Robert Duvall attended The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City on the G.I. Bill after serving two years in the Army. Duvall shared an apartment with Dustin Hoffman and they became friends with Gene Hackman. Duvall was recommended by his instructor to be cast in a play by Horton Foote. This would prove critical to his career, as it was Foote who recommended him to play the mentally disabled “Boo Radley” in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), which was his first major role. Duvall made his acting debut as an MP in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), starring Paul Newman.
Duvall found steady work by making appearances in episodic TV and was a modestly billed character actor in films, such as Countdown (1967) and The Rain People (1969), both of whom co-starred James Caan.
He also played the heavy who is shot by John Wayne in True Grit. He was later cast in The Godfather and received the first of his six Academy Award nominations.
He solidified his reputation as a great actor when he played Lt. Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979). He received his second Academy Award nomination for that role and was named as the most versatile actor in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.
One of his greatest achievements was his characterization of the grizzled Texas Ranger Gus McCrae in the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove (1989) for which he received an Emmy nomination. While he never lived in Texas, after this movie he was embraced as a cultural icon here. Another memorable character was his portrayal of Boss Spearman in Open Range (2003).
Robert Duvall will long be remembered as one of the great naturalistic American screen actors and his acting ranks as some of the finest ever put on film. His body of work is such that few actors can equal, let alone surpass.