How a Role in a Mime Play Launched Robert Duvall's Career

Season 5
Aired on 11/08/2015 | CC tv-14
As a child, Academy Award®-winning actor Robert Duvall says he was a bit of a romantic who liked to do imitations. When Robert's mother, an amateur actress, and his father, a military man, noticed that he was floundering, they encouraged him to try acting. "I had no idea what to do in my life," he says. "I wanted to be an athlete, but I wasn't that good. It was all in my imagination. So I think if you can't attain what you want to do in your imagination, that leads you in another avenue—into acting."

While attending Principia College, a small school in Southern Illinois, Robert signed up for a drama class and caught the acting bug. "I was about to flunk out, and [I] got my first A," he says. "That helped save me, so to speak."

Robert says his iconic career was launched by a role in a mime play called The Story of Two Pierrots. "I played a harlequin clown. Within the play, we did a mime version of Gone With The Wind, and I was Rhett Butler," he says. "It certainly really whetted my appetite for future things."

After college, Robert served two years in the Army before moving to New York City to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse with famed acting teacher Sanford Meisner. Watch as Robert reveals how he made ends meet during the early days.

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