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The Indiewire Springboard: Why 'Land Ho!' Scene Stealer Earl Lynn Nelson Won't Quit His Day Job as a Surgeon

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire July 3, 2014 at 3:37PM

Earl Lynn Nelson gives the most raucous performance of 2014 in Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz' Sundance smash "Land Ho!" (out in select theaters July 11). So what if he's over 60?
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Daniel Bergeron Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, directors Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz of "Land Ho!"

Every week, Indiewire's Springboard column profiles an up-and-comer in the indie world who deserves your attention.

Earl Lynn Nelson gives the most raucous performance of 2014 in Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz's Sundance smash "Land Ho!" (out in select theaters July 11). So what if he's over 60?

READ MORE: Video Interview with 'Land Ho!' Co-Stars Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson, the Unlikely Hits of Sundance

In the road trip comedy, Nelson plays Mitch, a gregarious loudmouth from Kentucky who heads to Iceland with his much more reserved brother-in-law, Colin ("This is Marin Bonner" breakout Paul Eenhoorn), for a vacation to help Colin get over his recent split from his second wife. Nelson, who also hails from Kentucky, is a total riot as the incredibly foul-mouthed Mitch. He's also completely endearing.

As it turns out, Nelson is very much like his on-screen alter ego. Loveable, extremely talky and incredibly candid, Nelson doesn't act like most actors when talking to the press. That's because he's not one of them. A plastic surgeon by day, Nelson's only appeared in films directed by Stephens, his second cousin. "Land Ho!" marks his first lead role to date. And hopefully not his last.

'Land Ho!'

I was being interviewed at Sundance, I can't remember who it was. At the end he asked if I had any questions. I said, "Yes, my daughters would like for me to get a picture taken with Robert Redford, but obviously, that ain't gonna happen." I said, "I'd like to know if he liked my movie or not." The guy asked me to hold on. He went, got up and walked out. He came back and he said, "He told me to say, 'How to you think you got selected for Sundance?'" So that made me feel good, that he liked my movie. I didn't get the photo, but that felt good.

The most memorable thing [at Sundance] were the people coming up to me at the end. I do surgery three days a week. After the Q&A at Sundance, there were these five young people who asked for their picture taken with me. Turns out they were plastic surgery residents from Harvard, and they'd come out to Sundance. That made me feel good. I ended up having a drink with them.

I'm not going to give up my day job. I enjoy doing surgery. I enjoy making people see, feel and look better. Those are the things that I do. But I've enjoyed the notoriety. Most importantly, I've enjoyed people enjoying me and I've enjoyed making people laugh.

Sony Pictures Classics "Land Ho!"

Paul and I, we've got to be pretty good friends. We met in Kentucky, he spent the weekend with me when we shot the first few pages. We chat on the phone all the time and my wife email backs and forth with him. I'm not a social media person but he is. I go on once every two to three weeks just to erase all the crap that I get from L.L. Bean.

I'd really like to do another film with Paul. We had some people suggest, but nobody with any power, a "Land Ho, Mate!" and go across Australia.

I like my day job. My kids tell me I need to retire. I still got my hands. I still got my mind. There's a big need for me in Kentucky, where I practice. As long as I'm not hurting anybody and I don't shake, I'll keep going.

I'm not going to fly around auditioning for movies. I'm not going to pursue a full-time movie career. Maybe if I retire from the surgery, that would be a different ball game.

I enjoy life. I enjoy people. I'm a fearless person. There's only two people in life that I've ever been scared of, and that's my dad and God. I lost my dad several years ago. I thank God that I'm still here.

I've had people in the movie business tell me they've never heard a voice like mine. I've had a couple people tell me I need to send my voice to Disney. I haven't pursued that. Maybe I might do that one of these days.


This article is related to: Indiewire Springboard, Futures, Land Ho!, Interviews, Sundance 2014