Alexander Payne finds the faces of ‘Nebraska’
The landscape of “Nebraska” is populated with such well-known actors as Bruce Dern and Stacy Keach as well as retired farmers making their debuts who live in the town of Plainview, Neb., where most of the film was shot.
“I did see a lot of people for every part,” said Payne. “I pay myself few compliments as a filmmaker, but I think [casting director] John Jackson and I cast well.”
Though he doesn’t have much dialogue, Rance Howard stands out as Woody’s (Dern) older brother Ray, a taciturn couch potato. The veteran character actor is the father of Oscar-winning director Ron Howard and frequently pops up in his son’s movies.
“Rance Howard came in to audition for Woody,” said Payne. “His audition was very good. I didn’t hire him for the part.” But he asked if he would be interested in playing Ray. “He accepted immediately.”
Mary Louise Wilson, a noted stage actress who won a Tony in 2007 for the musical “Grey Gardens,” plays Ray’s wife, a woman who is so oblivious to the world she takes it in stride that her two oafish sons are criminals. “I had liked her,” said Payne. “She played Louis CK’s mother in ‘Louie’ in one episode and in Season 1.”
But perhaps the biggest discovery is Angela McEwan, who plays Peg Nagy, the sweet editor of the small town’s newspaper, who had had a crush on Woody when they were in high school and still regrets losing him to Kate.
“I believe she’s been languishing in short student films,” said Payne. “She came late in life to acting. I cast her off of a tape. John Jackson and I were in Omaha and hadn’t pulled the trigger on that part. We knew we wanted someone quite special. We kept returning to her tape.”
Johnson, Payne recalled, told him about seeing McEwan on tape. “I don’t know who she is but look how sweet she is. I don’t like to cast someone without meeting him or her personally. I happened to be coming out to Los Angeles and I called her. I met her at her sister-in-law’s home in Hancock Park.
“We had coffee together in the late afternoon. She had baked me cookies. It just came from her heart.”
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