"When you grow up with a lot of land around you, you're not used to New York," Duvall says now. She didn't like the close quarters, the cold, the feeling of being a celebrity in a fishbowl, and she also began facing a delayed, painful reaction to her parent's unexpected and bitter divorce the year before (although she says she still loves her father, she rarely speaks to him). On top of that, she wasn't working, having turned down a couple of parts, including Altman's "A Wedding," which cooled their friendship for a while. She decided to go into psychoanalysis.
The day before her first session, she had a telling dream. "I was in a locker room, and Elaine, from Elaine's restaurant, had me on a gurney and was wrapping my head in white bandages, preparing me for an operation. I said something like, 'Is everything going to be OK?' And she said, 'Aw, don't worry about it. We're not going to hurt you. We're just going to rearrange things a little bit.' And then she wheeled me off onto the vivid green field of a football stadium."
Looking back on it, Duvall feels that her couple of years in analysis were "great acting lessons. To know yourself better is to know everyone else better." It made her more sensitive to human frailties, she says, and more accepting of the fact that people can't always stay together, no matter how hard they struggle to.
But that still didn't make it easy when Simon broke up with her at the airport as she was about to board the Concorde to London to begin her next major role, as the terrified wife and mother stalked by her mad husband in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining." She cried all the way across the Atlantic, and that was just the beginning of the endless tears she would shed during the next months of filming.
"That was a life experience like the Vietnam War probably was for veterans," says Duvall in a low, exhausted voice, very different from her typical lilting tone. "It was grueling--six days a week, 12- to 16-hour days, half an hour off for lunch, for a year and one month. The role demanded that I cry for, whew, at least nine of those months. Jack (Nicholson) had to be angry all the time, and I had to be in hysterics all the time. It was very upsetting."
The role was a plum, and one of Duvall's unforgettable performances, but she had already begun to think about being more than just a hired hand in the movies. On "Annie Hall," when Woody Allen let her read only a couple pages of dialogue instead of the whole script, she had begun to wonder what it might be like to have a producer's control. Around that time, she bought the rights to Tom Robbins' "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and wrote a screenplay for it ("One studio told me, 'Too quirky even for us,' and I had toned it down quite a lot!"). She gave up the rights after four years.
But it was in 1979 on the sunny Malta set of "Popeye," surrounded by the familial atmosphere of an Altman production after the nightmare of "The Shining," that Duvall began to read her beautiful, old illustrated copy of "The Frog Prince" and imagine what Robin "Popeye" Williams might do with that role.
IN HER LIVING ROOM, DUVALL LIGHTS A CIGARETTE (SHE STARTED smoking for "Thieves Like Us" and can't seem to quit), and the effect is a little astonishing. "It's like seeing your favorite Saturday morning cartoon character light up," says Johnson.
If Duvall \o7 were \f7 a character, she might be one invented by Lily Tomlin--unintentionally witty just by being herself. She segues, for example, from an erudite discussion of cable TV circuitry directly to her attraction to home shopping network deals.
"I'm such a sucker for those inventions," she says, as she sips a diet soft drink and puffs away. "I always take down the numbers, but I've never ordered anything. Oh, I take it back--I did order DD7, the miracle cleaner. It works great, although it makes you wonder--is it made from leftover napalm or something?"
Dan Gilroy passes by with a friend, lugging file cabinets into Duvall's home office, and flashes a wide grin. He's wearing green Converse high-tops and a rakish painter's cap. ("They're obviously a good match," says Shelley's brother Stewart. "They're sharing hats.")
They met just before Duvall cast "Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme." Gilroy, a member of the rock band Breakfast Club, caught Duvall's eye first as a potential cast member. Despite his lack of acting experience and low marquee profile, she insisted that he'd be perfect for the lead role as Gordon Goose. He's a bit of a renaissance man; he sculpts in marble and paints, as well as acting, singing and writing songs.
"He's the most wonderful artist," Duvall raves, explaining that a typical evening might find them watching their big-screen TV in the living room while each worked on a canvas. She shows me one of her paintings--a classical landscape behind a portrait of a featureless woman. It's good.