Today let’s look at how to cast farmers in Nebraska. Really.
Relax— It’s going to be okay. Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) will be our guide.
Come on, I have this little blog called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places—what are the odds I’m going to pass up writing about Payne’s new film Nebraska? Forgetaboutit. (To use a not so Midwestern phrase.)
“This is my love letter to the state of Nebraska.”
The film Nebraska has Nebraska written all over it. Pure Nebraska roots. Not only in the title but the film’s director Payne was born in Omaha and the parents of Nebraska screenwriter Bob Nelson were from Hartington, Nebraska. Much of the film was shot in Nebraska and some of it was cast there. And the casting of locals is part of what gives the film its authenticity.
“All of my films, and [Nebraska] even more so, are a combination of highly seasoned, professional actors who typically live in Los Angeles or New York; local, nonprofessional actors … [who do] community theater, local commercials, that sort of thing … and then nonactors, people really off the street or, in this case, off the farm whom John Jackson, my casting director, and I make a point of finding.
For this film, it took over a year of casting to find, for example, those retired farmers who play some of Bruce Dern’s character’s brothers and their wives. And it was a long process of putting out casting notices on, for example, rural radio after the farm report or in small-town newspapers. … For retired farmers, we weren’t so much expecting them to submit auditions, so we were targeting their kids — in their 40s, 50s, 60s — who might go over to their folks’ house on a Sunday and say, ‘Hey! Look at this, I read this. Come on, just for a hoot let me put you on my iPhone reading these lines of dialogue and let me email it into Omaha.’”
NPR/Fresh Air Interview with Terry Gross
For those who are geographically challenged, Omaha is pretty centrally located in the contiguous United States. (Just west of Iowa and north of Kansas.) And the reason those iPhone readings were emailed to Omaha is because Payne is not only from Omaha, but he continues to live there as well as Southern California. (He actually grew up near Warren Buffett.) Payne also shot three of his other films in Omaha—About Schmidt, Citizen Ruth, and Election.
Why? Because Omaha is interesting. Because Nebraska is interesting. But then again, so is wherever you live.
“Of course Nebraska is a storehouse for literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for work. The only need is the eye to see.” Willa Cather (My Antonia)
P.S. Speaking of casting and Nebraska, did you know that actors Henry Fonda, Montgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando were all born in Nebraska?
Update: ”[Casting director John Jackson] liked it and thought he wanted to cast it. He said he felt a very personal connection to it through his family, whom he describes as dirt farmers from Iowa.”—Alexander Payne, Salon Q&A
Screenwriting from Nebraska (Includes an interview I did in Nebraska with Lew Hunter who was one of Payne’s screenwriting professors at UCLA.)
Alexander Payne on Adapting Books
“Wake up and pay attention.” Alexander Payne
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Writing to Music (Tip #52)
Capturing Your Country & Hometown ”If you’re going to make movies in whatever country you’re in, you want to somehow ‘capture’ it.”—Alexander Payne
Directing Non-Professional Actors
Scott W. Smith
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