TELLURIDE, Colo. - Nearly half a century ago, Marilyn Monroe confided in a young Bruce Dern an opinion of the actor passed to her by Actors Studio founder Elia Kazan, or "Gadge" as they all knew him. "He's not going to be a leading man," the famed director said, "because he'll be into his 60s before anyone knows what he's capable of."
The reasoning went that Dern was destined to be a character actor. He didn't subscribe to his buddy Jack Nicholson's ribbing "it's just acting, asshole" sentiment, but rather he preferred to inhabit a character, to be a character. He bought into Lee Strasberg's method acting approach, and indeed, went on to have a lengthy career as a dependable fixture in any number of films. But he's always been "third cowboy from the right," as Dern has put it, and with Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," which is set for a North American premiere later today at the Telluride Film Festival, he finally had an opportunity to embrace a leading man character for all it was worth.