Awards SeasonFilmInterview

Will Forte Talks Nebraska

Griffin Thomas Conlogue ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Editor

Will Forte at the AFI Gala Screening Tribute to Bruce Dern at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Photo Credit: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages.
Will Forte at the AFI Gala Screening Tribute to Bruce Dern at the TCL Chinese Theatre. Photo Credit: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages.

Nebraska is the story of a son and his alcoholic father traveling to the titular state in order to retrieve the 1 million dollar prize that the father believes he has won.  In a group interview with Nebraska star Will Forte, he talks about his experience with director Alexander Payne,  developing a friendship with co-star Bruce Dern, and how terrified this project made him.

Can you talk a little bit about your first reaction to Bob Nelson’s script, and then the audition process?

I loved the script.  It read to me as more of a drama than a comedy, so I was very surprised at all of these comedic moments that Alexander found in the script.  And then it made me go back to the script and go “oh, how did I not know this was really funny, this area right here.”  But anyway, the script was just, uh, wonderful I thought.  And the character, the character that I was trying out for, I felt this connection to so I thought why not send in a tape of myself doing the scenes knowing that I had no shot at realistically getting it.  But, I just really loved the script so much that I figured what the heck, you know?  The same way that you’d buy a lottery ticket.  Which is like, you know you don’t have a chance of winning.

When did you first get the script?

We made it last December, it would’ve been like March that I heard from them, it was probably in the fall of 2011 is when I first read the script and put myself on tape.  Sent it in probably somewhere in like March?  Heard back from him which was like four and a half months after I sent it in.  And that was really exciting just to even hear that he had liked the tape at all.  That would’ve been a major, major thing in my career.  It’s just like “Alexander Payne once liked a tape that I sent in,” I still didn’t think that it would go much further than that.  [I] went in to read the scene in person with him, and it seemed to go fine or even well.  I read through the scenes and I felt like, “oh I don’t know how I did” and he said some very nice things afterwards which surprised me because I just didn’t know. I felt nervous, but then again it was close enough to how I felt like I would be wanting to do it if I had gotten the part, that I could feel comfortable with it.  At least in the ballpark of what I wanted to do, so I won’t feel bad if I don’t get the part.  It’s very frustrating when you do a crappy job and because you are nervous and feel like you could’ve done it better. But with this, although I felt like I could do it better, I did it enough like I wanted to do it to say that I was comfortable with whatever happened.

Was there anyone else that I guess you were competing with that you knew about?

I knew that he had been casting for a long time for every role, but I didn’t really think about that stuff, except to me there was still no way I was gonna get this part, I don’t know.

In research I saw that you were chosen over Bryan Cranston, and Casey Affleck, who is an Oscar nominee, and Paul Rudd who’s obviously like a huge box office star.  How meaningful is that you were picked over these people, or even in a league with these actors?

Well, I mean I have never heard any of that.  I mean, how great is Breaking Bad? Bob Odenkirk had a birthday and I was late on my Breaking Bad so my buddy had waited for me for the final 3 episodes so that we could watch them together because he was also late.  And so, that Sunday night was the night we were gonna do it and I went to Bob’s birthday party and Bryan Cranston was there, and Vince Gilligan and it was so exciting to get to see them.  What a day to watch your final Breaking Bad.  He is the nicest guy.  You know I don’t know how I got this part.  I am so appreciative to have been given this opportunity.  It’s a rare thing to get to do something like this.  And I did not expect it and it made me really nervous it was intimidating to go into this situation with a director that you love so much and with an actor who has done so much and worked with so many amazing people so it was really intimidating.  And they were both really good about making me feel comfortable and wanted, I guess is, I don’t know if it’s the best way to put it but it is a way to put it.  Yeah, it was just the best experience of my life.

Will Forte in Nebraska.
Will Forte in Nebraska.

Can you elaborate on if they made it any easier going into try to prepare? Or were you still just as nervous?

