Nebraska role brings actor late-in-life kudos
LAs Nicholson’s star rose, so did Dern’s, albeit less spectacularly. He was frequently cast by important old-school directors such as John Frankenheimer ( Black Sunday) and Alfred Hitchcock ( Family Plot). In 1972, director Mark Rydell chose Dern to be the guy who would kill John Wayne onscreen in The Cowboys. Fortunately, Dern also worked with the upstarts of the Hollywood Renaissance — guys who didn’t have a problem with his shooting The Duke — including Bob Rafelson ( The King of Marvin Gardens, alongside Nicholson), Hal Ashby ( Coming Home) and Michael Ritchie ( Smile). If enduring stardom proved elusive, the Illinois-raised Dern has stayed a working actor, appearing on TV ( CSI NY, Big Love) and the occasional movie. And if the parts got smaller, he was still shown appreciation by directors such as Quentin Tarantino ( Django Unchained), Francis Ford Coppola ( Twixt) and Joe Dante, who gave Dern the role of “Creepy Carl” in the juvenile horror movie The Hole. Dern, now 77, sees his star rise again with Nebraska, a sweet and salty road movie from director Alexander Payne ( The Descendants, About Schmidt). Dern plays Woody, a retired mechanic who has been left on the borders of senility by alcoholism, war and a troublesome marriage. When Woody gets sent a notice about a potential million-dollar prize from a mail-order company, he believes it is as good as cash, and compels his estranged younger son David (Will Forte) to join him on a trip to Lincoln, Neb., to claim his prize. Dern already claimed his prize — for top male actor — at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and in this last week has been nominated in best-actor categories by the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes. An Academy Award nomination is likely, and Dern, who was last nominated 34 years ago for playing a damaged Vietnam vet in Coming Home, is not one to shrug off a possibility for an Oscar. OS ANGELES — Sometimes, you can tell a lot about an actor by the company he keeps. In the ’60s and ’70s, Bruce Dern kept very good company indeed. Dern and Jack Nicholson had a bond, forged when they were both hungry young actors doing motorcycle/drug movies for Roger Corman before hitting the Hollywood big leagues.
Bruce Dern, left, and Will Forte play father and son in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, which is generating Oscar buzz for Dern.