How Robert Duvall Knew He Won the Oscar for ‘Tender Mercies’ Before Dolly Parton Even Said His Name

by Clayton Edwards

Robert Duvall is a veteran actor with seven decades in the entertainment industry under his belt. He got his start on the stage in the early 1950s. Then, in 1959, he moved into film and television. After doing a handful of TV shows and made-for-TV movies, Duvall took his first major film role in 1962. He played Boo Radley in the iconic film To Kill a Mockingbird. Since then, he has appeared in several unforgettable films. Duvall was in The Great Santini, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now to name a few.

Over the course of his career, Robert Duvall has won several industry awards and been nominated for many others. Duvall has received seven total Academy Award nominations over the years. All of those have been for either Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor.  However, despite the number of nominations and now-classic films he was part of, Duvall has only taken home one Oscar. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for Tender Mercies in 1984.

Back in 2016, Robert Duvall sat down to discuss his illustrious career during the 2016 Washington West Film Festival. Over the course of that chat, he talked about some of his biggest films including To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies. At one point, he discussed his sole Oscar win for his work in Tender Mercies and how he knew he had won the award before the presenter, Dolly Parton, read his name.

How Robert Duvall Knew He Won the Oscar

In Tender Mercies, Robert Duvall plays a down-on-his-luck country singer trying to get his life on the right track. The combination of the award’s presenter and the film’s plot tipped Duvall off.

Robert Duvall said that when Dolly Parton said, “And the winner is,” he knew she was about to say his name. “I knew that I had won it because she was into country music,” he said, weighing in with a massive understatement. That night, the only other nominees up for Best Actor “were from Britain, from England.” So, he assumed that if a country music icon like Dolly Parton was presenting the award, it would go to an American. More specifically, it would go to an American actor in a film that was somehow connected to country music. It only took a few seconds for Duvall to learn that his assumptions were correct.

A Winning Combination

Horton Foote wrote Tender Mercies. Additionally, Foote adapted Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird into an Oscar-winning film. So, being in Tender Mercies was a reunion of sorts for Robert Duvall and Horton Foote. Duvall spoke about this as well saying, “It was nice to win in something that Horton Foote wrote.”