Jump to: navigation, search

Film Comment (2014) - Just short of forever: Bruce Dern: still present




A sports aficionado from childhood, he played a gung-ho basketball coach in Drive, He Said (71) and was honored by the National Society of Film Critics for the year's best supporting performance-his first official award. Since I'd never really acted, Gadge and Lee treated me like a guinea pig-a guy with no "bad habits" whom they could train from the inside out. The families came to the frozen lake and had a picnic in their Town ÔC Country station wagons, watching all the little Brucies skate around on silver skates.


IT'S NO WONDER THAT BRUCE DERN DIDN'T ALLOW HIMSELF to ruminate on the character of Woody Grant until he had a contract. Ten years had come and gone since he first read — and loved — Bob Nelson's script, Nebraska, and he'd long ago learned not to count his chickens before they hatched. That's what 54 years in the movie business can do, if you last that long, and Dern is a survivor par excellence. A near‑legend for his portraits of the deranged and demonic, he was deeply unhappy by the end of the Seventies about being typecast for so long, and in despair that he might never play "a whole human being."

Though convinced that the studio would never okay him, Dern nonetheless showed up for another meeting with Alexander Payne in May 2012. He agreed to do an informal screen test, reading a couple of scenes in front of a camera. Payne said he wanted Dern to be in his movie right away and telephoned him within 48 hours to say: "The part is yours. It has always been yours." Three months of silence ensued before Dern heard another word. He later learned that the delay was caused by Payne's insistence that the movie be in black and white. The studio had approved Bruce Dern as Nebraska's star.

When shooting was finished, he felt good about his work. "I did it straight, no 'Dernsies,'" he told me by phone. "Dernsies" are his unscripted embellishments that spice up a scene‑a term coined by Jack Nicholson. But he never imagined that his transcendent portrayal of a stubborn old coot nearing life's end would have such an impact. When his name was announced as winner of the Best Actor award at Cannes, he was on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, homeward bound, soon to celebrate his 77th birthday.

Dem's distinctive persona was evident from the start, in Sixties genre pictures such as The Wild Angels (66) and The Trip...

[ to view the rest of the article, please try one of the links above ]