CS Interview: Bruce Dern talks Last Call, Nebraska and more!
Ahead of the film’s limited theatrical and digital release, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with two-time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern to discuss his role in the Jeremy Piven-led dramedy Last Call as well as revisit areas of his iconic career, including his career-revitalizing role in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska.
When looking back at when he first got the script for the film, to which Dern found excitement over the prospect at continuing to have people “see me in a different way” even at the age of 84, the star found the film to be “an adult Animal House, if you will, with a bunch of guys adding inches to their dick” and thought it sounded like a lot of “fun” and believing that “movies should be fun, you know?”
“You got a bunch of guys around together still in the locker room, still doing this and doing that and making up a competition,” Dern explained. “They include the dad or the granddad, in some cases and he’s kind of this surprise at the end. That interested me every now and then people send you stuff in which you see a kind of open cleverness that I liked about this material, it was clever. It was one upmanship on a different level and that was kind of what intrigued me to it.”
Despite his excitement over the good time he’d have on the project, he had one minor issue with the film which stemmed from its original title Crabs in a Bucket, given its fisherman city setting, believing it wasn’t a title that would draw in crowds in theaters, but that the tory itself taught him some things to help the title make more sense.
“I didn’t know that the crab fisherman lived around Hoboken, New Jersey, you know, I would have thought it was down near Delaware or someplace like that,” Dern noted. “But it’s a whole clan of people and they’re dependent on a boat and are dependent on getting by with things they still have, they can’t afford to fix that can’t do this or that. So it was kind of taking advantage of the state of the art and I like that the cleverness was a lot up to the performers. When along something comes a movie like Crabs in a Bucket, or Last Call, you say to yourself, ‘Well I don’t know these people, they don’t know me, we are going to go in there and surprise each other.'”
Another thing Dern found initially challenging coming into the film was that to himself, he’s “not funny” and has “never been funny,” though utilized an epitome he had around the age of 65 that it’s more important to “try and make it as real as possible” and that a good performance is more “about the behavior” without necessarily “putting the words aside,” crediting this to his time working with Alexander Payne on Nebraska.
“For many times, actors and actresses seem to feel that it’s all about the written word, the written word is there, but the behavior’s gotta be there,” Dern opined. “You got to understand what the behavior is, who these people are, where does it come from, and luckily enough for me, about seven, eight years ago, I ran into Alexander Payne and Alexander had a part for me that, for lack of a better expression, revived my career in Nebraska.”
Dern recalls the film’s debut at Cannes, where Payne was the only one to have seen the wet cut, he tells of how little faith Paramount Pictures seemingly had in the film given the “big long fight” the studio had with Payne over the black-and-white format and that they sent Dern home a day early after allowing him to take daughter and Oscar winner Laura Dern (Marriage Story), wife Andrea Beckett and his assistant, on their dime but that the early departure led to him missing one of the most exciting things about its premiere.
“I left on Saturday morning and on Sunday morning, Laura called me and she said, ‘Have you heard anything?’ I said, ‘Heard anything about what?’ She said, ‘Dad, Alexander just called me and you won a Palme d’Or at Cannes,'” Dern warmly recalled. “I said, ‘What?! Oh my god, I forgot all about it.’ I’ve been to Cannes I think four or five times now with different movies and that wasn’t something that I ever dreamed of. When I saw the movie with them, that was the first time I’d seen the movie. I was amazed at the reception that night, but I don’t think in terms of being the best movie and the best performance at the Cannes Film Festival.”
In looking back at the 2012 film shoot, Dern recalled one very important lesson Payne told him on the first day of shooting that not only illustrated he had a truly collaborative director for the project but also something important that he would carry forward into other films.
“What Alexander said to me the very first morning we were shooting in Lyons, Nebraska was ‘Have you seen anything on the set today that you’ve not seen before?'” Dern explained. “I said, ‘Yeah I do. I see everybody seems to be pulling their ore.’ He said, ‘Well, hopefully that’s because we have 88 crew members and 75 have work every day on every film I’ve ever made.’ That was his sixth film at the time, and I said ‘Wow.’ He said, ‘So I wanted you to know this is Phedon Papamichael, he’s your cameraman. I just want you to know you can dare to risk because we’ve got your back. I wonder if you’d do something for Phedon and I that I’m not sure you’ve ever done in your career before. Never, ever show us anything, let us find it’ and I knew I had a partner.”
Dern has had a storied career in the film industry over the past 60-plus years, with he and his daughter and ex-wife Diana Ladd becoming the first family to all have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and while having garnered his first Oscar nomination in 1979, Dern still found a drive throughout his career to know that he and his family “had no help in this business” and utilized his 2007 biography Things I’ve Said, But Probably Shouldn’t Have to hammer home that he and his family didn’t just “fall of the turnip truck.” He also notes that should he ever write another book in the future, it would center on a certain type of character that he’s also found a real interest in playing throughout his life.
“I always thought what would be fun to do would be to write a book about people that finished second and never got the acclaim they deserve,” Dern described. “The one thing that’s impressed me in my life more than anything else is people that get shit done. The most apropos statement I’ve ever heard in my life, whether you like the guy or not, was when William Randolph Hearst showed Marion Davies Citizen Kane for the first time down in their arena theater and at the very end of it, she went apeshit. She started chasing after him and she said, “You’re such a great man, and you’ll do this and you’ll do that. Well, if you’re such a fucking great man then you’ll stop this movie from ever coming out. Because if it comes out you’re dead and I’m dead, because we’re a joke, don’t you get that?” He said, “Marion, I won’t tolerate that language. Secondly, I never said that I was a great man. I quite simply said I was a man who had a chance to be great, but wasn’t.” I don’t care what you thought about the guy, he got shut down, I always look for that.”
A local success story and real estate developer, Mick (Jeremy Piven), returns home to his offbeat blue collar Irish neighborhood in the shadows of Philadelphia for a funeral and is obligated to stay to ensure his parents’ ailing family business gets back on course. Amidst all of this, he grows closer to his childhood crush (Taryn Manning) who is also back in town, while enduring the constant ridicule from his old hometown crew. As Mick begins to reconnect with the neighborhood he grew up in, he finds himself at a crossroads when forced to either raze or resurrect the family bar.
Last Call is directed by Paolo Pilladi (Invisible Mountains) from a screenplay by Greg Lingo and Pilladi and stars Piven (Entourage, Serendipity), Dern (Nebraska, The Great Gatsby), Manning (Orange is the New Black, Hustle & Flow),Jamie Kennedy (Scream franchise, Malibu’s Most Wanted), Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, Analyze That), Jack McGee (The Fighter, Gangster Squad), Zach McGowan (Black Sails, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Cheri Oteri (Saturday Night Live, Scary Movie).
The film is now available in select theaters and on digital platforms and VOD!