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“One of the great advantages my generation had was working with legends,” he told the crowd gathered at the TCL Chinese Theatre for a screening of his latest film, Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska.
The legends Dern spoke of included Elia Kazan, Roger Corman, Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne, Bette Davis and Clint Eastwood, all of whom Dern has worked with over his long and diverse career.
Dern also dished out strong praise for Payne, who gave him the lead role in Nebraska, the black-and-white drama in which Dern plays a father who enlists his son (Will Forte) to drive him from Montana to Nebraska after he thinks he’s won a million dollars in a sweepstakes.
“Alexander Payne makes movies about people, and that’s why I’m here tonight,” he told the crowd.
Dern should probably get used to receiving warm standing ovations and awards attention this season. The actor, who told THR he has seen Nebraska more than 20 times, has already received one accolade for his work in the film — the best actor honor at the Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered in May. But Dern told the crowd in Hollywood on Monday night that no matter how many awards he might receive, his biggest win “was getting the goddamn role.”
Before the tribute, which featured a colorful introduction from Django Unchained director Quentin Tarantino, Payne told THR on the red carpet that Dern had been his first choice nine years earlier when he was initially planning to make the film.
“He was the first guy I thought of nine years ago, which isn’t to say that I didn’t meet with other guys his age because I had to do my due diligence, but I circled back around to him — and I was right,” he told THR. “You know, sometimes you have to go around the world to come back home again.”
Dern’s career is peppered with memorable characters, many of them vibrant and larger-than-life. But the 77-year-old actor said that playing the curmudgeonly patriarch in Payne’s film hit much closer to home for him.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been asked to be quick, to be clever, to push, to overperform sometimes, make the role a little bigger than it is, or brighter, and I didn’t do that in this film because he had to shut a lot of things out, not be aware, not be any of those things. I got used to the sounds of silence. I got used to trying to get a nap every two hours,” he said.
Likewise, Forte, who joined Dern, the rest of the cast and Dern’s daughter Laura at a party at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel after the screening, told THR that his role in Nebraska was much more personal.
“This is by far the closest I’ve ever been to playing myself,” he said. “That was really hard at times because I felt vulnerable in a way I’m not used to feeling. I’ve done a bunch of really embarrassing-seeming things in the past, but in your head you tell yourself it was just the character doing them. It felt like I was experiencing my own personal secrets.”
Paramount opens Nebraska in limited release on Nov. 15.
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