Prodigal Son: Behind the Scenes of THE JUDGE with Robert Duvall, Robert Downey, Jr., and Vera Farmiga

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Prodigal Son:

Behind the Scenes of THE JUDGE with Robert Duvall, Robert Downey, Jr., and Vera Farmiga

By Evy Baehr, Executive Managing Editor

Movieguide® recently had the chance to hear from Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall and Vera Farmiga on their new movie, THE JUDGE.

THE JUDGE is a powerful movie about Hank, a defense attorney, played by Robert Downey, Jr., returning home after his mother’s death. Downey’s character has a rocky relationship with his father, played by Robert Duvall. When the father is accused of murder, the two men have to reconcile and learn to love each other. Find out more about the movie in Movieguide®’s review Friday.

Here’s what Downey, Duvall and Farmiga had to say about doing THE JUDGE, which was produced by Downey and his wife, Susan:

Question:  Mr. Downey, as far as performances, this is as strong as I’ve seen you do it that I can remember. There’s a real complexity to this character, as far as emotions and ups and downs. Can you talk about finding all those highs and lows? Do you find that maybe lawyers have a little bit of actor to them too?

Downey:  I’ve always heard the great lawyers, and Bobby was telling me about some he knows, they’re showmen, or they’re these just really dynamic, kind of powerful men and women who command respect wherever they go, but they also know how important the jury is. Basically, when we were developing this, I just kept thinking about the characters. I was thinking about how we have to have a guy that the judge wants instead of Hank, and we thought of C.P. Kennedy, and then we got Dax [Dax Sheppard]. I thought there has to be this gal that was his first love, and who is still kind of his conscience and represents the heart of the movie and that has to be a struggle. There has to be a twist in there that’s kind of funny and heartbreaking, and she has to be able to read his beats. Dobkin [Producer David Dobkin] always said that the judge has to be a mountain that Hank can’t climb and doesn’t want to climb, but if he doesn’t climb it, his soul is at stake. So, Bobby Duvall is a mountain, and Joseph Palmer [the character Duvall plays] is a mountain, and that’s how that worked.

I always thought it’s kind of like in a superhero movie, you’re only as good as your bad guy, and then I was thinking, “Well who’s a person I would really not want to go up against if they were prosecuting a case?” He’s right there. Then, we thought about if there’s someone in the film who’s really taking the emotional hits for all of this conflict, and we have to find someone who is such a gifted actor that they can do next to nothing and communicate everything that’s unsaid in the film. That’s this guy we’ll be getting to see a lot of and expect great things from, Jeremy Strong [who plays Downey’s brother in the movie]. So, really, Hank’s whole journey has to do with the people that he has to contest with, and who help, and who challenge him.

Question: Do you still get nervous working with someone like Mr. Duvall, and what was that first day like? Do you remember the first time you ever met him in this business?

Downey:  You know, I knew this movie was going to be a bit of a trial itself, and that it would be really rewarding. I remember on the first day, Bobby and I are sitting there, and Dax, old C.P., has a three-page monologue, and we just have to look like I don’t like him and the judge does. I remember before doing my cover scene, my heart was just pounding in my chest, and I think it’s because there was so much kind of on the line. I had such high hopes for the film turning out as well as the script that Dubuque had written, and that we’d been working on all this time.

Question: When did you first meet him years ago?

Downey:  I’ve been trying to meet Bobby for some time, but when you approach an icon at a restaurant, and he’s eating, he’s not really interested.

Duvall:  I didn’t know who he was.

Question:  Of course, Vera, Robert called you the heart, the conscience, right? Did you see your role that way?

Farmiga: I did, I did. I found Sam’s spiritual frequency really alluring. You know, in this kind of sweaty Turkish bath of very unsettled and frenetic males, I think she is a ballast. and she has a serenity to her spirit. Her heart is elastic. Her heart is a rubber band until this guys comes and snaps it too hard. There was this wonderful romantic investigation of first love, but I also really did see her as a guide of sorts that ushers him, this prodigal son, on his journey of reconciliation. She gives him apple pie, food, encouragement, analysis, romance if he was up for it, friendship, on his journey, so I did see her in a very sort of spiritual way.

Question:  Robert, Susan was here just a little while ago talking about how this would be the first Team Downey movie. I wonder if it’s just happenstance that it’s this father-son movie, or if you see it having some personal reflection for your own life, and what were the surprises for you and Duvall that you got form each other working together this way?

Downey:  Well, you could say it’s a courtroom drama or a father-son story and this that and the other, and for some reason or other I just see it as, it’s almost like there’s all these touchstones whereby this audience is a cast member in THE JUDGE. That’s the thing that I think is the kind of transcendent thing when people were reading the script or when Warners called us and said, “We think this is really special; we want to make it.” As we’ve been having all these screenings, people are saying, “Look, like I know it’s called THE JUDGE, but that’s my mom. By the way, I have to tell you about my older brother, he would talk to me about a parking spot for like 20 minutes, and I was like, “Do you understand this is a heavy day for all of us?” So, the great thing to me is all of the dialogue that’s occurring with people who have just seen the movie. That to me has been kind of the big reward. As far as working with you, Bobby, I can overcomplicate things, and it’s exhausting. There’s an efficiency with which you get to these extremely difficult places. It’s not that you make it look easy, it’s that you don’t use tricks. That’s something that I hope to really take more on board as I move forward.

Question:  For you Mr. Duvall, anything that surprised you working with Robert Downey, Jr.?

Duvall:  Nice. Terrific. Terrific guy, wonderful actor. He and his wife, wonderful producers, and it was a tough privilege, but a privilege. You know we had 60 days to do the tough privilege, you know. Sometimes it seemed like it was only 30 days. But, we got it done. A lot of work, but good, hard, honest work, and a lot of fun at times. There was a lot of fun in between. These guys are great to work with.

Question:  Mr. Downey, you do a lot of characters actually that have kind of a transformation, or a prodigal son coming back specifically in this film. So talk about why you do roles like that.

Downey:  Right. Yeah, I don’t know why it’s on the docket. Look, here’s what happened:  Susan and David started developing this movie. I said, “I don’t want to make them feel bad, we’ll see how the script turns out.”

Question: One thing Vera says about your character is verbal agility, and I wondered if that is a characteristic for a Robert Downey role these days.

Downey:  It’ll never happen again. I’m switching. Next time, I’ll be mute.

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