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LOS ANGELES — Paramount brought out some artillery on behalf of "Nebraska" star Will Forte Sunday afternoon as the actor's fellow "Saturday Night Live" alum Jason Sudeikis moderated a post-screening Q&A with the Best Supporting Actor hopeful for a capacity audience filled with mostly Screen Actors Guild members.
The discussion covered a lot of ground but often came back around to the notion of stripping away affect in favor of "being," as opposed to outwardly "performing," as well as boring down into the truth of what Bob Nelson's script, and certainly Alexander Payne's direction of the cast, is trying to get at.
"In comedy, when you find that truth, the majority of the time, is when you hear laughs," Sudeikis said. "There's this little sign post from the audience." But with "Nebraska," Forte didn't have that particular breed of guidance. The actor has said plenty of times that he felt out of his element and quite nervous about starring in a dramatic role, but a variety of things, from Payne's confidence to co-star Bruce Dern's ease and assurance on camera, helped him through it.
For Sudeikis, it's no shock at all that Forte found his way to such a role. "You have such a distinct comedic voice that people begin to only think of you that way," Sudeikis said. "But I had the luxury of getting to see you be in other people's sketches [in Wednesday read-throughs on "Saturday Night Live"], and you served those sketches with such conviction and integrity towards the scene and not trying to do anything other than help the scene versus help yourself in the scene, which is not a switch that most people have who choose to do this for a living. Most people would prefer to be listened to as opposed to listening."
Being that "straight-man" center to the film could go a long way toward helping Forte's case in the race, particularly with critics taking note of his subtle choices throughout.
Forte said he could empathize with the plight of his character because he had a grandfather who, like Woody Grant in the film, is a man of few words and "you can get frustrated with his lack of communication, but you still love the guy with all your heart." He also noted that, for him, his life is all about family and that was a great way into understanding where his character was coming from.
"This is the most exciting thing of all time, to be in this movie and to get my dream job on 'SNL,' but family is what it's all about," he said. "I have a great relationship with my parents, but watching this the number of times that I have now, it's made me realize that it can always be stronger."
Sudeikis made an interesting observation about the film that hadn't really occurred to me. First and foremost, as I've written, "Nebraska" is a film that doesn't appear to sit in judgment of its characters as much as a number of Payne's past films have. Perhaps that's owed to the fact that he wasn't the writer of the project. But that having been said, it certainly has something to say about a longing for greener grass on the other side, and that's what Sudeikis was speaking to Sunday.
"Being from the Midwest, I know those fields, those long patches," he said. "There's almost a bleakness to everyone's characters where any aspiration is enough: Woody always looking out of windows or Albert always watching cars go by. Everybody's always curious about what's going on away from them."
"Nebraska" is now playing in limited release.
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