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Going for Laughs

You’re playing word association and someone looks you in the eye and says “Bruce Dern.” Some immediate responses would be “psychotic,” “terrorist” or perhaps even “funny.”

Funny?

When people learned that Dern had been cast next to Tom Hanks in “The ‘Burbs,” they were incredulous. “It’s taken a long, long time for people to realize that there’s a whole other side to the roles that Bruce Dern’s played,” says the 52-year-old actor.

As the film’s heavily armed, camouflage

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attired and wild-eyed Mark Musfield, Dern adopts a loony yet endearing persona. A few critics have found satisfaction in Dern’s performance, but most have pooh-poohed the movie itself.

“I mean, the movie is not ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ It’s not ‘Citizen Kane’ . . . it’s a fun movie,” says Dern. “There are always going to be critics and if they’re not writing or appearing on TV they’re going to be your next-door neighbor. Everybody’s got an opinion. Some get published, some don’t.”

Dern’s from lofty stock: A grandfather was a governor of Utah and his uncle part of F.D.R.'s Cabinet, but that didn’t stop him from abandoning college for a go at acting. Though he’s made more than 50 films and played the nastiest of people, he still has difficulty looking at the end of “Coming Home,” for which he received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination.

“I still can’t really watch the end of that movie. I’m not a suicidal person, and it’s hard to watch me take my life.”

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What was easy for Dern was the actual filming of “The ‘Burbs,” and he cited reasons such as “getting to stay in town” and the high marks he gave Hanks and the rest of the creative people involved.

“He (Hanks) actually became a big movie star while we were making the movie. We started in May and ‘Big’ and ‘Punchline’ hadn’t come out, and though he was a star, he wasn’t at the magnitude he is now. And he never changed a beat, he was just this sweetheart from Oakland.”


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