A brilliant character actor and veteran of more than a hundred movies and TV shows since 1960, Bruce Dern has vivid memories of his time working with some of show business’ greatest legends.
Yet he considers Alexander Payne’s wonderful new movie “Nebraska” a pinnacle in his career.
“Nebraska” tells the story of stubborn old Woody (Dern), who receives a sweepstakes notice in the mail, thinks he’s won, and wishes to travel from Montana to Nebraska to cash it in.
Woody’s son David (Will Forte) wearily agrees to drive him. During the trip, they form a new bond.
“It felt like we were making a special movie,” says Forte, recently in The City with Dern.
Though Dern was comfortable in his role, Forte, a veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” stretched a great deal for his noncomic role.
“He grew more as an actor in seven weeks than any actor I’ve ever worked with,” Dern says, “not that he had far to go.”
Dern continues: “I’ve had two great partners: Jack Nicholson and Will. A lot of people will play every day, but they won’t play every down. Will played every down.”
Dern and Forte bonded during the fairly grueling shoot, spending entire days together in a car. Between October and November, the temperature dropped to below freezing, and the pair was forced to drive with the windows down (for the cameras) and no heater (for the sound).
In another tough scene, Forte was required to punch another veteran actor, Stacy Keach, in the face.
“It was terrifying,” he says. “I’ve never punched anyone in my life. I have nightmares that I’m going to actually connect. So they’re teaching you how to throw a realistic punch. And he’s such a pro. He has to keep taking this punch and from his end it looks perfect every time.”
The episode reminds Dern about working with John Wayne on 1972’s “The Cowboys.” While staging a fight scene, Dern found himself pinned, unable to move, by a stuntman.
Dern imitates Wayne’s voice: “We’ve got a wussy as an actor.” However, the stuntman turned out to be the nine-time world steer-wrestling champion.
Forte laughs at the tale.
“This was my experience for two months,” he explains, “hearing all these amazing stories and getting to know him on a personal level. I came in such awe of him as a performer, and left in awe of him as a person.”