Nov. 29--Tim Blake Nelson is the kind of guy who makes friends easily, even in Hollywood. People work with him and, as is often the case, they find they want to work with him again in the future.
There's a reason he's one of the busiest actors in cinema. There's a reason he's been in multiple Steven Spielberg films, acted opposite Edward Norton more than once, and that the Coen brothers have written roles specifically for him.
But his new relationship with James Franco is something different, coming at a time when Nelson found himself becoming a little jaded with the process of filmmaking.
There's a reason that Nelson has acted in films with Franco as the director five times in the past 18 months. One of those projects is "As I Lay Dying," based on the beloved William Faulkner novel, and the film opens Friday at Circle Cinema.
"James has pretty much singlehandedly revived my ideas of what an 'indie film' can be because his ambitions are limitless, and he challenges himself perpetually and constantly, and he looks at film as a medium for telling stories in ways that could only occur on film as opposed to a medium for making money," Nelson said of the process involved in their recent films.
"He's more indifferent to whether his films make money or are well-received critically than anyone I've known, and that type of ethos tells me that you can still try to be an artist. Over a couple of decades in movies, my sense of that had degraded, and every day on set James reminds me what's important, and this is a guy who understands, more than anyone I've ever met, that he's got one life and not a minute to waste."
Among the Franco-Nelson pictures still to come, all of them indie films with niche-interest stories: another Faulkner adaptation of "The Sound and the Fury"; an adaptation of "Child of God," a Cormac McCarthy novel about a violent Tennessee mountain man; "Bukowski," about the hardship-filled formative years of the writer; and even a short-film collection led by Franco and his New York University film students.
Nelson describes Franco as the kind of filmmaker who arrives on set and begins taking chances and risks from the first "action" to the last "cut" of the day. He does so with his "repertory company" often found working on more than one of his low-budget pictures. Franco, Nelson, Danny McBride, Ahna O'Reilly, Scott Haze and Jim Parrack make up the core company.
"If you are a part of James' company, when he gives you your role, you go and do it," Nelson said, adding that Franco is present during these films for the shooting but has little to no presence during the pre-production or post-production phases -- "So it's all a bit of a blur" -- as the "Oz: The Great and Powerful" star leaves to work on studio projects that pay the bills.
Speaking of pay: On Franco's low-budget films, the pay is the same, no matter the job in this communal collaboration, Nelson said.
"By which I mean the crew and the actors and James, there's no stratification. The director of photography is making the same amount of money -- including James -- so there's a utopian ethos to the enterprise," Nelson said.
"There are no fancy trailers, no special area to hang out separate from the others. It is everybody together making the movie. There is no one made to feel special and no one is left out, and everyone plays their role, and everyone is made to feel just as important. That's what I mean when I say he works as a sort of a collective."
Nelson has already returned to non-Franco films for 2014 like the mystery "Kill the Messenger" with Jeremy Renner and "The Homesman," a Western with Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank. The actor is returning to the director's chair, as well, with a New York-based film.
The collaborations with Franco have allowed Nelson some recent artistic freedom, and now he's ready to go back to work on projects that will inevitably lead him to working with filmmakers with whom he's worked in the past.
"I've had an advantage by directing movies and I know how difficult it is, so when I get on set, I'm as much an actor as a cheerleader, and I think people really like having that on the set," Nelson said. "I've really been blessed in that these directors have often been people who I really like."
It seems obvious that they think Nelson is a pretty nice guy, too.
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Circle Cinema Holiday Weekend: Two Tulsa native's movies opening
What: Opening of the films "As I Lay Dying," starring Tim Blake Nelson, and "A Perfect Man," starring Jeanne Tripplehorn, this week at Circle Cinema.
When: Both films begin showings on Friday.
"As I Lay Dying" details: stars James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson and Danny McBride; 1 hour, 50 minutes; rated R for disturbing images, some sexual content and brief nudity; synopsis: "A drama based on William Faulkner's 1930 classic novel about a woman's death -- and her wish to be buried in a nearby town -- and her family's quest to make that considerable task happen."
"A Perfect Man" details: stars Jeanne Tripplehorn and Liev Schreiber; 1 hour, 35 minutes; rated R for language, some sexual content and brief drug use; synopsis: "In this sexy, comedic drama about men and women and marriage and infidelity, set in Amsterdam, Schreiber plays a womanizing husband who inadvertently falls back in love with his wife (Tripplehorn) over the phone when she pretends to be another woman."
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