Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” is not a typical biopic. Not devoted to facts, the comedy is deliberately and joyously rooted in gossip.
Jack Black stars as Bernie Tiede, a real man from Carthage, Texas. The mortician, singer of hymns and possible closeted homosexual was a well-loved citizen of the community. He also was convicted for murdering an 81-year-old widow in 1996.
Recently in The City to promote the film, Linklater addressed its intriguing mix of fact and fiction: “I saw it like ‘Reds,’ where the historians are talking, and it’s a dramatization of what they’re talking about. It’s this local gossip circle, telling the story. The whole movie is filtered through the town.”
As Bernie’s bizarre story unfolds, actors portraying Texas townspeople occasionally appear on camera, offering opinions and comments about what happened in dialogue based on real-life transcripts.
“I found these interviews funny. Gossips, and their perspective, are funny. Everyone’s in on it, everyone’s got an angle. And they’re gossiping about each other,” says Linklater, who maintains that Black’s response to the script was: “I think that’s one of the weirdest things I ever read.”
For Linklater — who worked with Black on “The School of Rock” — the actor was the only person who could play Bernie.
Both have nice singing voices, and, Linklater adds, “Jack really is the nicest guy, and he’s very non-confrontational. I think he’s got a little Bernie in him.”
The director has held onto the script for “Bernie” since the late 1990s, not only waiting for his and Black’s work schedules to synch up, but also for the actor to “age into” his role.
“You know it’s special when you can say that no one else could do it,” Linklater says.
Linklater never considered making “Bernie” a serious drama, which would be “boring.”
“I would much rather do a comedy,” he says, “because I can say something else within the comedy genre.”