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Marshall Fine Headshot

Interview: Bruce Dern Speaks... and Speaks

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In one sense, actor Bruce Dern is an interviewer's dream: He's pithy, quotable and voluble.

In another sense, Dern is an interviewer's nightmare: You ask one question and never get the chance to ask another, because he's got so much to say. That's tough, particularly given the time strictures placed on most such encounters.

I had 20 minutes with Dern during a recent press day for Nebraska, the Alexander Payne film which has been earning Dern all sorts of awards buzz (and actual awards) since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May. I asked one question - then interrupted him about 10 minutes in to re-ask it (since he had gotten off on a fascinating tangent).

I don't believe I got another query in, but was happy to play stenographer to Dern's monologue. At 77, he's been acting in film and TV since 1960 - and has the stories to prove it.

The question I asked - or tried to ask - had to do with the fact that, in Nebraska, he plays the most taciturn role of his career. As Woody Grant, he's an elderly man so convinced that he's won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes that he wants to travel from his home in Montana to Lincoln, Neb., the sweepstakes' home, to collect in person. Instead, his son (Will Forte) drives him, a revealing trip that includes a family reunion of sorts that goes wildly awry.

But, over the years, Dern has built a reputation as a wonderfully, excitably adventurous actor with a tendency to explode onscreen. As I put it in my question, he's known as an actor who isn't afraid to "go for it" in any particular scene - and here he was, playing an almost-silent role. Dern acknowledged that that was true.

"But I went for it in every scene," Dern quickly put in.

So here's as much of Dern's thoughts and observations as I was able to capture in the short but fruitful time I got to spend with him.

"I've been doing this for 55 years, nothing but this. I've had wonderful opportunities and roles, but I've never been offered a role like this. I've played leads, when I was an afterthought in terms of casting, to be candid. It would be, well, we can't get that guy but we can get Bruce Dern. So let's still make the movie. Usually, I was the 17th choice, or something like that.

This interview continues on my website.