Bruce Dern Pens Tribute to Peter O'Toole in 'Lawrence of Arabia' (Guest Column)

Issue 1 FEA Playbook O'Toole Bruce Dern Inset - H 2013
Todd Williamson/Invision/AP; Courtesy of Everett Collection

Issue 1 FEA Playbook O'Toole Bruce Dern Inset - H 2013

The "Nebraska" star and Palm Springs Career Achievement Award honoree looks back at the movie that changed his life: "T.E. Lawrence got shit done," with "the baddest asses that ever lived."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

I saw David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. I'd been an actor for four years. All my life, I've been fascinated by people that get shit done. T.E. Lawrence got stuff done. And the movie is just about perfect in every single category: lighting, camera, clothing, script, story, performances. There was an intermission, and it was worth the wait -- I couldn't wait until the second half.

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What shocked me was, the first thing they shot for the movie was the beginning of the second half, the arrival of Lawrence with his bodyguards. Those guys, who look like the baddest asses that ever lived, came in on horses and camels. Peter O'Toole's got the white garb on, and you realize he's a guy who's got some homies that can play.

I was overwhelmed by the opera of Lawrence of Arabia. I couldn't sit through an opera, but I sure as hell could sit through that film. What's great is the time it takes to develop the character in front of your eyes, so you see the beginning, middle and end of relationships. It's fabulous for a film of that size. There wasn't much character development in the Samuel Bronston epics before that, or the pictures like Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston or Alexander the Great with Richard Burton -- those wonderful, sweeping things. Lawrence of Arabia was the first time I'd seen character analysis with the camera in front of your eyes.

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If there's anything I'm proud about in Nebraska, it's that it's hard to see the work going on. In Lawrence, there's something going on -- it's there. It's about life. Watching that old generation like Lean and O'Toole, that knowledge, that excitement, that passion infects you and infects you in a good way. You want to make 'em proud, even though they're not here anymore.