The Long Road To Nebraska: Talking With Screenwriter Bob Nelson

By Eric Eisenberg 2013-11-26 17:32:25discussion comments
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You mentioned the small changes that were made in terms of characters and stuff, but were there broad strokes that changed as well or was it kind of, was the first draft and what we see in the final cut very similar to each other?

Itís pretty close. I mean the story structure, most of the scenes are similar. He added the Mount Rushmore scene, things like that. Itís really hard, because he didnít go in and just bludgeon my script. He went in like a surgeon and did some very detailed work. So, his hand is evident throughout it, but he was very respectful of what I had done, and only made the changes that he thought was necessary. It would have been very easy for him to really go in and tear it up and start over, but he didnít do that.

I can imagine there would be so many writers who would be so protective of their own material that they would reject any change, so itís amazing to hear that you were so open to his suggestions.

Well, yeah. Somebody said to me, you donít seem to have a lot of ego about it. I mean, the truth is, once Alexander was attached, Iíd seen the movies heíd done, I thought he should take it and run with it and he was respectful. He would ask for my opinion and send me an email every once and a while and send me the draft and I was actually afraid of giving him notes that he might do out of courtesy that werenít right. I was almost afraid to give him my thoughts because of that, but thatís because of who he is. I could easily imagine if it had been a different director, who I felt was taking away from the story that I wanted to write, I certainly would have let myself be known. So, itís just, you know, I say if you work with Billy Wilder or Hal Ashby or Alexander Payne, I think youíve got to let them take it and make it their own.

While you were writing the script were you thinking of an actor for the role of Woody? Bruce Dern is just so phenomenal in the part and itís a perfect fit.

Itís hard to imagine anyone else at this point, but I didnít think in terms of, I didnít even think it terms of this would ever get made, for one thing, but I didnít think in terms that he would actually be in it, but I pictured Robert Duvall because for one thing, heís one of my favorite actors, but he also looks like my dad. So, I used Robert Duvall when I was writing it, in my mind. I didnít imagine any of the other characters from real actors, but that did help though, just to have that in mind.

Just to talk a bit about the character of Woody, like the tone of the film, there is an interesting mix to him. He can be kind of a stubborn jerk at times and kind of unlikeable, but at the same time, underneath, thereís really an earnestness to him that makes him very accessible and sympathetic. Just in terms of how youíre gauging the audienceís reaction to the character, how did you go about progressing that character?

Well, I did start with my dad, who was not as cantankerous as Woody, but he had a lot of the same problems of, he was a machinist and he was a trusting guy and he had his tools stolen, so I was able to start with that and build off of it. I made Woody a little more cranky for dramatic purposes, but I, almost all of the characters in it are based on somebody I know, even just a little bit, because that gave me something to build on and I wanted to make sure that each one of those characters wasnít just there to add a block to the story. Each one of those characters had their own little world that, and hopefully developed as much of it as they could within the context of the bigger story between David and Woody, but I also wanted to explore what it would be like to be the child of a parent going through this and David and Ross to me represented the two conflicting things you could feel inside just one person, at one point, wanting to dismiss him, but the other is still having this yearning to connect with him.
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