Tim Blake Nelson: “You never want to take on a character that they could cut from the film and not have it make a difference”

It’s probably unlikely Tim Blake Nelson will ever play a character in a movie that will remain as associated with him as the dim-witted, though good-hearted fugitive Delmar O’Donell in the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Nonetheless, Nelson has built a career out of varied supporting roles that are usually completely different from Delmar, such as his character in Big Miracle, a movie loosely based on the true-life 1988 rescue of whales trapped under ice in northern Alaska.  Nelson spoke to the Kansas City Star about how he chooses his parts and why he decided to appear as such a down-to-earth character.

Nelson offers some excellent advice when seeking roles, pointing out, “You never want to take on a character that they could cut from the film and not have it make a difference.”  After all, there are dozens of stories of even big-name actors who have been cut from a film because the role doesn’t advance the plot in a significant way. 

That’s not the case of Nelson’s character in Big Miracle, in which he is almost unrecognizable playing a brainy scientist — a character far removed from his comedic turns in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and serious dramas like The Thin Red Line and The Astronaut Farmer.  Playing such a different role was liberating for Nelson, who saw a lot of himself in the character.  He explains, “I didn’t think of myself as ‘The Explainer,’ but I’m pretty happy to serve that function.  It’s myopic of me, but I love getting the chance to play a smart, articulate character who is close to the real me. Normally, I’m asked to play more outlandish and extravagant guys.”

Still, despite the departure Nelson is thankful for the opportunity to play such outlandish characters, confessing, “I’m the last person to complain because I’ve gotten to create a menagerie of weirdoes for the movies. It’s just fun to step away from that, every now and then.”

Big Miracle is currently in theaters.

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