Will Forte Recounts His Nebraska Road Trip With the Legendary Bruce Dern

as told to Whitney Spaner
Former SNL performer and MacGruber star Will Forte made his serious-screen debut last month in Alexander Payne's latest, Nebraska. Here Forte recounts the road trip he took with his Academy-Award-nominated costar Bruce Dern for the film. They play father and son Woody and David Grant, who drive from their home in Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to collect the Publishers Clearing House-style prize money Woody thinks he's won. One thing Forte learned? Dern can do a mean Hitchcock impersonation.

I never thought that I would get a chance to work with somebody like Alexander Payne, and the whole experience was so wonderful, but I think my favorite part was the final week of shooting -- after we had done all the scenes with dialogue -- when they filmed us making the same road trip that we make in the movie, from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska. Alexander followed Bruce and me in the RV that Jack Nicholson drives in About Schmidt with this contraption on the front of it, which robotically moves the camera. It was a wonderful last week; all the pressure was off because you've done all the heavy lifting, and you just get to spend this week on the road with this group of people that you got to be such good friends with over the course of the production.

Bruce and I talked the whole time. There were moments when we knew the camera was going to come up right beside us and we'd have to look out the window and not say anything, but most of the time we were just gabbing away. He has the best stories. He would impersonate the different people he would talk about. He had John Wayne and Jack Nicholson stories and he would talk about making Family Plot and Marnie with Alfred Hitchcock. I also got a fascinating personal history. Hearing about his life never got old. The relationship we went through on screen was very similar to the transformation of the relationship off screen -- we got to be really close, and still are. He's still very much a part of my life. It was a really special experience professionally, but it was just as special, if not more, for me personally.

I don't know what I thought Nebraska was going to look like, but there was something about it that was so much more beautiful than I expected. I'd certainly heard the joke going into filming where people would be like, "Oh get ready for some corn," and I certainly was not disappointed with the amount of corn I saw -- but it was also just so different. There were a lot of big rolled-up corn husk bales, and the way the light would hit these things -- especially in the morning and at night -- was really stunning.

It was also a wonderful way to see Mount Rushmore. Two years ago I happened to be in Bismarck, North Dakota, to see a friend's show. Isn't that where people go to see theater? Bismarck? And I had never seen Mount Rushmore. I was 41 years old and I thought, "What are the chances I'll be back here?" So I rented a car and drove down to Mount Rushmore, but it was snowing and you could barely make out the faces. It seemed like there was someone holding a giant screen door in front of it. I waited for a bit, but I had a flight, so I thought, "Well I guess that's how God wanted me to see Mount Rushmore." I had been able to make it out just enough to cross it off the checklist, but I was excited to get a second chance. I always hear people go, "Oh I don't know, it didn't do much for me. It's a lot smaller than you think," but I loved it. The air was really crisp and the skies could not have been more clear. I could have stayed there and stared at those guys for a whole day.

Film stills from Nebraska starring Will Forte and Bruce Dern in black and white and Forte's candid behind-the-scenes photos in color.

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