Well, I made it… Preparation wise it was just really being comfortable with the script and knowing the script really well.  It’s actually the process of doing it which [made] feeling connected to that character mean[ingful]. This character was way closer to who I am in my real life, so you’re comfortable in that you kind of know what you should be doing. But it kinda makes it uncomfortable because you feel like you’re very vulnerable and  in a way that you don’t feel [that] as much when you’re, when you’re doing characters, even if you’re doing things that are more seemingly embarrassing.  But you can always blame it on the character.  Like: “Oh that’s not me, I’m wearing a mustache.  I don’t have a mustache.  That’s this character that’s wearing this mustache.”  Even if you have this stupid little mustache on you feel like it’s not you.  Then in this it felt much closer to home and revealing, terrifying in a way but also thrilling.  So once you got used to that aspect of it, it became really fun.

So last night at the screening a man brought up how Nebraska reminded him of going on drives with his family.  So I was wondering how does it feel to make a movie that can remind people of their families and memories that they’ve had with their loved ones?

Well it’s interesting when you’re a part of the movie it’s hard to watch the movie and know what other people are thinking.  So I have, I watched this movie and I remember where we were and I remember there was this last scene in the movie, I had this girlfriend at the time and I remember she was standing right off to the side right here. It’s an emotional time for me to know we’re not together anymore and so this is already a very emotional [and] this is the last shot of the movie and so tied to it is this other thing so it’s hard for me to, you know I have my own set of things that I’m thinking [about].  And you know, this movie brings up my own family.  Which is nothing like the family, but there are just all these really relatable aspects so it’s hard to, I think everybody really brings their own set of family histories into watching this movie so it’s, you know it, overall the message I always get from it is hopefulness.  You know?  If you have this relationship within your family that’s not where you want it to be there’s still time to turn it around as long as everybody’s still living.  So just go make it happen cause you never know when that, you know, anything could happen any day.  So change it while you have the time.

Can you talk a little more about what it’s like working with Bruce (Dern) and June Squibb and Stacy Keach?

It was the best, we’ve already talked about how intimidated I was going in but those 3 people have had such amazing careers and worked with so many  amazing people and it terrified me.  And they were all just so wonderful and sweet and they’re such great actors.  I mean, Bruce is nothing like the character he plays in this movie.  He is talkative and vibrant and tells these long stories about Alfred Hitchcock and Elia Kazan.  I could talk to him forever and then cameras would turn on and he would just morph into this character you watch on screen which is a man of few words. It was just amazing to watch.  And then June was the same way.  Just so different than the character she plays, a very sweet woman.  It was amazing to see them make that transformation, like that (snaps his finger), so they are brilliant actors.  I mean, there are pieces of them that are in their characters for sure, so you know, it’s a huge learning experience to see that.  And Stacy he’s like the ultimate cool person.  He’s just he’s like what I picture a jazz man to be, just super cool [and] he’s always wearing a kangol, you know, off the set.  He’s just really cool.

Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb in Nebraska. Photo Credit: Merie W. Wallace.
Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb in Nebraska. Photo Credit: Merie W. Wallace.

If this isn’t too intrusive, how did you relate to the character?

Well, I mean.  I feel like in the same way that I did, I’m sure that you guys related to some of these relationships as you came out of there.  My family is nothing like it, and I felt like I, for some reason, related to all of these different relationships.  I guess the main thing [about] the really important relationship that made me really relate to the story was just my relationship with my grandpa.  It’s really nothing like the relationship between me and Bruce Dern in this movie, but at the same time it’s identical?  I don’t know it’s hard to explain.  He was a man of very few words and I got to spend 19 years with him and sometimes you could be really frustrated by his lack of communication, but he was wonderful and I loved him and he was a character and priceless, but that relationship made sense to me.  I don’t know why these characters related so much to me.

This seemed to be a really enjoyable experience all around for, but what would you say was your favorite part of filming this entire movie?

Well, I’ll tell ya.  I got to spend a lot of time with Bruce during this, and we got to be very close.  We spent a lot of time together and I got to watch him give this performance which I think is such a special performance, and that was really cool to be a part of.  And, toward the end of it our characters grow much closer throughout the movie and that’s kind of what happened in our personal life too, so it’s cool to share that experience with him, because he turned into family by the end of it.  So to, you know, see such wonderful reactions to what he did in the movie is really fun to watch because we grew very close.  And that part I didn’t know was going to be an aspect of this.  I was more just focused on don’t ruin this movie, that was goal number one.  But I’m so proud to be a part of this movie.  So many different wonderful experiences that I never thought I’d get the chance to be a part of.

Nebraska is in theaters now.

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