When The Judge stars Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall first met years ago, the former was in for a surprise. “I’ve been trying to meet Bobby for some time, but when you approach an icon in a restaurant and he’s eating, he doesn’t really want to meet you,” Downey said and laughed.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Duvall then admitted.
Downey had a sense of humor about the entire situation. “And he doesn’t know who you are, that makes it even more difficult,” he added and laughed.
We caught up with Duvall and Downey to talk about their film The Judge and their first ever pairing. As teased in The Judge trailer, the two titanic actors play father and son who have a strained relationship to say the least. When Duvall’s wife and Downey’s mother dies, Downey heads home to attend the funeral and mourns with his brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Jeremy Strong).
Then, Duvall’s small town esteemed judge is arrested for murder. Downey’s superstar defense attorney must stay behind and defend his father, even if neither side wants it. Downey said that the film reflected the rough nature of the premise, and when they filmed their first scene (where Duvall insists on hiring small town lawyer CP, played by Dax Shepard), he -- you guessed it -- got nervous.
“I knew this movie was going to be a trial in and of itself and it would be really rewarding. I remember the first scene, Bobby and I were sitting there and Dax was CP and he had a three page monologue and we just have to sit there, me looking like I don’t like him and Judge does,” Downey said.
“I remember before doing my cover, my heart was just pounding in my chest and I think it was because there was so much on the line. I had high hopes for the film turning out as well as the script did.”
For Duvall, not only was it a chance to perform some acting fireworks with Downey, but a chance to truly go at it with his good friend Billy Bob Thornton, who plays the prosecutor charging him with murder. "[It was] great working with him. I won't tell you what I call him because it gets repetitious,” Duvall said of Thornton.
“What do you call him, Bobby?” Downey asked as Duvall laughed.
“The hillbilly Orson Welles! I’ve been saying that for 18 years,” Duvall proudly stated. “He’s the real deal.”
As an actor, Downey felt a kinship with playing an attorney. “They’re showmen who demand respect everywhere they go [and] know how important the jury is,” he said.
The Judge is the first film from the newly formed production company Team Downey, run by Downey and his wife Susan Downey. As they were working on the story, they saw how the script came alive and how the various characters all allowed Downey’s character Hank to become who he was meant to be.
“When we were developing this, I kept thinking about characters. I was thinking that we have to have a guy that the Judge wants instead of Hank. And we thought of CP Kennedy and we got Dax. And there has to be this gal (Vera Farmiga) that was his first love and kind of his conscious and that has to be a struggle. And there has to be a twist in there and funny and heartbreaking, and she has to be able to read his beads. And Dopkin (David, director) came in and said the judge has to be a mountain that Hank can’t climb and he doesn’t want to. But, if he doesn’t his soul is at stake -- Bobby Duvall is a mountain. So that’s how that worked,” Downey said.
The superstar then compared it to some of his work in another arena of his job, like the one that has him talking about Iron Man 4.
“When I do the superhero movies, I say you’re only as good as your bad guy. And in this one, who would you really not want to go up against if they were prosecuting the case? And that’s Billy Bob.”
What most impressed Duvall about Downey was in fact, how he and his wife Susan were as a first time producing team. “He and his wife are wonderful producers. It was a tough privilege, but a great privilege,” Duvall said.
“We only had 60 days to shoot this. Sometimes it felt like we were doing it in 30 days. But, we got it done and it was a lot of work and a lot of fun at times.”
There is an element to the story that finds that the judge's health is going downhill and it comes to a head in a bathroom scene that beautifully bonds the two characters. “I initially turned the script down because of that scene. I didn’t appeal to me,” Duvall admitted.
“After talking with my wife and everybody, I decided to do it. And [you] always need to find a bit of humor in a scene like that. It is very important. It is important in movies to offset scenes with humor.”
Downey agrees and is clearly so pleased with how it turned out, especially for how his onscreen daughter could cut right through the tension. “You never really want to be part of a movie that’s morbid and graphic – and pulling at those needy heartstrings that you think a drama is. In essence, you look at that scene -- it starts with incontinence and ends with a knock-knock joke,” Downey said as he and Duvall laughed.
“That was our thought for this film. We want it to be entertaining, but we don’t want it to switch gears too often. We wanted it to mirror how life is. It’s not like Lauren’s (Emma Tremblay) always knocking on the door. She just happens to have needed to come in there right then. That’s how kids are too. They sense things and they come to help. And she does help us. It’s the first time they smile simultaneously.”