BY Alex Gibson
It has been nearly a week since the 22nd Philadelphia Film Festival ended and over the 11-day celebration of film, one of the brightest nights was Monday October 21 at the Prince Music Theater. The Philadelphia Film Festival welcomed director Alexander Payne and actor Will Forte for a Centerpiece screening of Nebraska.
In the newest film from the director of Election, Sideways, and PFF Alum The Descendants, Bruce Dern plays Woody, an eccentric man from Billings Montana who becomes convinced that he’s won $1,000,000 from Publishers Clearing House. Wanting to bond with his father, while ridding him of his delusion, David volunteers to drive Woody to Lincoln Nebraska to prove that the ‘winning’ certificate is just a scam. On the way, they stop in Woody’s hometown and David learns a thing or two about his family, his father, and himself.
The film, shot is black and white, is a visually and emotionally beautiful piece of cinema and, like most of Payne’s films, dances between heartfelt drama and hilarity. Bruce Dern is stunning as the frustrating, but well-meaning Woody. Meanwhile, Will Forte, in an uncharacteristically dramatic role, is relatable and endearing.
I got the opportunity to sit down with Will Forte after the screening and found him enthusiastic and delightful, telling us about his experience at Philly’s recent Pearl Jam concert before the questions began. One of the first questions asked were about Forte’s transition from comedy to drama and the differences between the preparation process and the atmosphere on set:
“…Preparations are all kind of the same. You want to make sure you know the script really well, make sure you know your dialogue. It’s definitely a different type of acting, but the preparation going into it is pretty much the same – just making sure you know your script very well and you know your character…The set itself was just like any other set. You know – these wonderful people, everyone’s working together. You couldn’t feel on the set that you were making a drama, because when the cameras aren’t rolling, everyone’s chipper and nice and it was a very friendly group of people, so it wasn’t this downcast production because it [was a drama] and also, there are so many comedic elements to the script, it’s hard to call it just a drama…I would be intimidated by some of these scenes and the actors and everything was kind of scary, but that was all pretty much before we started. They did a really good job of making me feel really comfortable and making me feel like I was kind of part of the gang and that meant so much to me and it made me feel much more comfortable doing all these scenes…”
Forte said that he was able to connect with his character because he knew someone with a stoicism similar to Woody’s in the film: “I just loved the script so much and this character really felt like somebody that I knew and felt connected to in a weird way… A grandfather on my mother’s side was this strong silent type, man of few words, wonderful person, but just didn’t always talk a lot, so I knew the frustration you can have with a person like that. You can have that frustration and also that deep affection, so that relationship [between Woody and David] made a lot of sense to me.”
Through his work with SNL, MacGruber, and other productions, Forte is no stranger to working with revered actors and comedians, but he mentioned that Bruce Dern, in particular, was one of his cinematic heroes. When asked about his and Dern’s complicated and palpably realistic relationship, he spoke of their friend off the screen as well.
“The script does a lot of that work for you and there was also a natural part of the relationships [which] happened just because Bruce and I were together for so long and we would just get to know each other as people. A lot of the bond that you see start to grow in the movie was actually happening to us in real life. We spent so much time together…trapped in these cars that we really got to know each other really well – got really close.”
In fact, through the last week of shooting, the cast and crew actually took and filmed the drive from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska – the drive that Woody and David make in the film.
“We were in the car the whole time…how they shot it was the RV from the movie About Schmidt that Jack Nicholson drives around – Alexander bought that after About Schmidt and they had this contraption where they could put the camera on the front of the RV and they just followed the Subaru as we went from Billings to Lincoln. So we did the whole road trip that actually takes place in the movie…It was such a wonderful way to end the experience ‘cause we had gotten through all the dialogue and stuff and this was just this fun, stress-free way to hang out with all these people you’ve gotten so close to over the course of filming and get to just really relax and have fun.”
After discussing Nebraska, Forte shared some memories of his work on MTV’s “Clone High” – “The one thing I really remember was this musical episode we did. It was really fun, we all got together, and Jack Black was in the episode and I am such a huge fan of Jack Black and he is such a nice person too, so that was a fun experience” – and “30 Rock” – “People always ask me ‘Do you go out and dress up for Halloween?’ I really don’t because I got to play around with SNL, I got to do Halloween every week. So much fun…That 30 Rock experience was so delightful because…just every element of that show is so well done, the writers did such a great job, just put you in this position where it made it so easy and so fun, because the words that you got to say were so funny, the hair, makeup and wardrobe had you all dolled up. It really just made it the most fun and easy job in the world and the actors are so good at what they do.”
For his next foray into dramatic acting, Forte will be seen in Life of Crime, an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, alongside Jennifer Aniston and John Hawkes.
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