The "features" on some DVDs that show cast members 20-40 years later reflecting back on a film are usually interesting to me. First, it's fun to see what some of these actors look like today and second, their insights on the film are usually informative.
In this "documentary," filmed 20 years after "Tender Mercies" was made in 1983, we hear from the star Robert Duvall, along with director Bruce Bereford, screenwriter Horton Foote and actors Tess Harper and Allan Hubbard. I was sorry not to see Ellen Barkin, Wilfred Brimley and Betty Buckley in this feature.
Harper was an "unknown" at the time, a raw talent from nearby Arkansas who had never acted on film. (The movie was shot in Texas.) To her credit she has never taken that role and that experience in "Tender Mercies" for granted. It meant a lot to her and 20 years later in this interview, she still sounds grateful she was given that opportunity, being almost moved to tears thinking back on it.
Universal Studios didn't think anything of the film, releasing it in only three theaters across the entire country for the first six months. They spent all their advertising money on promoting "Scarface." Despite all the Academy Award nominations, which came out a year later, the movie still never had a chance in theaters because stupid Universal sold the film to some cable company, which then ran the film on TV a week before the Oscars. Having it available on TV thus killed any distribution in theaters.
Bereford thought it was odd they would ask an Australian to do this film about Texas, "but I didn't want the rock the boat because I really wanted to do this film." It wasn't all fun-and-games for him. He and Duvall were odds much of the time. My feeling, hearing both men discuss it, was that Duvall was probably more at fault for the friction but they both admit it helped add an edge to the movie.
Both men said Buckley was very valuable to this film because, as Beefore points out, "there aren't many actresses who can sing as well as she did in that role."
I was interesting to see a 30-or-so year old Hubbard, whose only film role was that of the young boy "Sonny" in this movie. He just went back to being a normal kid in Paris, Texas. Duvall and the kid bonded and Robert made the boy feel so relaxed that the kid just played himself and had no problem projecting his fondness for "Mac" in the movie. During the filming, Hubbard said both Duvall and Harper were very loving - like a good mom and dad - to him on the set.
Barkin also was new. In fact, this was her first role in a feature film. Brimley was recruited by Duvall, a good friend of his. He was thought to be too old for the part but the guy is so good - and was adamant about playing it - that he won everyone over. Duvall commented that Brimley was bodyguard for Howard Hughes, sang jazz in a big orchestra, and has done a lot of interesting things, that he's a complex man.
Foote couldn't find a director who would touch this movie. He settled for young Bereford, who had only been known for one film: Breaker Morant. All the people look back now and marvel and the job the then-young Aussie did in this film. It's mutual admiration because everyone connected with the movie had nothing but praise for Foote and his writing skills.
The documentary ends with a nice story. When Hubbard turned 10, a few months after the film was done, his mom had a simple birthday party for him at home with just pizza and cake. She told him, "somebody special might come." It was Duvall, who flew into Dallas and then took a two-hour auto trip to Paris, Texas, to surprise the kid. He also brought him a guitar. Hubbard treasured that guitar for years and wound up being a guitar instructor!
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