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Tribeca: Will Forte on Going Dramatic for ‘Run & Jump’ and Alexander Payne’s Cannes Drama ‘Nebraska’

Tribeca: Will Forte on Going Dramatic for 'Run & Jump' and Alexander Payne's Cannes Drama 'Nebraska'

Comedic actors making a move to more dramatic fare is nothing new. Still, few might have guessed that Will Forte, the “Saturday Night Live” alum best known for the show’s film spinoff “MacGruber” and appearances as a cross-dresser in “30 Rock,” would join the herd.

In Steph Green’s feature film debut “Run & Jump” (a follow-up to her
Oscar-nominated short “New Boy”), playing at the currently underway Tribeca Film Festival, Forte gives an understated turn that harks back to Steve Carell’s surprising one in “Dan in Real Life.” The film is an intimate
portrait of an Irish family led by Vanetia and Conor Casey (Maxine Peake
and Edward MacLiam) who find their life in turmoil when Conor suffers
an unexpected stroke, changing his personality. A buttoned-up, calming
American doctor (Forte) enters the fray when he stays with the
family on a research grant to document their recovery process, upending
the family’s dynamics.

Next up for Forte is another serious role in Alexander Payne’s road trip drama “Nebraska,” premiering next month in Cannes. I sat down with Forte at Tribeca to discuss his new career path and what he plans to wear on La Croisette.

This is a long way from “MacGruber.”

Yes, I’ll say. [laughs]

How did you come across this project? Your casting comes as something of a surprise.

Steph Green, the director, somehow had me trying for it. I read the script when she sent it over. I thought it was a beautiful story. I had no idea if I could pull it off or not, but she won me over with her confidence. I just had a great experience doing it. It was so interesting to try something new.

When you left “SNL,” did you envision this career as a dramatic actor? Was it something you wanted to pursue?

I do whatever feels right at the time and it felt like a fun experience to try. I never had this plan to do dramatic roles. I just really responded to the script and was excited to be a part of this story.

It was so new — my whole background is comedy. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Steph was so patient and taught me so much throughout the process. It was really scary at first. Because of that, it was also thrilling.

Was making “Run & Jump” a huge leaning experience?

Oh, huge. In comedy I’m playing these big, broad characters. So my internal mechanism which helps to decipher how big I’m appearing…I can’t trust it. Steph was able to guide me to the right level, so it wasn’t big and it wasn’t too small. My first instinct was to under-do it, to just go the opposite. I might have underdone it too much. She would either pull me back or push me forward when I needed to be pushed or pulled.

The nerves no doubt must have played into the performance nicely. Your character feels out of place for most of the film.

It was nice. I think it helped that it was in Ireland too. I felt so far away from everything. It made me more comfortable to try this new thing.

There’s this saying that comedians excel at drama because deep down they’re tortured in some way. Does that apply to you?

I don’t know. I had a wonderful childhood. [laughs] I’m sure I torture my soul in way. I have a very supportive family and a supportive group of friends. I’m sure it must apply to me in some way — tortured soul. But I can’t immediately point to anything. 

When did “Nebraska” come about? Shortly after this project?

There was a long period of time when I was signed to make “Run & Jump,” but there were financing issues. So we waited a while. During that period was when I auditioned for “Nebraska.” I found out right before going to Ireland to start this that I got the job. I was so excited. [laughs] A total dream come true. I can’t believe I got the opportunity to do that movie and work with Alexander Payne. 

You reportedly beat out Paul Rudd and Bryan Cranston for the role. It was quite the hot property.

I…I don’t know why he made the decision to go with me. I’m just eternally grateful he did. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. 

What can you reveal about the project before its Cannes debut?

It’s a father-son road trip movie. We go from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, and take a lot of stops along the way. I don’t know I’m allowed to say or not. 

Quite the mysterious road trip.

It’s a beautiful story. It’s funny, tender and heartbreaking. Bob Nelson wrote the script…I still can’t believe that I got to be a part of it.

How are you prepping for your first Cannes?

I need to have a team of people to figure out clothes for me. I’m a real mess. I wear cowboy shirts all the time and jeans — a lot of plaid shirts.

I doubt they’ll reject you from Le Palais if you show up wearing that, given that you’re the star of the film.

I’m the least fashion conscious person out there — I’m going to need some good advice on what to wear. I definitely have to wear a beret! I think I get to go?

You do. So coming off these two experiences, how do you follow this period up?

I don’t know! I don’t game plan like that. We always talk about making a second “MacGruber” movie. [laughs] We’re hoping to make one but it’s kind of out of our hands. Although we always just talk about — I think we’re just going to do it no matter what. That probably means we’ll do it on video cameras off our credit cards. I hope we get a bigger budget though. We had such a wonderful experience making that movie and we’re so proud of it — we’d love to do another one and get the group back together.

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