`SIGN-ON for a movie, and it's their call. They can cut out your favorite scene, change the script, even kill you off. An actor is a hired hand. That's the way it is,'' said Oscar winner Robert Duvall in a recent interview.
``I'm a late bloomer. I tip my hat to actors like Clint Eastwood who early on formed their own companies and can call the shots. But things are changing. I've hired a new agent, and he's stirred up some interesting projects.''
Duvall is on a career roll. Currently, he has two films in release. One of the favorite characters he's played in his 31 years in films is the Cuban barber in Warner Brothers' ``Wrestling Ernest Hemingway.'' His second release is Columbia Pictures' ``Geronimo,'' in which he plays the supporting role of Al Sieber, an Army scout.
``I wanted to work with director-producer Walter Hill,'' he says. ``Al Sieber was factual. He could out-ride, out-hunt, out-shoot any Indian; that's why the Army needed him as a scout, and why the Apaches had a love-hate relationship but did respect him.
``In real life, Sieber was crushed by a boulder rolling down a mountain, but in the script he rode off into the sunset, with a voiceover explaining his future. One day while filming in Moab, Utah, Hill told me the film was getting too long, and he felt Sieber should be shot by an Apache's bullet.
``If I'd known I was going to die, I might not have done the movie. I've died nine times in films!'' Duvall says, adding: ``I didn't come off too badly, for my new agent had this package: I'd do the role, and I'd get a production deal with Columbia for my own company, Butcher's Run Films.'' (Named after his farm in Virginia.)
Late bloomer or not, Duvall is making up for lost time. But first he'll star for Clint Eastwood's company in a movie based on the Texas oil boom of the 1930s.
``Then, it's clear sailing,'' he says. ``I have written two scripts for my Butcher's Run banner. One will be filmed in my home-away-from-home, Argentina. I've been there nine times. Any excuse - a National Geographic special, a documentary on fly fishing, a play - and I'm in Buenos Aires.''
His second production finds him playing a fire-and-brimstone Southern preacher. He wrote the script, stars in it, produces, and directs it. ``No longer a hired hand,'' he says with a wink.