I was surprised when I saw that Will Forte was the star of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. Not because I didn’t think the Saturday Night Live veteran was capable of being the lead in a dramedy, but it is definitely a leap for the actor best known for his MacGruber character to star in a film that is a more subtle type of comedy than his previous work. I’m happy to say that Forte great in the role, which is surprising because most part his character is the straight man to the comedic portrayals of his parents (portrayed wonderfully by Bruce Dern and June Squibb).
He spoke to Collider about preparing for the role and what he learned from Dern about dramatic acting.
Forte admits that his cast mates helped him develop his dramatic chops during rehearsals. He explains, “Once I got to Nebraska – we had a week where we were all just hanging out. It was called a rehearsal period but we really didn’t rehearse at all. We read through the script one time – Bruce, June, Bob [Odenkirk, who portrays Forte’s character’s brother], Alexander and myself. But the rest of the time it was just getting to know each other. So by the time we started, you felt like you were working with friends. I, obviously, didn’t want to be the weak link. I didn’t want to ruin this movie. I wanted to pull my oar and they just made it so much easier not to worry. Because if you’re thinking about all that stuff, you’re likely not to do as good of a job. They were really wonderful about being nurturing and teaching me and being patient. But doing so in such a way that it wasn’t like they felt sorry for me but more so like I was part of the team.”
While Forte singles out Dern for helping him adapt to Nebraska‘s type of comedy, he has praise for other members of the cast too. He recalls, “I guess one of the main things that Bruce would always tell me is just be true to the scene. It was always about ‘truth’. All this stuff that I would typically think of as actor’y’ lingo actually made sense coming from him. It really registered and now I know exactly what he was talking about. It’s interesting because he definitely was a huge teacher for me as was Alexander. Everybody in the cast. Just to watch them. It was almost more just learning from their example. And I even learned a bunch from the people who were first time actors. There was a bunch of people who had never acted a day before in their lives. These people would deliver these real, honest, beautiful performances. And I would learn from that. Don’t try to act too much, if that makes sense.”
However, Forte doesn’t want to give the impression that the “rehearsals” were strict script readings. In fact, the main purpose was just to become comfortable with each other. He reveals, “We wouldn’t rehearse scenes together but it wasn’t like we were hanging around Nebraska alone. Alexander would get us together. We would drive to different locations and check them out so we were getting familiar with the landscape and getting to know each other as people. We’d be spending a lot of time together just not in character.”