Will Forte is an incredibly charming actor, and while he’s known mostly for his comedic work, he turned in a subtle, moving performance in Alexander Payne‘s dramedy, Nebraska. For those who haven’t seen the film, the story centers on Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who believes he’s won a million dollars in a sweepstakes. His son David (Forte), unable to convince his father that it’s a scam reluctantly drives with Woody to Nebraska to pick up the “winnings”. It’s a wonderful picture, and because it was recently released on Blu-ray/DVD/digital download, I got the chance to talk about it with Forte.
During our conversation, Will Forte talked about getting comfortable working alongside his talented co-stars, the freedom to find the character, what he personally took away from working on the film, and more. He also provided a brief update on the status of MacGruber 2. Hit the jump to check out the interview.
The relationship between David and Woody is the heart of the film, and you and Bruce Dern are so good together in it. I was wondering if you had a rehearsal period to find the dynamic between the characters, or were you able to find it on set?
WILL FORTE: We had a like a week where we were…It was labeled a “rehearsal period”, but it really wasn’t. Alexander would drive us around to the various locations where we were shooting at, and just show us Nebraska, basically. I think we read through the script—Bruce, June [Squibb], and I—around a dining room table, and didn’t really talk much about it. We kind of found it on set; that rehearsal process was more about just getting comfortable with each other as people, and it really was perfect. I was very intimidated going in, but once we started it was, “Oh, here are these people I know pretty well now, so these people are nice. I shouldn’t be afraid of them. These are just a couple of buddies I’ll be working with.” It was great. They were really, really wonderful to me throughout the process. So that’s how we did it. And the script laid out such a beautiful template that you kind of knew going in what was expected of you. So by the time we got there it was really fun and comfortable.
One of the things that’s interesting about the story is that David is the good son even though Woody has earned nothing but resentment from Kate and Ross. Did you have discussions with Alexander and the screenwriter Bob Nelson about why David would react differently towards Woody, or at least be willing to push those feelings of resentment aside?
FORTE: We didn’t really talk about that stuff. I think Alexander a lot of times will let you draw your own conclusions. He knows exactly what he wants, which is so wonderful. It makes you feel very safe as an actor, because you know he’s not going to let you move on until you’re absolutely satisfied with what you’ve done, so that’s great. So a lot of times we wouldn’t really talk about stuff like that. He let you come to your own conclusions. He definitely lets you know when he’s not thinking it’s working, and will give you some ideas, but it seems sometimes a little more general. It’s so hard to describe his style because it changes. He’s a wonderful, wonderful director, obviously. I don’t remember us having complex discussions of character. Sometimes I would even think he would stop us from trying to think so much about it.
FORTE: The scenes I was most comfortable with were the things like the scenes with all the family members where we’re sitting on the couch. Because that’s a little more comedic, and I feel a little more comfortable in that kind of stuff. So it was easily the more dramatic stuff I was nervous about. But things like that were really thrilling to do too. Like one of the final scenes of the movie where—I don’t want to give a spoiler alert—where he confronts Stacy Keach in the bar, I guess [David and Woody] have kind of what you would call a heart-to-heart on the street afterwards, and that was a really thrilling scene to do.
One of the other things about the movie is that it has a lot of compassion for its characters, and it paints Midwesterners in a realistic light. Going into this film, did you have any personal relationships with people from that part of the country that you were able to draw from?
FORTE: Well, no. My grandparents came over from Kansas when they were very young, so I’ve always felt a connection to the Midwest, and I feel like I was raised with a lot of those values. So when I was over there, a lot of people I would come in contact with would seem very familiar, like my family. And I did have a grandpa who was very similar to the way Woody is in the movie. He was a man of very few words, a lot of gravitas—my mother’s father, who was wonderful, and came over from Kansas. So I had an experience with communication with someone who doesn’t communicate a lot; the frustration and love you can feel. That was the closest connection I felt to the script in terms of the correlation between my personal life and the script.
FORTE: It’s an experience I never thought I’d get to have. I have loved all the things I’ve gotten to do, even the ones that seem crazy. Every single thing I’ve done in my life that I’ve been a part of I’ve been able to take positives out of them. I did them for one reason or another that made sense to me at the time. MacGruber I’m incredibly proud of—
As well you should be.
FORTE: Oh, thank you! I will stick up for that until the ends of the Earth. I love that movie. But to get to be a part of something so different than what I’ve ever done. I just never thought I’d get this experience, and just can’t thank Alexander enough for letting me be a part of it. I’ve put my family through a lot of stuff with the movies—they’re very supportive and they’ll have all their friends go see these movies, and that does not make me the most popular person when you’re my mom and you send all your friends to see MacGruber. I overtly acknowledge that it’s not for everyone. To get to share something like this with them, it was a really nice experience to get to share with my family, who have been so supportive of me and everything I’ve done. And to do something like this that they can share with their friends a little more easily was a really wonderful experience.
Before you go, I have to ask what the status is on MacGruber 2 because I would love to see that movie.
FORTE: Well, thank you. Jorma [Taccone] and I just got together—well, John Solomon, who’s our third partner, is working at SNL right now—so Jorma and I got together to try and start figuring it out. We have a really solid first act so far, so we have to get together again and keep going through. But yeah, he’s been super busy, and I’ve been really busy, John is still in production at SNL, so hopefully when he’s out, and we can all find some time to get together, we can rip through it because we would love to try and make a second one. We love the stuff we have so far, and it’s really fun, and we hope we can get it all together.