deep Impact (1998) to the satire Thank You for Smoking (2005). He also starred alongside Michael Caine and Haley Joel Osment in the now cult-favorite Secondhand Lions (2003). 

Oscar for 'Tender Mercies'

As of 2015, Duvall has received seven Academy Award nominations, and he won a lead actor statuette for his role in 1983’s Tender Mercies. In the film, in which Duvall wrote and performed his own music, he played an alcoholic country musician who begins to clean up his act and find love. He's also worked behind the camera as a director, with films like 1983’s Angelo, My Love and 1997’s The Apostle, which Duvall wrote and starred in as well, a role that earned Duvall his fifth Oscar nomination. Duvall also wrote and directed 2002’s Assassination Tango, in which he was able to explore his passion for the dance form.

TV Accolades

Duvall's small-screen work includes an acclaimed performance as Gus McCrae in the CBS miniseries Lonesome Dove (1989), which was adapted from the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. Other TV projects for Duvall have included Stalin (1992) and The Man Who Captured Eichmann (1996). He has been nominated for several Emmys, winning both a producing and acting award for his work on the 2006 miniseries Broken Trail.

Recent Work

After co-starring in fare like Jack Reacher (2012) and A Night in Old Mexico (2013), Duvall starred opposite Robert Downey Jr. in The Judge (2014), earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the drama (along with his seventh Oscar nomination). Duvall hopes to add to the four Globes that he already has under his belt. 

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!