Amer­i­can ac­tor Will Forte on be­ing cast in Ir­ish film Run & Jump, and go­ing hun­gry at the If­tas,

Will Forte, the gen­tle com­edy ac­tor and writer – star of Ne­braska and the up­com­ing Ir­ish film Run & Jump – talks to Don­ald Clarke about giv­ing up stock­broking for com­edy – and be­ing hun­gry at the If­tas

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

It would be over­stat­ing things to say that Will Forte has found him­self at the cen­tre of a con­tro­versy, but he is cer­tainly some­where in the vicin­ity of a mi­nor me­dia whirl­wind. The night be­fore we meet, the gen­tle com­edy ac­tor and writer – star of Ne­braska and the up­com­ing Ir­ish flick Run & Jump – made an ap­pear­ance at the Ir­ish Film and Tele­vi­sion Awards. As you may re­call, a con­sen­sus formed that the evening was less than an un­qual­i­fied suc­cess. The show over­ran. The gags fell flat and a great deal of ex­tra­ne­ous noise some­how made it into the tele­vi­sion broad­cast. Let’s hope Will knows how to be diplo­matic. “I had a great time there,” he says cau­tiously. “I loved the loose­ness of it. There was a fes­tive­ness to it. Maybe it was a lit­tle too loose. I was hun­gry – that’s one thing I will say. They didn’t feed us un­til pretty late and I was a bit jet-lagged. That’s maybe one change I would make. Feed people ear­lier.”

Forte was at the If­tas to sup­port Steph Green’s im­pres­sive Run & Jump, which was nom­i­nated for four awards, in­clud­ing best film. The ac­tor stars as an Amer­i­can doc­tor car­ry­ing out a study of an Ir­ish fam­ily cop­ing with the aftermath of a fa­ther’s stroke. The re­li­ably im­pres­sive Max­ine Peake plays the mum try­ing to hold things to­gether.

There are more than a few rea­sons to ex­press sur­prise at Forte’s pres­ence in the pic­ture. To this point, he had done al­most no straight act­ing on film – the shoot for Alexan­der Payne’s Ne­braska fol­lowed – and he has no con­spic­u­ous con­nec­tions with Ire­land. So, how on earth did he find him­self in the pic­ture?

“I don’t know,” he says. “The di­rec­tor, Steph Green, had thought of me for the part. For some rea­son she was con­fi­dent I could pull it off. I wasn’t con­fi­dent. The script was great, but I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t want to mess up her great movie. In the end, I was de­lighted she talked me into it.”

So, how was the shift into dra­matic roles? If you knew Forte at all be­fore Ne­braska, you prob­a­bly re­mem­bered him as the MacGyver clone in MacGru­ber or as one of the id­iot sib­lings in The Broth­ers Solomon. With that pedigree, it hardly needs to be said that he is an alum­nus of the Satur­day Night Live school of com­edy. As writer and per­former on that show, he had few op­por­tu­ni­ties to flex his thes­pian mus­cles to the full.

“It was so new to me,” he says. “It’s hard to gauge how you are do­ing. On Satur­day Night you know you are do­ing well if you get laughs. It’s as sim­ple as that. I just didn’t know how to gauge drama. Of course, you don’t hear laugh­ter, but you don’t hear people cry­ing ei­ther on set. I was down on my­self for the first few days, but I got over it.”

Forte comes across as a very well­brought-up young man. If things had gone dif­fer­ently, he could be liv­ing a quiet, pros­per­ous life as a fi­nan­cial some­thing-or-other in a down­town sky­scraper. His fa­ther’s fam­ily were orig­i­nally in the cash­mere busi­ness in Mas­sachusetts (some­body has to be, I guess). His mother’s clan, from the west coast, were a lit­tle less well off and he feels he en­joyed the sort of bal­anced up­bring­ing that gives a chap a sense of pro­por­tion.

“My par­ents were won­der­ful,” he says. “We were gifted to have some money, but, with my mum’s par­ents not hav­ing a ton of money, we were taught how lucky we were. So I don’t take any­thing for granted in life.”

It seems as if he was on the road to­wards a straight ca­reer un­til rel­a­tively late in life. Raised largely in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area, Will stud­ied his­tory at UCLA and, fol­low­ing in his fa­ther’s foot­steps, went on to train as a fi­nan­cial bro­ker.

Some sort of rev­e­la­tion seems to have struck him while he was poised over the lap­top. I imag­ine him fling­ing fold­ers and bal­ance sheets in the air and strid­ing from the of­fice to­wards a wait­ing gar­ret. By 1997, then in his late 20s, he found him­self writ­ing for David Let­ter­man.

“There is a cer­tain truth to that,” he laughs. “My dad was a stock an­a­lyst. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I thought: ‘I guess I’ll do what he did’. I was very un­happy do­ing that. There was a very long pe­riod where I knew I wanted to write and act, but I was ner­vous to ad­mit that to fam­ily and friends. It got to the point where I was so de­pressed ev­ery day and I just thought: ‘I have to give this a shot’.”

Hav­ing watched The Larry San­ders Show and 30 Rock, we think we know what it’s like writ­ing for David Let­ter­man or Satur­day

Night Live. Gangs of bor­der­line-so­ciopath writ­ers hud­dle in a bunkers trad­ing jeal­ous in­sults with one an­other. Do I have this right? Please don’t say that’s a myth.

“There is some com­pe­ti­tion in places,” he laughs, “but I would say for the most part the places I’ve worked – par­tic­u­larly Satur­day

Night Live – there is a sup­port­ive at­mos­phere be­tween writ­ers and cast. You are go­ing into bat­tle. You want your sketches to get on, but you also want a good show. What you most want is the best ma­te­rial to get on.”

Oh darn. Well, if you say so. Forte has man­aged to make good use of his nice­ness over the past year or so. Af­ter shoot­ing Run & Jump, he made his way to the US in­te­rior to star as a pa­tient son to Bruce Dern’s con­fused fa­ther in Alexan­der Payne’s greatly ad­mired Ne­braska. Will’s a proper ac­tor now. “It’s odd,” he re­mem­bers. “I had spent more time in Ire­land do­ing Run

& Jump than I had in Ne­braska. I was a long way from home. And it was the same feel­ing of nerves, but dif­fer­ent. Steph hadn’t made a fea­ture. Here I was with Alexan­der Payne who’d worked with Jack Ni­chol­son. Now, that made me ner­vous.”

You won’t be sur­prised to hear that he’s nice about Bruce Dern also. To re­turn to our open­ing mus­ings, Forte does just fine as an am­a­teur diplo­mat.

Run & Jump is re­leased on May 2nd

Will Forte in Run & Jump, left and far left, and, be­low left, in Ne­braska

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