NYFF: Bruce Dern, Alexander Payne, And Cast Talk ‘Nebraska’

For all intents and purposes, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is a warm, father/son road trip about the humorous heartache of aging. The film starts with its lead stubborn grump, Woody (Bruce Dern), who has more than a few loose screws after stumbling into old age. Woody decides, quite comically, to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska when his wife Kate (June Squibb) refuses to drive him to the office of a dubious sweepstakes. Despite his wife’s wishes, Woody insists that he has to get his winnings from the sweepstakes office in Lincoln. Woody’s youngest son David (Will Forte) gets wrangled into the trip out of obligation of looking after his father, and the two embark on a cross country trip through the Midwest.

For Woody this is more than collecting his winnings, although he’s determined to get down to the office in record time, despite injuring himself, and losing his teeth on the side of the railroad tracks. Those are just a few incidents that Woody and David stumble into. It’s obvious that underneath Woody’s determination is a chance to return home as a hero, and to tie up a few loose strings from a tarnished reputation that’s been on his back. For David it’s a time to bond with his father.

Despite its terrific screenplay by Bob Nelson, this black and white dramedy has that old bark, filled with tremendous deadpan, of an Alexander Payne film, while being heartbreaking at the same time. The terrific cast all gave outstanding performances, and they were at hand at the New York Film Festival.

The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz participated in the press conference for Nebraska, which featured outstanding insight from director Alexander Payne, and his cast, Will Forte, Bruce Dern, and June Squibb.

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On connecting with the character

WILL FORTE: I’m from California. I have roots in Kansas. It was a beautiful script and I felt this connection to the character, but I didn’t think I had any chance to play it, so I was happily mistaken.

Working with Alexander Payne

FORTE: It was okay [LAUGHS]. I was intimidated coming into the process, because it was so different for me, and he put me at ease instantly. Bruce was the same way. Everyone was very nurturing and patient. It was an awesome experience that I never thought I would have in my lifetime.

BRUCE DERN: I think not only after this movie, but after Citizen Ruth, there’s not an actor alive that doesn’t want to work with Alexander Payne. He gives you opportunities to be in movies, and he just wants people to watch. Those are the kind of movies to make. He is a privilege to work for and to work with. He’s a guy who insists that you work with him, and he is so approachable, and so natural, and so insistent on reality. He surrounds you with two or three non-actors who are so damn honest, you can’t possibly start ‘acting’ in front of these people. That’s the magic.

On becoming Woody

DERN: That was exciting. Alexander [Payne] sent me the script six months after he saw the script, and I was stunned because nobody has ever thought of me at that level. I saw this script and then the next day I went to Toys R Us and sat on a little truck that Will’s character buys him, and I said, ‘I think I can be Woody.’ Nine years went by and here we are.

On how black and white aids in the storytelling

ALEXANDER PAYNE: It just felt right. I owe it to the moment that I picked up the screenplay. I always saw the movie in black and white. I always wanted to make a movie in black and white, and I knew it would have to be a relatively inexpensive movie, because it’s relatively hard to get movies made through the studio system. This one felt right. It’s just so darn beautiful. Every time the DP and I looked at each other we said, ‘How can we ever go back to color?’

On capturing the warmth and crankiness of a family

FORTE: The script was so beautifully written. It seemed to be all on the page. The complexities of the relationships seemed to be clear. Even though my family is nothing like this family in this movie it just seemed like it was very relatable.

DERN: When I got the script for Nebraska, I said, ‘This is what I came into the business to do.’ I’m not able to do that very often in my fifty-five years in the business. The first day Alexander introduced himself and the cinematographer, and he said, ‘I wonder if you might do something for us on this film that I’m not sure you have done for a whole film before.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘Let us do our jobs.’ He backed it up ten minutes later by saying, ‘Don’t show us anything. Just let us find it.’ It’s like watching a moving scrapbook of Ansel Adams’ photographs.

On aging in Hollywood

JUNE SQUIBB: It’s a wonderful thing. It’s all good. I recognize that I am lucky in terms of being able to have this role. It’s not that I don’t respect aging because I do, but I also feel that we sometimes set laws. I think those are all meant to be broken. None of that really means anything. I work all the time. This is a joyous role and a great role. I never think much about my age, or my choices, or chances.

NEBRASKA hits theaters on November 22, 2013.