News Column

Comic actor Will Forte accepts a serious challenge

November 5, 2013


Nov. 05--Best known for his sketch comedy during an eight-year run on "Saturday Night Live," actor Will Forte took on a different challenge when he accepted the role of David Grant in Alexander Payne's new film "Nebraska." The movie has some laughs, but Forte's role required nuanced anguish rather than punch lines as Grant accompanies his estranged hard-drinking father (played by Bruce Dern) on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska to claim a $1 million prize.

Forte, 43, is by no means done with funny fare, but between "Nebraska" and the forthcoming drama "Run & Jump," he's building a strong foundation for drama. He'll be in Houston Saturday for a screening of "Nebraska" at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival. In addition to promoting the film, Forte says, "I want to see some butterflies there. I hear you have a big museum full of them."

He fielded a few questions about "Nebraska" as well as his bass-playing role in a Mumford & Sons video earlier this year.

Q: How did you find shooting in Nebraska? It seems like the weather could've been unforgiving for a guy who grew up in sunny California.

A: It was just so unpredictable. When I first got there, it was T-shirt weather. The next day was freezing. The next day was back to T-shirt weather. I was just hoping it would make up its mind. And then it did. And it went the wrong way for me. It got super-cold and never went back. But it was a delightful experience working on this movie.

Q: Did I hear correctly that you almost talked yourself out of auditioning for the part?

A: Yes, I just thought there was no chance I'd get the part. The thing is, I get nervous during auditions. Even putting myself on tape. So you start thinking, "What's the point? I'm not going to get this role anyway." Thank God, I didn't talk myself out of it. (Laughs.) There was something about the script that I loved so much. And I connected to the character in a way I don't usually feel when I read stuff. So I thought, "Take a chance. Stop being such a wimp."

Q: Was your work in comedy of any use? You're accustomed to playing the straight guy. And David keeps things held pretty deep inside.

A: I don't really know how to answer that. So much of it is that I don't know why I was kind of comfortable in the role. I don't know what in my life made me feel close to this guy. Because my family is wonderful. I have a different family dynamic than the one in this movie. But you look through the movie and find it's very relatable. And that's hard to explain. Most people don't have families like this, but you recognize elements in these family relationships in your own life.

I didn't answer your question at all. It's like when the president gets asked something, and he does the double-talk thing. I just kept saying words.

Q: Speaking of which, the film has long silences. Are those moments uncomfortable to shoot? People always seem to want to fill silence with noise.

A: I should say first I love the pace of this movie. To me, in comedy, I've never minded long stretches of silence. It's certainly different doing it in a more dramatic setting. Though there's also a lot of comedy in this movie. It's hard to know what to call it, a comedy or a drama. But one of the hardest things is learning how to act when you're not talking. And that happened a lot in this movie. I have enough challenges when there is dialogue. It doesn't seem like it'd be that hard when you're not talking, but your mind can roam on you, and you start overthinking. "Wait a second, is that how a normal person would listen to this conversation?" I can talk myself into anything. I'm a classic overthinker. It took awhile, but it was odd, the scenes without the dialogue were some of the hardest ones.

Q: So the Mumford & Sons video ... when you were young and wide-eyed and considering a life in entertainment, did you ever think for even a moment that one day you'd do what you did with a stand-up bass on camera?

A: I think there's always that hope in every boy who wants to go into comedy. There's that hope he will eventually wind up having sex with some sort of wooden instrument. That video was so much fun. I get to do the most fun things in world. I am very lucky to have this job that's always interesting, and I never know what I'm going to find myself doing. I hate to hear actors who have steady jobs complaining. It's like, my God, how could you possibly complain about getting to do this for a living?


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