Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Robert Duvall Plays Stalin on HBO

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Robert Duvall Plays Stalin on HBO

Article excerpt

ROBERT DUVALL has played an extraordinary range of characters over the years, everything from a melancholy country signer in "Tender Mercies" to a crazed air-cavalry commander in "Apocalypse Now."

But his latest role as former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is perhaps the most challenging assignment he's ever taken on, the two-time Academy Award winner said in an interview during the filming here last winter.

"It's more like quicksand than almost any part I've played," Mr. Duvall says. "Each day I'd go in and I'd say `let's roll the camera and see what happens."'

Viewers can judge Duvall's performance when "Stalin" premieres on cable's Home Box Office this Saturday. As for Duvall, he says it's hard to compare Stalin with his other roles.

"I don't know how to rate it. I know some scenes work - a lot of scenes work," he says. "But it's hard to be consistent with this because I'm playing a guy who was so amoral. I just don't think in the way he thinks."

In making "Stalin," the producers stressed authenticity. They were able to take advantage of the political changes in Russia in recent years to gain access to locations - including Vladimir Lenin's Kremlin apartment and Stalin's country home outside Moscow - that were off-limits during the Communist era.

The film tells the story of Stalin's rise to power, showing how he outmaneuvers political rivals to become the unchallenged dictator of the Soviet empire.

"If Al Capone had become president of the United States, he wouldn't have been as bad as this guy," Duvall says.

The action begins with the coming to power of the Communists during the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, progressing through the bloody purges of the 1930s and ending with his death in March 1953. The story primarily is told from the point of view of his wife Nadya, and his daughter, Svetlana. …

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