BAM How did you land the part in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Nelson Joel and I are friends. We got to know each other through The 52nd Street Production, which works with kids from Hell?s Kitchen and is a bit of a hub in the theater and film community in New York. I knew vaguely that Joel and Ethan were doing a film with George Clooney, but at the time I was in Charleston, South Carolina, directing O, a modern-day adaptation of Othello.
|Turturro, Nelson, and Clooney |
One day Joel called me and said, ?Can I send you this script? I need your advice.? I couldn?t imagine what he would want to ask me, but I did know that the script was an adaptation of The Odyssey. I thought maybe he wanted to know how successful he and Ethan had been in the adaptation, since I was a classics major. A week after I read the script, I got a phone call from Joel. He said, ?Look, I don?t really need your advice?I want you to play the role of Delmar.?
BAM Did you hesitate before taking the role?
Nelson Well, Joel started his film six weeks after I had wrapped principal photography on O. So what ended up happening was that Joel housed me, my editor, and all my equipment on location in Mississippi, where he was shooting. During the entire shoot of O Brother, Where Art Thou? I was acting during the day and editing at night.
BAM How much time did you have to prepare for your role?
Nelson I rehearsed for a day. I had to show O to Miramax on a Friday and fly to Mississippi that night. On Monday, I was being beaten to a pulp by John Goodman [for a scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou?].
BAMWhy do so many actors rave about working with the Coen brothers?
Nelson Well I?m a character actor; I?m not going to win any beauty contests. Joel and Ethan write roles for actors who look like me. They make you feel that your presence in a role is essential to their vision. They achieve that by offering you quiet encouragement and by making you feel that you can do no wrong. Good roles are an incredibly finite resource. Good roles written by Joel and Ethan Coen are even more finite because they only make a film every two years.
BAM Is it difficult to juggle writing, acting, and directing?
Nelson Acting is more fun, but writing and directing are more rewarding. My guiding principle has been: if it?s an interesting story, I want to serve it in the best way possible, given my abilities and my limitations. Sometimes that means acting, sometimes that means directing, sometimes that means writing and directing. Perhaps in the future I?ll find combinations I haven?t yet considered.
BAM How much did your interest in the classics influence your decision to do a Homer-inspired film?
Nelson Well, I was a Latinist at Brown, more of an ancient-Rome classicist than someone who studied Greek. I read The Odyssey twice in different classes, but I have to admit I would have been even more excited if it had been an adaptation of the Aeneid.