Monday, November 18, 2013

Coming Soon: Nebraska!

Release Date: November 27, 2013
Rating: R (Some Language)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Bob Nelson
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Music by: Mark Orton

After the success of his last film, The Descendants, Alexander Payne's latest feature tells the story of an elderly man's emotional journey as he and his son embark on a cross-country attempt to collect a one million dollar prize. Filmed in black-and-white and promising the usual quirkiness one can expect from a Payne film, Nebraska is already garnering awards-season buzz from critics. Having said that, most people probably haven't heard of this film or even know about it's upcoming release. For those people I've compiled a list of background information on the people involved with this film to give some idea of what kind of picture they can expect from Nebraska.

Having won multiple Academy Awards for screenwriting as well as receiving multiple nominations for Best Director, Alexander Payne is a perennial awards contender who consistently releases unique and personal films that nevertheless relate to a broad audience. This film marks the first occurrence where Payne hasn't been credited for the screenplay. However, his directorial touch and his apparent confidence in the script makes this effort even more intriguing.

While the choice of black and white might seem strange, Alexander Payne described this choice as an immediate impression when he first read the screenplay. "When I first read the script nine years ago, I imagined it only in black and white," Payne said in a recent interview. "The very austere nature of the screenplay to me suggested a visual style in black and white." Payne is often seen as an "actor's director" and is known to give his cast the freedom to fully explore and deconstruct their characters in order to portray them as realistic as possible. Speaking of Payne, star Bruce Dern said "He doesn't want you to act in the conventional sense - he wants all the characters to become real people. He gets to a level where you are pouring out what's in your heart - and all the emotions and baggage that come with it." Clearly this method is successful, as many of the actors he's directed (Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, Kathy Bates and Thomas Hayden-Church) have been given awards recognition for their efforts.

Speaking of awards recognition, Bruce Dern was given the Best Actor award at the Cannes film festival for his portrayal as Woody Grant. No stranger to prestige, Dern has also been nominated for his acting in the 1978 film Coming Home. Speaking of his performance in Nebraska, Dern praised Payne's direction and allowing him to stretch his acting muscles in a role unlike any he'd played before. "For so many years I've been told, 'just be Dernsy"... And I don't want to be Dernsy, and Alexander has brought something more and demanded that of me. He wanted to see the qualities I could bring within Woody, not the qualities Woody brings to me. I relish the chance to do that." For Payne, he appreciated the seeming contradictions that Dern brought to the part. "He was able to be ornery and heartbreaking at the same time," he said. "The thing for which I was most grateful to Bruce was that he trusted me, a phenomenal gift to any director. He would try anything."

Bruce Dern (left) and Will Forte (right) on their way to Nebraska.

Another slightly unusual addition to the case is Will Forte as Woody's slightly exasperated son, David. Most well-known for his broadly comedic work on TV (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, etc.), Forte plays a much more subdued comedy for his character in Nebraska. If audiences are surprised to see Forte in such a "legit" film, the actor was just as excited at the prospect of stepping out of the box. Speaking of the unique opportunity, Forte said, "I'm used to doing crazy comedies and I didn't even know doing a film like this was in the realm of possibility." Speaking of Forte's never-before-seen quality of subtlety, Payne said, "I believed him. Will communicates a ready sincerity and sweetness, and also a sense of damage. Forte went on to describe this change in tone by saying, "It wasn't lost on me that this was an amazing opportunity to do something different. But it's been a big challenge too... David is actually the straight man."

The only actor of the primary cast working with Payne for the second time is June Squibb, playing Woody's wife Kate. Described as a woman of impenetrable strength with a "razor tongue (and a) wicked sense of humor", Kate Grant is unapologetic and blunt, something that June Squibb thoroughly enjoys playing. "There's no filter with her," Squibb said of the character. "Words come out of her mouth as she's thinking them... But I love her dearly. She's funny, yet she also protects the family and she's quite a formidable person." Without a large number of credits to her name, June has already started to garner awards buzz for her powerful performance in the film.

Coming in a very crowded year of Oscar contenders, it remains to be seen how much recognition Nebraska will receive at the end-of-year ceremony. One thing we can be sure of is that Alexander Payne and company have produced another emotional, funny, and thought-provoking film. Nebraska will be released in theatres this weekend (click on one of the links to your left to purchase tickets at a theatre near you). If Payne's previous efforts are any indication, this film will be well worth your time and money.

*For more information about this film, please visit the official Nebraska web site.

Do you want to see NEBRASKA before it hits theaters? If so, click on the link for your chance to download an advance screening pass for you and a friend on Monday, November 25 at 7:30pm in Salt Lake City! Seats in the theater are first-come, first-serve so PLEASE ARRIVE EARLY! NEBRASKA opens in Salt Lake City on November 27! 

For the full interview with Alexander Payne, click here.