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Posted April 13, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Trusty sidekick: Mule goes from 'Idol' to star on silver screen

Steve Foster and Robert Duvall meet
Steve Foster, left, and Robert Duvall meet with Foster's national champion trick mule, Grace, at Southern States in Front Royal on Saturday. Grace appears with Duvall in the movie "Get Low," due to be released this fall. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Duvall meets with fans
Duvall meets with fans and signs an autograph for Fort Valley resident Robert Schultz, right. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Foster talks to the audience
Foster talks to the audience while Grace nuzzles up to him during the performance. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Grace dunks a basketball
The 3-year-old gave the crowd a show on Saturday, dunking a basketball. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Grace paints a picture
The 3-year-old paints a picture that was later auctioned off. Andrew Thayer/Daily

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By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Linette King approached her fiancé, Robert Schultz, with some news she figured he might be interested in.

"Robert Duvall's here," King said.

Little did she know, Schultz was already aware of Duvall's whereabouts, had seen him, met him and gotten the Academy-Award winning actor to sign the picture Schultz, of Fort Valley, handed him Saturday just moments after Duvall arrived at Southern States. The actor was there to attend a special performance by Grace, a 3-year-old mule and his co-star in the movie "Get Low" that will be released later this year.

Warren County resident Steve Foster owns and trains Grace, who last year won America's Ultimate Horse Idol competition in Richmond. It led to her earning a role in the movie, which is a true story set in the 1930s about a man (Duvall, as Felix "Bush" Breazeale) living in the woods in Tennessee. Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek also star.

Foster and Grace spent 30 days in Marietta, Ga., filming. Duvall, who has a farm about 20 miles from Front Royal, told the several hundred people in attendance Saturday that Grace did a great job on the set.

"She might steal a few scenes from me," he said.

In one scene, where the mule is to meet Duvall at a certain mark, Grace got it right the first time, he said. The director, however, wanted to repeat the scene multiple times, something that eventually aggravated Grace and sent her off running, Duvall said.

"She knew when she had it," he said.

But for all that Grace did then or Saturday -- she rang a bell, dunked a toy basketball, stood on a 144-square-inch stool, pushed a baby stroller and more -- and not to mention the hype leading up to the Southern States event, Duvall, who was listed as a "guest star" on the roadside sign, was still the main attraction.

Schultz was one of the first people to greet the actor, who arrived with three other people in a Honda Pilot, displaying no real sign of celebrity. Schultz had the actor sign a picture from the Western miniseries "Lonesome Dove." Duvall was pictured with co-stars Robert Urich and Tommy Lee Jones.

Schultz showed King his prized possession, and was later questioned by her.

"Are we going to have to watch the "Lonesome Dove" tonight?" she said.

The best autograph request, though, likely came from Ceara Richards, who pleaded to Duvall, "Can you sign my arm, please, please, please?"

Ceara, 10, was in attendance with the Warren County 4-H's horse and livestock club. She's familiar with Duvall from his work in "Kicking and Screaming," a comedy that pits Duvall as a coach against his son's team, coached by Will Ferrell.

Ceara, of Bentonville, identifies more with the younger Ferrell, of course, and would have requested a different location for his autograph.

"He'd be on my forehead," she said.

Still, Ceara had a plan for keeping the "Bob Duvall" that was written on her right arm visible for her classmates to see when school starts again Tuesday.

"I'll take a little toothbrush and wash around it," she said. "Then I'll spray Febreze on it."

"Get Low" is scheduled to be released in October.

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