In 1983 Robert Duvall won an Oscar for Best Actor as country and western singer Mac Sledge, in Tender Mercies. Now, 26 years later he’s producing Crazy Heart, another movie that spotlights a down-and-out country singer, this time one Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), in which Duvall takes on a smaller role as Blake’s best friend, bartender Wayne Kramer.
Along with first-time writer/director Scott Cooper, Robert Duvall spoke with us about Crazy Heart.
How did you get involved with this movie?
Robert Duvall It’s my company – Butcher’s Run Films is Robbie Carliner, Judy Cairo and Scott Cooper together as a unit. They were the driving force. I reached out to Jeff Bridges, I knew Jeff, sent him a letter, ‘Would you look at this?’
They contacted T Bone Burnett [to produce the music], it took a year to get him. So it took awhile to get all this together. Getting the money is very difficult, but then I got the money and helped wherever I could and played a part in it.
Did you feel like doing this film is going down memory lane with Tender Mercies?
Robert Duvall This was much more pleasant to do. I won’t go into the difficulties in doing Tender Mercies, but it was not that easy. This was much more harmonious and much more fun to do. Mac Sledge and Bad Blake are two different guys, two different perceptions, but similar demons.
Like I’ve said before, my character in Tender Mercies had a support group in my wife, my son and a baptism. Here, Jeff’s character has nothing. He blows everything, [even the relationship with, Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) the woman he loves], because he risks her son’s life, she dumps him which she should.
A lot of women would not do that, they’d continue in that self-destructive (mode) by staying with a guy like this.
Also Tender Mercies was more like regular country music, this is more of a compilation of country blues.
What was your interested in doing this movie?
Scott Cooper I grew up with this type of music, living in the same type of world that Bad Blake lives in. And being an actor, I understood the nature of a performance-driven story.
I felt like if I couldn’t do this, having grown up in the South, steeped in country rock, working as an actor, I was in trouble.
What I really wanted to capture was the mixture of humor and pathos in Bad’s life, and inject it with levity. Bad is an old dog who doesn’t know if he has any new tricks, a man who will always go through peaks and valleys but his story moves, in spite of that, towards redemption.
I liked the way that the Tommy Sweet character (played by Colin Ferrell) never forgets where he came from – that Bad Blake was his mentor. How did that develop?
Scott Cooper What I wanted to do in the structure of the piece was for the audience to think, ‘Well this guy Tommy Sweet is going to be really arrogant, he’s going be a guy who when we finally meet him we’re not going to like him,’ when in fact it’s just the opposite.
And it’s really through Bad Blake’s perception that this is happening. And Colin is such a wonderful actor that he was able to play that type of gratitude without pushing it, in the scenes between him and Jeff.
Robert Duvall Colin was the one part that was the most difficult to cast, remember? You couldn’t find anybody and you couldn’t start until you found someone.
Scott Cooper Yeah. Not a lot of actors can sing, some can very well, Jeff obviously can, Bobby sings beautifully, and Colin sings wonderfully. But sometimes you don’t want too big of a star, maybe you don’t want someone who’s going to throw off the balance and not be believable in that role.
Country music comes from a Scots-Irish heritage.