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Photo: Sam Emerson
Robert Duvall as Felix Bush
Oscar winner Robert Duvall could be up for that top film award again for his portrayal of a crusty recluse in a quirky drama set in the American south during the Great Economic Depression of the 1930s. Here's a look at Get Low.
With his wildly overgrown beard and driving his mule-drawn wagon, Felix Bush is certainly noticed when, for the first time in decades, he comes to town and books a date at the local funeral parlor."You want to be at your funeral party alive?""Yes sir.""But you can't have a funeral if you're not deceased.""Hold on now. It's a detail. We can look at it."
Sam Emerson Robert Duvall as Felix Bush
The subject of much gossip and many whispered secrets, he has lived a solitary life on his farm; now, sensing he may soon Get Low (a old expression for dying), he wants to hear some of those legends before he reveals the true story.
"I want everybody to come who has got a story to tell about me."
"That probably covers about four counties."
"Then I want four counties' worth of people at the party."
"It's like a mystery in the town. People all have a different opinion of him," explains Robert Duvall, who stars as the mysterious hermit. The 79-year-old actor admits the character got under his skin.
"I like him a lot. You've got to like the people you play," he notes, "[and] I like Felix Bush. He's an interesting man and I thought about it a lot. I worked on it by thinking about it… ruminating, daydreaming - day and night - about him. Usually I just forget something when it's over, but it really stayed with me."
Sam Emerson Left to Right: Robert Duvall as Felix Bush and Bill Murray as Frank Quinn.
Bill Murray plays the funeral director anxious to keep the cantankerous customer satisfied. Well known for his broad comedy, Murray says this character's wry humor and somewhat shady past lets him give audiences something unexpected.
"You always want to try to surprise people with your rhythm," explains Murray, "so you speak a certain way and then when people think something is going to happen you leave them enough time to become available for an answer that may not be the one they're expecting."
Sam Emerson Left to Right: Sissy Spacek as Mattie Darrow and Robert Duvall as Felix Bush.
The cast also features Oscar winner Sissy Spacek as a woman from Felix's past.
"Oh for heaven's sake! A thousand years ago he was the most interesting man I'd ever met."
"There is a lot in the details in this movie," Spacek says. "It's about not so much what people are doing, but how they are doing it and their behavior."
Sam Emerson Left to Right: Robert Duvall and Aaron Schneider
Those details come from the seven-year effort that it took director Aaron Schneider to get his feature film debut before the cameras - a project that began with a true story from Tennessee.
"What actually did occur is this hermit in the mid-1930s rode into town on his mule - his only companion - and put together a funeral party while he was still alive," explains Schneider. "We did a little research. I actually went out to Tennessee and started asking questions like 'Why? Why do you think he would do this?' Just about everyone asked really didn't know. They ventured guesses, but nobody really knew: maybe vanity, maybe he had some secret… but nobody knew. So it started to become a mystery. The biggest part of development was the question why… why would somebody do something like this… and that is what we built the fiction on."
Get Low is the kind of smaller scale, independent film often described as "character-driven" (as opposed to the action-packed spectacles that dominate the box office charts). Schneider says the emphasis on character made the casting of screen veterans like Spacek and Duvall essential.
Sam Emerson Left to Right: Robert Duvall as Felix Bush, Lucas Black as Buddy and Bill Cobbs as Rev. Charlie Jackson.
"It's a gentle page-turner," he says. "I like to call it the kind of story your grandfather would tell you around the fire or something and you have to cozy up to it. Before you can cozy up to any movie, you have to really feel for the people on screen. You have to get to know them as people. They have to be fully fleshed-out characters that are interesting to watch. So that's what we strived to create in the development of the screenplay. Then it was about making sure that we had actors that could do that, because not all of them can."
"It sounded like you said you want me to preach at your funeral party with you sitting there."
"I've talked to God a lot about you over the years. He said he broke the mold when he made you. He said you sure are entertaining to watch, but way too much trouble."
Get Low also features character actor Bill Cobbs as a minister and life-long friend of the old recluse; and Lucas Black plays the young funeral home assistant who becomes personally involved in the search for the true story. The film was shot on location in rural Georgia, outside of Atlanta.