Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Richard Linklater and Jack Black On the Real-Life Story Behind 'Bernie'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire April 27, 2012 at 3:42PM

"Bernie" marks Richard Linklater's reunion with his "School of Rock" star Jack Black, but it's in no way a retread of their earlier collaboration. It's a whole other beast.
1

 

"Bernie"
Millennium Entertainment "Bernie"
Black: It was important to me to get deep enough to where I could understand his motivations.  But the script doesn't spell it all out for you and that's one of the great things about it is that it leaves some areas grey so that it doesn't become an explaining movie where they say definitively why everything happens.  But it's important to have that as a basis for your subtext.

One of the things we talked about with him was what his childhood was like.  His mother died when he was very young and one of the things he said was that he didn't have a mommy.  I could't help but feel that struck a chord.  That speaks to why you're in this relationship with this older woman that you're taking care of.  Yet she's also taking care of him, there's co-dependency there.

The other big question I had for him was why didn't you leave?  Richard points out that's always the question in any domestic dispute: why didn't you leave before it got toxic? You stayed and of course it turned violent and some will say it's stupid.  But it's not stupid; you're trapped.  Maybe that's why he loved all the old ladies in Carthage.  He made it his mission that they were OK.  He wanted some motherly love.  

Linklater: He needed approval and love as much as he gave it.  That's probably why he stayed in this small town, too.  He could feel like the whole town loved and accepted him.  You can't feel that in a big city so much, but in a small town where you really do know everybody nd you're friendly with everybody, she presents a great challenge.  She isn't nice and doesn't care what anyone thinks about her.  

Did you film in Carthage?

Linklater: A little bit, a few days, but we faked East Texas with this little town area in Austin that looks a lot like East Texas.  Production wise, it was just simpler and cheaper.  Yeah, we definitely filmed in the Carthage area for a little while, though.

When did it occur to you that you wanted to use locals who knew the real Bernie to narrate the film?

Linklater: Early.  From the conception.  That was the beginning, so it was always ingrained.  

"Bernie"
Millennium Entertainment "Bernie"
Was is it a tough sell to financiers? Steven Soderbergh attempted to pull off the same approach with what eventually became "Moneyball," but Sony backed out because of his unorthodox approach to telling the story.

Linklater: Yeah, it throws people.  At first it's just a lot of words on the page and everyone sounds the same.  It's not something you can get away with at the studio $50 million level, but we were super low budget and indie.  I always saw the narration as integral to the storytelling; to see it from this gossip perspective of this small southern town.  It's the way I took in the story.  It's the way everyone did.  You know, Bernie was in jail.  Miss Nugent was gone.  It was just the town in reverberations.  

They add so much flavor to the film.  Did you become close with the subjects to help inform your portrayal of Bernie, Jack?

Black: Well most of the gossip documentary style was shot before we even started.

Linklater:  We shot so many of them in a short amount of time with such a small crew.  It was kind of a pre-production thing.

Black: I came to town a little early with my family to do some rehearsals. You were shooting these interviews at the time, I remember.

One of the most memorable subjects actually shares a scene with you Jack, near the end, when Bernie finds himself in prison. Was she a local or an actress?

Linklater: She was a local

Black: She knew Bernie.  

Seeing the two of you interacting was a strange meta moment.

Linklater: We just sort of worked that scene up. We initially had a different ending, but that just wasn't true and everything else in the movie was. So we worked up this scene with her and that was based on our meeting with Bernie. We got him to describe this scene about his life in prison.  It was this gift to have him describe that he wanted to help people while in there. I mean, that's Bernie, so we wanted to integrate that into it with that visitor.

And it's true, there are people who thought he could get out to come sing at their funerals and they're still trying.  

Black: We saw the stuff he was working on in the workshop and he was making memorials for peoples' funerals back in Carthage.

Linklater: You go into the prison workshop and it's funny because everybody is doing woodwork and there's Bernie crocheting these wonderful little things that say their names and the years they were alive. He said that he has a little personal service for them, too. 

This article is related to: Interviews, Jack Black, Richard Linklater, Bernie