John Wayne and Robert Duvall Nearly Came to Blows Filming a Classic Western

by Liz Holland
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Robert Duvall currently has 3 films in production as he turns 91 this week. The actor once fired up fellow western actor John Wayne so much that the two nearly got in a fistfight on set. 

The film “True Grit”, which was based on a 1968 Charles Portis’ novel, earned John Wayne an Oscar in 1969. As soon as Wayne read the book, he started working towards playing the lead role of US Marshall Rooster Cogburn. The legendary actor also tried to get his daughter Aissa the role of Maggie. Unfortunately, Wayne failed, despite his iconic status. However, due to Wayne’s popularity, Elvis dropped out of the secondary role in the film when he was refused billing above John Wayne. His replacement? A 38-year-old Robert Duvall. 

At the time, Robert Duvall was well established as a solid character actor. Duvall would later become a regular leading man and headliner, perhaps with “True Grit” to thank for helping get him there. Duvall was also known for having quite the temper. In Duvall’s early acting days, he roomed with fellow young actors Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman. The three bonded over their love for acting and practical jokes, but Hackman and Duvall regularly got into fights due to their respective poor tempers. 

Robert Duvall Had An Interesting Approach To His Anger

Hoffman once described how Duvall would use his anger to fuel his performances. Duvall would pick out someone in the audience, and imagine that they hated him. Then, he would yell “F— you!” to them as he left stage, post curtain call. 

Years later in 2003, while Duvall was filming “Secondhand Lions”, his costar Michael Caine described Duvall’s temper as “quite violent”. Apparently, Duvall’s fiery temper didn’t fade with age. 

Duvall has also described himself as a method actor. With method acting, the actor is meant to fully immerse themselves into the role. Duvall’s approach to acting was certainly an intense one. If anything got in the way of Duvall’s go to methods, he would become intensely irritated, which caused problems on the set of “True Grit”. Duvall ultimately ended up in loud confrontations with co-star John Wayne and the films’ director, Henry Hathaway when things weren’t going his way. 

Being a director, Hathway also had a loud personality and wanted things done according to his methods. This didn’t sit well with Duvall, who’s quoted as saying of Hathaway, “He’d say, ‘When I say, ‘Action!’ tense up, Goddam you.” It’s hard to work under that as a young actor.”

John Wayne Finally Got Fed Up

This film meant a lot to John Wayne, who had been vying for the role since he laid eyes on the book. Robert Duvall constantly causing problems and disruption on set eventually got to Wayne. He verbally fought with Duvall numerous times on set, but eventually threatened to punch his fellow actor if he didn’t stop fighting with the film’s director on set. 

It’s said that no punches were thrown– perhaps Wayne’s passion for the project really did save the peace.

Outsider.com